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Amuse Bouche: The heartbeat of the workplace

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By Scott Mechura EBS COLUMNIST

Every day of the year is for someone or something. From ferrets to kazoos. From cheese fondue to submarines. Everyone and everything have their day. Some are quite silly and others are more solemn. But one in particular caught my attention recently. The day was March 9: National Dishwasher Day.

If a line cook, prep cook or any other culinarian is absent for their shift, it gets covered. It is often accompanied by complaining and cursing, but we make it happen.

Someone may work two stations, then disperse some of their workload or dishes to other people. Other times someone from an earlier shift will either volunteer or be asked to stay later.

Another scenario is that a manager, such as a sous chef, chef de cuisine, banquet chef or executive chef will add that person’s shift to their day and list of things they have to do.

If a dining room is down a server, the floor manager may rework the server’s sections. They may get creative with the floor map to compensate, or they may limit the reservations and/or walk-in guests so the remaining servers can handle the room without compromising service.

Being down a bartender can also prove tricky. Servers may be asked to pour their own beer and wine to help alleviate the bar’s stress.

But more often than not, if a kitchen is down a dishwasher, particularly the only one, you may as well be trying to work with no lights on. It can slow the whole flow down that significantly.

The workhorse, the heartbeat, the engine, the soul—the dishwasher has been called all these things. While a little hyperbola, I would realistically say the dishwasher is who keeps things moving.

If a kitchen were a car, the dishwasher is the transmission.

You may have a full tank of gas, that is to say a kitchen full of cooks, but no transmission, and the car doesn’t move.

I have said this for years: Kitchen work is a labor and a trade. But if a line cook is the equivalent of a carpenter for example, then the dishwasher is the equivalent to hoisting sheet rock over your head all day. It’s that physically demanding.

As a cook, try to complete your prep list by service when you are washing all of your own utensils, sauce and stock pots and sheet pans, and having to run your own machinery parts from a blender or food processor yourself, taking away valuable knife time.

I can tell you from experience how hard it is to work a station with no dishwasher and having to scrub your own sauté pans all night long.

A server comes in with a load of dishes from the dining room and not only is there no room to drop them, also called a landing zone, but their whole mental routine of steps is thrown off. Not to mention those full glass racks that need to get washed so they can polish them, or overflowing silverware tubs.

A server would rather deal with a difficult guest over not having a dishwasher nine times out of 10.

Judge Smails famously said in the movie Caddyshack, “Well the world needs ditchdiggers too.”

Yes. Yes it does.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is an executive chef, former certified beer judge and is currently the executive chef for Horn & Cantle at Lone Mountain Ranch.

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