I think I always underestimate the heat waves of July. For the previous four summers, I worked outside at the farm stands, where the humidity felt like swimming through the air. We cracked open watermelons to hydrate and happily cooled off in those brief but raging storms that hit randomly this time of year. But when customers asked how we were holding up in the heat, we could honestly say it’s just something you get used to. This July, I’ve spent the better parts of my days running around a kitchen in a 150-year-old inn with no central air system. It’s been consistently 90 degrees here in Vermont and comparably as humid as it is in Maryland, so the heat seeps into the kitchen and gets amplified by our ovens, grills, and stoves. The whole kitchen crew glistens sweat, and it’s nearly impossible to escape. The walk-in fridge and freezer are our places of refuge. It feels like heaven when you realize you need something from in there, and you buy yourself a couple of minutes of cool air blasts.
As hot as it is, I’m still so excited that I got moved up to grill station this week. As the sous chef told me the other day, the grill station is essentially the leader of the cooking line. Our plates are priced the highest and are the most intricately composed. This station could also be called the protein station, as most of our entrees come from here. We’re cooking lamb chops, marinated steak, brined chicken breast, and vegetarian options like grilled buttermilk-soaked cabbage with a bed of quinoa and frills of herbs. I’m only in my training phase, following the sous chef’s moves as we reach and dance around each other for different sauces, oils, and garnishes to build the beautiful dishes. The head chef of the kitchen has a delicate but complex style that shows in each dish, with layers of flavors, textures, and colors to work through as you’re eating. When a ticket comes in but before you’re told to fire it, it’s time to start building each pan with the different components and cooking them as far as you can without finishing them. we keep tasting spoons within arm’s reach or sometimes even in our pockets and we hastily take new spoons and try each pan of the food we cook, slightly burning our tongues as we process what might be missing from it. While the food is already adorned by all the spices and add-ins, we’re still usually only two ingredients away from it being at the taste we’re looking for: lemon juice, olive oil, and salt. I say it to myself dozens of times during a dinner rush to make sure I’m adding that dash of bright acidity of lemon juice, the extra fat of olive oil, and the ultimate flavor enhancer that is table salt. There is a fine line for these ingredients, so you can’t just toss it in and expect it to be good, but you must keep tasting until you achieve that sensation of flavor that perks you up.