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Culinary Blog: The Dinner Shift

I’m sure it’s not just us on the farm that feels like this week has been a major adjustment period and a little out of sorts. The other externs and I have switched our shifts, and my serene early mornings as a breakfast cook have been traded in for bustling late nights as I commence my training on the dinner line. Along with that, this past Fourth of July weekend felt like an especially loud wake-up call to the feeling of being halfway through the entire summer. The passing of time hits me even more when I realize there is only a month left of my externship in Vermont, which is such a bittersweet shock to my system. It’s been months since seeing my dog and family, but a big part of me wishes I could bring them up here and stay in this New England paradise.

As much as I loved the crew I worked with for breakfast, switching to dinner feels like what I’ve been waiting for this whole externship. Breakfast is a beast of its own, though, and requires a careful and quick approach. There is such a fine line between perfectly cooked and over or undercooked with all of the breakfast ingredients, so sharp attention and immediate actions are necessary. Dinner involves more refined concentration to detail as we garnish each plate with delicate but speedy care and cook with a much more comprehensive range of techniques.

Everything is louder, hotter, faster, messier, and more complex in the dinner shift. Don’t get me wrong, the kitchen we work in is one of the cleanest kitchens I’ve ever been in, and we have a strict cleaning process before, during, and after all our shifts to ensure the highest food safety standards. But, one of the first things I noticed when I started cooking on the dinner line the other day was that you couldn’t be afraid to make a small mess around yourself as your firing someone’s order. When you plate it up, it’s beautifully composed, and the plate is wiped several times before making its way to the customer. Still, the process of getting it there involves vigorous movements like pan-flipping, which splashes sauce or risotto on the stove top, and grabbing at all different spoons and tweezers to assemble and create the perfect plate. Then, after each dish is sent out, we wipe down our stations at hyperspeed and start all over. There’s no time to relax during service hours; if there is, you shouldn’t be. A quote you’ll often hear from chefs is, “if you’re leaning you can be cleaning,” and I subconsciously whisper that to myself several times throughout service.

All of this helps keep the adrenaline up, and it feels like we’re a sports team in an intense game between us and the servers who are the medium between the customers. We’re smiling at each other with our red and sweaty faces and constantly checking in to ensure one another is hydrated and still on top of their game.
On dinner, there are more defined stations and responsibilities. Everyone has their mise en place and set up that makes the most sense to them, and it’s an art to make it run smoothly while keeping in mind the duties of my coworkers. I’m in charge of the fresh pasta dishes and risotto, and that gives me three entrees to focus on. It feels like a great place to start, especially because making fresh pasta and risotto are some of the cooking techniques that made me fall in love with cooking. Each night, I learn and advance quickly as my muscle memory grows stronger. by the end of this next week, I’m sure I will feel like an even more developed professional cook, as even one night of work feels like a level up.

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