On Your Plate

I don’t think about the customer when I’m cooking. Well, peripherally, but not in any personal sense. I am acutely aware that someone is going to eat this dish, that someone is going to put this in their body, that someone has spent time and money on the plate I am employed to prepare. I know that. I take that seriously.

But you? You, personally? You, sitting in the dining room, table number 26, on your first date, hoping that everything goes well? I don’t think about you at all.

That plate, the plate parked in front of me, is who I’m thinking about. The plate is staring at me, waiting expectantly. The plate is not nameless; it is clear in its demand. It knows its purpose, its destiny. You, the customer, may be anonymous, but your plate is weighing down my station and occupying my mind.

I cook for the plate. I sear the mushrooms, I emulsify the sauce, I temp the steak, for that plate. I taste the seasoning. I worry about the balance. I add one tomato here; I take away one bread crumb there. I finish the plate when I am supposed to, according to the timing of the kitchen calls, and I send the plate to the head chef, where it passes inspection before a server whisks it away. And then I stop thinking about your food, because there is another order being called, and I am whirling around, heating up my pans for another round of plates staring me in the face.

The server transports the plate to the dim dining room, away from the bright kitchen lights and the loud noise of cracking oil and ticket calls. Sometimes I think about that moment, that swinging kitchen door. A short walk transforms your plate from being my responsibility, my stressor, the culmination of my last seven hours spent prepping for dinner service, into your meal.

Your plate probably breathes a sigh of relief. In the dining room, the lighting is dimmed, the music is low, and the seats are cozy. No one is yelling; nothing is on fire. The restaurant’s many working parts have all moved in tandem to bring you this moment. The plate lands softly on your table, out of my hands, now here for you.

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