009: Gotta Get Steve
Within moments of deciding to open our own place in 2002, Mitch looked me squarely in the eye with only one demand: “Gotta get Steve.” This would be Steve Meyer, an industry peer Omer has worked alongside longer than he’s lived with his 3 wives.
Talk about an odd couple: Mitch, an imposing polar bear, towers over Steve, a dead ringer for Nintendo’s Dr. Mario. See the picture here? Check it out for yourself.
Whenever Omer would park himself at yet another job (hopefully you’re aware this happens a lot in the restaurant industry), he’d cajole his talented sous chef into packing up his knives and following along. (Cooks never leave their coveted tools of the trade behind.) Together, these two characters would rumble through another kitchen, putting out some seriously good food and improving the lot of their new bosses.
Mitch, the Executive Chef, would engineer a new menu while Steve, the Sous Chef, would handle the heavy duty cooking (aka “Line Dog,” a term of “endearment” we give to the Sous). But don’t get confused: I did not say Steve was Mitch’s bitch. At least I didn’t mean to say that.
|They’re sometimes referred to as “birds of flight” –chefs on the lookout for more experience usually had to change jobs to upgrade their talents. But they don’t always leave on their own accord:
At a very tired Inn located in Stillwater, Mitch and Steve actually managed to turn things around and quickly win some “Best Of” awards from the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Then the popular Inn was sold, and the new owners swaggered in ordering Mitch (the Executive Chef) and Kristine (the Front of House Manager) to fire their staffs because the owners would soon bring in their own crews.
It’s a fairly common scenario (“Hey, they paid big bucks for the place; it’s their prerogative,” says Omer), but when he asked if they’d consider keeping on John, a special needs 25 year old who worked happily in the hot, dungeon-like basement washing dishes for 7 years, the new owners had the gall to say “Get rid of him, too. The last thing we need is paying someone who can’t wipe his own ass.”
So much for class. So Mitch and Kristen were forced to lay off the entire staff –from waitresses who had worked there over 30 years to dear John who took immense pride in his dishwashing job– and then the next day, after the dirty work was done, the new owners came in and canned Mitch and Kristen, too.
Regardless, that’s when a defeated Mitch came home saying, “I’m so tired of making money for other people” and was encouraged to put his money where his mouth was…and that’s when Hell’s Kitchen was born.
Anyway, Executive Chefs create recipes; Line Dogs make them happen night after night after night after night. Executive Chefs get the glory; Line Dogs get the work. Executive Chefs rule the menu while also constantly dealing with vendors, price fluctuations, recipe development and management; Sous Chefs rule the kitchen while also constantly hunched over hot lines, reaching over grill flames, dealing with chits (hanging tickets of diner orders) and slaving over the details to ensure food comes out right every time.
Mitch has always credited Steve as “the hardest working man in food service” and here’s proof: During one busy brunch, Steve fried, scrambled, and poached his way through 1,361 eggs singlehandedly. That’s 3.78 eggs a minute, possibly while Omer was out front getting his photo taken. But Mitch is the first to point out Steve’s amazing contribution to the partnership. “Guys like Steve are the first ones in and the last ones out of the kitchen,” explains Mitch. “And without Steve, it wouldn’t be Hell’s Kitchen. It would just be hell.”
So here’s to you Steve, our fantastic partner. Cheers and bottoms up. Oh, ah, that’s right. None of us drinks any more. Even more to celebrate for Cyn and Kim; you’ll have to ask the guys themselves how they feel about that.