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Being a Sous Chef

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My customers are a constant source of inspiration and thoughts for me. Especially the couples: it is amazing how much of relationships dynamics you can grasp by spending 5-6 hours with people. Especially if you cook together.

The other day I had a cooking class with a lovely couple, T&A. As we toured the Kadıköy market to get ingredients A was talking about their passion for cooking and division of labor at the kitchen, “T cooks and I bake“. “What a great arrangement!” I replied. It was T who did the booking and whom A allowed to do most of the cooking too. Every time A would emphasize, “I am T’s sous chef: I am happy to do chopping and cutting”. Things turned interesting few hours later.

As we sat down to savor the meal and conversation A was curious how we get along at the kitchen with my boyfriend who also cooks. I laughed recalling the day when Özgür, his mom and me entered an unspoken competition each turning a dish for dinner.

Let me give you some background“, A said. “I have always cooked and well, I love cooking. T also cooks. He cooks differently. And I have probably eaten a bit different things if I were to cook. But he loves cooking. So I let him. Of course the tension at the kitchen goes up at times. So I just would bake a dessert and walk away. Or do washing up and walk away“. I sat back and thought of my “baking desserts” and walking away instances.

I am a big girl when doing my food walks and cooking classes in Istanbul. And I am number one. Kind of. As of today, Delicious Istanbul is officially number one food tour in Istanbul according to the customer reviews on TripAdvisor. I feel happy about my lifestyle business which lets me run it in the way I find comfortable and yet keep my customers satisfied. Here in Istanbul I am a brave foreign women who quit her job to come to Istanbul and turn ambiguous passion for food into a very tangible venture. I am bowing now with grace to the round of standing applause.

Things change in Sapanca. Not only I become an apprentice at the actual kitchen but also a sous chef at the virtual kitchen of our hotel and restaurant. Here I am a Özgür’s sweetheart: there is no specific role that I have taken or that have been imposed on me yet. But now and then I find myself doing leg work for everybody.

Just a few months after Özgür moved to Sapanca to help the parents he has become indispensable. Handling bookings and receiving customers at the hotel, managing the floor at the restaurant, overseeing facility maintenance, picking up missing groceries. What not. Sometimes I think we will never be able to go on long vacation. Any vacations at all. Because he is anxious to get involved in every single thing going on here. And everybody is anxious to involve him in every single thing going on here. In Soviet Union we had a concept of “belonging to the masses” (dostoyanie mass). So most of the time Özgür belongs to the masses.

Friday and Saturday nights are worst. This is when we have full house. And this is when he gets the floor and I may hope to sneak in and “bake a dessert”. Which will not be eaten. Here is he taking dirty plates from the tables. Sitting down with me for a minute. Coordinating with Adem to prepare the main dish. Asking Ömür to refill the bread basket. Having a word with dad about a the guests who have booked but have not arrived yet. Having a word with mom about the plans for tomorrow breakfast. Sitting down for a while with a regular customer who brought his friends to the restaurant for a boy’s night out. Having a small talk with the newly arrive customers. Preparing the bill for the leaving customers. The floor is his.

How can I help you?” – I ask frustrated he will burn out soon.
No need to help, just be around, please” – he replies. There is a lot of tiredness in his voice. But also lots of contentment as he feels needed.

So I stay around, get introduced to the customers and keep watching him performing. Aware of being on the stage he is changing his outfit in the middle of the night. Friday and Saturday nights are his. Just like Monday mornings and Wednesday evenings. Most of the time. Every time I come up with an idea of producing organic jams or herbal teas at the farm he hugs me and says, “Look, this all is ours. We can do what we want”. What he really means, I think is that he needs a hand with handling this place. And I am happy to be that hand in a way. His sous chef. Until my ego starts bursting.

I glance at the tables if there is anything to be cleared or taken downstairs. They I go downstairs to see if I can relief the burden of the dishwasher. Someone who does not need me around but appreciates any help I can offer. Then I see if there are any dishes to be carried upstairs. Then I go to the room. He calls my phone in a few minutes surprised by my absence. I find an excuse to stay and do some crying. I feel unneeded and unimportant.

He says he will come in 40 minutes. He does not. And then I go to bed. I wake up at 3 am realizing the other half of the bed is still empty. I call his phone and he promises to come in 20. He does not. I roll from one side to another. Then I go to the restaurant to fetch him. I find the place empty – all the staff left long time ago and Özgür is cleaning the chocked sink at the dishwasher station.

The last guests  left 10 minutes ago so I am closing up” – he says in an exhausted voice.
Let’s go“, I take him by hand and we go to sleep. In the moments like this I don’t mind simply being around. Being his sous chef. Whose contribution is not seen but nevertheless important.

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