Monday, January 23, 2012

Art of the Omelet Part I: Ceci n’est pas une omelette

So…the great omelet adventure.


Miss Chef has, to date, made exactly one omelet since my last post.  It was delicious, but it wasn’t perfect enough for her.  We still have a dozen eggs in the fridge, waiting for her next attempt.


So what’s the big holdup?  A little thing we in Charlotte like to call “Queen’s Feast.”  More commonly referred to as Restaurant Week.  If you read Garret’s blog, you’ll have heard a bit about it.  Participating restaurants all over the city offer three-course meals for $30 a person.  This can be a great way to try out a fine-dining restaurant that may cost you closer to $50 a head on a normal night.

Restaurant week technically lasts 10 days, so to encompass two weekends.  And boy howdy, does it drive business!  Restaurants have to pay to participate, as well as offering gift certificates (I’m not sure how that works in), and by discounting their food they also cut their profit margins to a sheer margin.  But the publicity is enormous; more than any one restaurateur could afford on his or her own, so the benefits outweigh the costs.

What the heck does this have to do with my lack of breakfast?  Well, remember how Miss Chef is crazy, and is working two jobs?  And remember how she’s also working on an online MBA?  Part of the reason she’s still alive is that Chef Adam has been super understanding in letting her drop to part time at the restaurant, working around her class schedule and giving her a couple nights off to do her grading and homework.  Restaurant week, however, cancels all that out.  He needs her too much.

So now Miss Chef is living an impossible schedule.  Mondays she’s in the classroom 12 hours.  That’s 12 hours of face time—not including short breaks between four-hour classes.  Tuesday and Wednesday are shorter days, but her classes start at 5:30 am, so she’s out of bed by 3:30 am.  (She actually prefers this over the later schedule she had last quarter, with classes ending at midnight.  Have I mentioned you have to be a little crazy to be a professional cook?)

Now, on top of all that, she’s working extra shifts at the restaurant.  Normally closed on Sunday and Monday, the place is open all week to take advantage of all the reservations pouring in.  I’m not entirely sure how Miss Chef is going to survive—and neither is she.  But somehow, she always does.


So, I can’t tell you how to make the perfect omelet.  Not yet.  But I can tell you a little bit about restaurant week.

First of all, it’s crazy busy.  You’d better call way ahead for reservations, especially for the weekends.  Many of these restaurants are smaller than your typical TGIFriday’s so there’s not a whole lot of space to put butts in chairs.  On a good Saturday, Miss Chef’s place does between 30 and 50 people; chain restaurants routinely serve hundreds. 

Now seems like a good time to play a game called “How Many?”  The staff does this at the end of busy nights: everyone guesses how many people were served, because nobody has time to count!  The one closest to the number without going over wins.  (Go ahead, pick a number.  I’ll tell you at the end of the post how many were served last Saturday.)

All these numbers don't just affect the restaurant staff.  It also means customers shouldn't be expecting a lingering, romantic meal.  Many of our tables were to be turned in an hour and a half.  That’s pretty fast for three high-end courses.  The kitchen is generally able to handle the volume, because of course they limit the menu for the special, and design dishes that can be, in great part, prepped ahead of time.  Still, people show up ten minutes late, can’t decide what they want, order a second glass of wine…and the next table is standing at the door while I try to explain why they’ll have to wait.

Because, did I mention….?  Yeah, I’m hostessing again.  So far I’ve done one night, last Saturday, but I’m also scheduled for next Friday and Saturday.  I’ll be following in Miss Chef’s steps, getting up at 6 am for my office job Friday, then going straight to the restaurant where I’ll probably be on the clock until 10 or 11.  Heck, that’s only 14 hours; that’s like a normal workday for her!  I’ll be interested to see how ready I am to put my shoes back on for Saturday night.

Which brings me to the next insider tip—don’t expect as great quality of food or service as the restaurant might normally offer.  Sure, it should still be plenty good, but they’re probably not going to be blowing your mind with intricately prepared and plated chefs d’œuvre.  Quality may slip a bit in the face of all that quantity.  Also, as the week drags on, I’m betting the servers won’t be quite on their toes…they may be a little slower, perhaps a bit forgetful, and I’m betting it’ll be harder and harder to smile as the second weekend grinds them up and spits them out.

Still, at the end of a successful night, it’s great feeling to get all those folks in, fed, and out the door with thanks and smiles.  Saturday I managed to get through a couple of tight spots with smiles, options (ok, do you want to wait ten minutes, or be seated now at the table under the leak we’re hoping is done dripping?), and really understanding and patient guests.  One table I sort of had to kick out (“We’ve got another reservation who’s waiting.”) was quick to leap to their feet, generous with their praise and even promised to return for Valentine’s day.  That made me feel good—what could have been a tense, nasty situation was warm and friendly.

Now that you’ve got a little insider info, are you ready for the conclusion of “How Many?”  Got your number?  Remember, a good Saturday night sees anywhere from 30 to 50 people being served.  How many did we feed last Saturday? 117.  Yeah, it was a busy night.

So, anyway…it’s gonna be awhile on those omelets.  Thanks for your patience.  Can I get you a drink while you’re waiting?

UPDATE (Friday, Jan. 27th):  It's gonna be a loooong night. 

a) Miss Chef says they've got 135 reservations on the books already.  Chef Adam is closing for lunch in order to have enough time to prep. 

b) Last night a customer got so angry when asked to leave so the next reservation could be seated, Chef Adam had to come out of the kitchen to save his wife. 

c) Neither of us slept well last night.  A windy storm came through, turning the siding on the house into a big kazoo.  Miss Chef came home after I went to bed, and then was up 'til all hours trying to finish a paper--I finally got up at 3:45 to bring her to bed, 'cause I just knew she'd fallen asleep on the couch.  Then more kazooing...I'm dragging today.

d) Today is my supervisor's retirement party, which I've been largely responsible for organising.  I won't go into detail; it's just one more mental demand I don't need right at this moment.
But the show must go on.  Smiles, everyone!!


  1. Can't wait for restaurant week to end so you can eat and I can beat, I mean, play you in WWF!

  2. Dillypoo, I tried to play last night, but the &#@$ app wouldn't load, even on the desktop. It's getting to be more of a headache than it's worth.

  3. I haven't heard of Restaurant Week before - sounds like a great idea! Here's hoping that Miss Chef survives it. :-)

  4. Your restaurant week is way too reasonably priced! Denver has one, and it's $58.20 Denver is the Mile High City - 5820' elevation, thus the price. Anyway, $58.20 is considered quite the bargain in Denver.

  5. I LOVE Restaurant Week. I love that you tied your post at the start and end about the omelet. Great writing!

    This season we're doing 2 restaurants. One time we did 4. That's 4 x $60 (2 of us) plus tip and beverages. Oy.

    When we select a restaurant, we make sure find value in it. Quite frankly, some places can be visited for $30 any time.

    I'll be backlinking to this entry when we go to Chima since you've given the inside explanation to how it works.

    Is it too late to request cheese in my omelet?

  6. Oh, wow - this sounds like something that could determine once and for all if a person is cut out to be a chef. Or a server. Or a hostess. The kind of story that you love to tell, but - living through it? maybe not so much fun! Good luck!

  7. I'm late to this, and in a way I'm glad because otherwise I'd have spent all week worrying how you and Miss Chef were going to get through today - but by now (11:30 pm your time) it must be over. Congratulations on making it through! (And when Miss Chef has recovered from her marathon, I am REALLY looking forward to her omelet lesson!)

  8. Restaurant week must be exhausting. We have it here in Los Angeles too but to be honest-- I totally avoid it and the crowds.

    Your omelet reminded me of the very last scene in the movie "Big Night" with Stanley Tucci. He makes an omelet for his brother from start to finish in one take. It's perfect. Random, I know, but it's my favorite film and, well.. omelet inspiring :-)

    xo jj


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