>Sooner or later it had to happen: a room full of diners and a disaster in the kitchen. No matter how well prepared you think you are when you finally come face to face with that moment it is a test!
James and I bought the Carolina Bed & Breakfast in Asheville North Carolina in September 2009 and since March of 2010 I have been the sole chef. There have been minor catastrophes–the grill that wouldn’t get hot, the hot water kettle that suddenly stopped working–but nothing that wasn’t pretty easily fixed. Still in the back of our minds, James and I knew that sooner or later…!
This morning was going pretty much as normal. The quiches had been cooked and 14 pear and goat cheese tarts went into the oven on time. James and I call this “Breakfast A”. It’s pretty much a staple here and one that we have made with slight variations dozens of times. Now it’s five minutes before breakfast begins. James is in the living room talking to the guests and I have just sat down at the computer with a cup of coffee before the rush of serving when I smell something burning. Smoke is coming out of the oven and upon opening the door I find that the tray of tarts on the bottom has burning honey on the bottom while the tops are not cooked. I now have eight good tarts for 14 people. This is a group: they have rented the inn for three days and they all come down to breakfast together. There is no chance that I can make some more and serve them to the late risers.
Test # 1: As I am assessing the damage and seeing if I can cut the bottoms off the burnt ones, James comes into the kitchen. I can see that he is itching to get in and try his hand at “fixing” them so when he asks me what he can do to help, I say, as diplomatically as possible, “Don’t watch me.” He says, “Okay, I’ll go out and stall them”. We pass!
Test #2: It quickly becomes clear that I cannot cut enough of the burned sugar off the bottoms. The tarts will taste burnt. (A little history: I am not a trained chef. I have been cooking for 40 years but I am entirely self-taught. I also love cooking shows.) So I am looking at the tarts and Top Chef is flashing through my mind. I can hear the judges saying “My tart was inedible.” I take a deep breath and make a decision: I can’t serve these tarts.
Test #3: Now the question is what am I going to serve instead? I have 14 people who are all waiting for breakfast. And, (don’t don’t laugh at me, I told you I love cooking shows) suddenly I can hear Chef Robert from The Worst Cooks In America say “Think like a Chef!” Eight Tarts can be cut in half and everyone will get a decent(ish) serving. We just need something else to put on the plate. James comes back in the kitchen as I am staring at the refrigerator. He immediately sees where I am going and we decide that, since they are pear tarts, we will put two slices of pear on the plate along with a little brie cheese. He gets to work slicing the pears and brie while I delicately cut the tarts in half. You know what? It looked pretty good!
By 8:45, only fifteen minutes behind time, everyone has a first course in front of them and the dining room is quiet as people are eating. In the Kitchen, James and I give each other a high five. We did it! We handled a kitchen disaster, working together effortlessly, without giving in to blame or nerves, calmly (Ok, that’s a relative term, but still!) figuring out what needed to be done and supporting each other in getting it done.
So there you have it. That’s what goes on back in the kitchen while you are in the dining room waiting!