Three hours into Saturday night dinner service and she was already running on fumes.
Rachel Bishop rubbed her forehead with the back of her sleeve and grabbed the newest round of tickets clattering through on the printer. Normally orders came in waves, enough time in between to take a deep breath, work the kinks out of her neck, and move on to the next pick. Tonight they had come fast and furious, one after another, tables filling as quickly as they were cleared. They were expecting two and a half turns of the dining room tonight, 205 covers.
It would be Paisley's biggest night in the six months since opening in January, and one they desperately needed. As part-owner of the restaurant, Rachel knew all too well how far away they still were from profitability. There were as many casual fine dining places in Denver as there were foodies, with new ones opening and closing every day, and she was determined that Paisley would be one of the ones that made it.
But that meant turning out every plate as perfectly as the last, no matter how slammed they were. She placed the new tickets on the board on the dining room side of the pass-through. "Ordering. Four- top. Two lobster, one spring roll, one dumpling. Followed by one roulade, two sea bass, one steak m.r."
"Yes, Chef," the staff answered in unison, setting timers, firing dishes. Over at 'entremet', Johnny had not stopped moving all night, preparing sides as fast as they came through on the duplicate printer. It was a station best suited to a young and ambitious cook, and tonight he was proving his worth.
"Johnny, how are we coming on the chard for table four?"
"Two minutes, Chef." Normally that could mean anything from one minute to five—it was an automatic response that meantI'm working on it, so leave me alone—but at exactly two minutes on the dot, he slid the pan of wilted and seasoned greens onto the pass in front of Rachel and got back to work in the same motion. She plated the last of table four's entrees as quickly as she could, called for service, surveyed the board.
A muffled oath from her left drew her attention. She looked up as her saute cook, Gabrielle, dumped burnt bass straight into the trash can.
"Doing okay, Gabs?"
"Yes, Chef. Four minutes out on the bass for nineteen."
Rachel rubbed her forehead with the back of her sleeve again, rearranged some tickets, called for the grill to hold the steak. On slow nights, she liked to work the line while her sous-chef, Andrew, practiced his plating, but tonight it was all she could do to expedite the orders and keep things running smoothly.
She jerked her head up at the familiar male voice and found herself looking at Daniel Kearn, one of her two business partners. She wasn't a short woman, but he towered above even her. Her gut twisted, a niggling warning of trouble that had never steered her wrong.
"Hey, Dan," she said cautiously, her attention going straight back to her work. "What's up?"
"Can I talk to you for a minute?"
"Now's not a great time." Dan might be the rarest of breeds these days—a restaurateur who wasn't a chef—but considering he owned four other restaurants, he should be able to recognize when they were in the weeds. The energy level in the kitchen right now hovered somewhere between high tension and barely restrained panic.
"Carlton Espy is here."
Rachel dropped her spoon and bit her lip to prevent any unflattering words from slipping out. "Here? Now? Where is he?" She turned and squinted into the dim expanse of the dining room, looking for the familiar comb-over and self satisfied smirk of the city's most hated food critic.
"No, he left. Stopped by my table before he went and told me to tell you,You're welcome.Does that make any sense to you?"
"Not unless he considers questioning both my cooking and my professional ethics a favor." She looked back at the tickets and then called, "Picking up nine, fourteen!"
"You really need to issue a statement to the press."
She'd already forgotten Dan was there. One by one, pans made their way to the pass beneath the heat lamps and she began swiftly plating the orders for the pair of four-tops. "I'm not going to dignify that troll with a response."
"Can we talk about this later? I'm busy."