She barely noticed when he slipped out of the kitchen, concentrating on getting table nine to one of the back waiters, then table fourteen. For a few blissful moments, the printer was quiet and all the current tickets were several minutes out. She took a deep breath, the only sounds around her the clatter of pans, the hiss of cooking food, the ever-present hum of the vent hoods. After five hours in the heart of the house, they vibrated in her bones, through her blood, the bass notes to the kitchen's symphony.
Her peace was short-lived. Carlton Espy had been here, the troll. Of all the legitimate restaurant reviewers in Denver, a scale on which he could barely register, he was both the most controversial and the least likable. Most people called him the Howard Stern of food writing with his crass, but apparently entertaining, take on the food, the staff, and the diners. Rachel supposed she should be happy that he'd only questioned her James Beard Award rather than criticizing the looks and the sexual orientation of every member of her staff, as he'd done with another local restaurant last week.
The thing Dan didn't seem to understand was that slights and backhanded compliments from critics came with the territory. Some seemed surprised that a pretty woman could actually cook; others criticized her for being unfriendly because she didn't want to capitalize on her looks and her gender to promote her restaurant. She had never met a woman in this business who wanted to be identified as "the best female chef in the city." Either your food was worthy of note or it wasn't. The chromosomal makeup of the person putting it on the plate was irrelevant. End of story. Tell that to channel seven.
As the clock ticked past nine, the orders started to slow down and they finally dug themselves out of the hole they'd been in since seven o'clock. The post-theater crowds were coming in now, packing the bar on the far side of the room, a few groups on the main floor who ordered wine, appetizers, desserts. The last pick left the kitchen at a quarter past eleven, and Rachel let her head fall forward for a second before she looked out at her staff with a grin. "Good job, everyone. Shut it down."
Ovens, grills, and burners were switched off. Leftovermise en placewas transferred to the walk-ins for tomorrow morning. Each station got scrubbed and disinfected with the careless precision of people who had done this every night of their adult lives, the last chore standing between them and freedom. She had no illusions about where they were headed next, exactly where she would have been headed as a young cook—out to the bars to drain the adrenaline from their systems, then home to catch precious little sleep before they showed up early for brunch service tomorrow. By contrast, Rachel's only plans were her soft bed, a cup of hot tea, and a rerun on Netflix until she fell into an exhausted stupor. At work, she might feel as energetic as she had as a nineteen year-old line cook, but the minute she stumbled out of the restaurant, her years on the planet seemed to double.
Rachel changed out of her whites into jeans and a sweatshirt in her office, only to run into Gabrielle in the back corridor.
"Can I talk to you for a minute, Chef?"
Rachel's radar immediately picked up the nervousness beneath the woman's usual brusque demeanor. Changed out of her work clothes and into a soft blue T-shirt that made her red hair look even fierier, Gabby suddenly seemed very young and insecure, even though she was several years older than Rachel.
"Of course. Do you want to come in?" Rachel gestured to the open door of her office.
"No, um, that's okay. I wanted to let you know...before someone figures it out and tells you." Gabby took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. "I'm pregnant."
Rachel stared at the woman, sure her heart froze for a split second. "Pregnant?"
"Four months." Gabby hurried on, "I won't let it interfere with my work, I swear. But at some point..."
"You're going to need to take maternity leave." In an office setting, that was hard enough, but in a restaurant kitchen, where there were a limited number of cooks to fill in and new additions disrupted the flow they'd established, it was far more complicated.
"We'll figure it out," Rachel said finally. "And congratulations. You're going to make a wonderful mother. I bet Luke is thrilled."
Gabby's words rushed out in relief. "He is."
"Now go get some sleep." Rachel's instincts said to give her a hug, congratulate her again, but that damaged the level of authority she needed to maintain, made it harder to demand the best from Gabby when she should probably be focusing more on her baby than her job. Instead, Rachel settled for a squeeze of her shoulder.