Embedded at Petite Maison: Zach Fowle in the Kitchen
For most restaurateurs, it's simply about gluttony. But James and Wendy Porter of Petite Maison in Scottsdale are gluttons for punishment. There's no other explanation for why they would invite Chow Bella contributors to work both the front of the house and the kitchen on a weekend, and during Arizona Restaurant Week. Today: Zach Fowle mans the soufflés. Later this week, Lauren Saria shares her experiences as hostess and Wendy Porter offers the view from the other side.
Most people in the restaurant industry are of the opinion that everybody who wishes to eat in a restaurant should, at some point in his or her life, work in one. The idea is that after this compulsory period of service-industry work, of sweating in a hot kitchen or getting shit on by whiny customers while working hours that get you home for bed at a time when others are just waking up, you'll be a little more likely to treat your servers with respect, a little more willing to wait an extra few minutes for your meal, and a little more appreciative of the precision required to make your experience -- and that of each of the dozens of diners also flowing through the restaurant that night -- perfect.
"There's a lot more involved in running a restaurant than the pictures of the food, the good and bad reviews, and the uneducated opinions that come out," James Porter, chef-owner of Petite Maison says to me on the afternoon I've come in to work my shift at the Old Town eatery. "Those are all the things that we deal with on a daily basis -- this whole sea of people who are experts but have never actually worked in a kitchen."
I know, I say. It's why I'm here.
The hardships of working in a restaurant can't really be told -- at least not by those who've done it for years and are somewhat immune. They've got to be experienced. And Chow Bella, always willing to put its overeager contributors where our mouths are, has dispatched me for just this purpose. Having never spent an instant on the working side of a restaurant, I'm to spend an entire night working for one of the most well-respected -- and demanding -- in the city. And during Spring Restaurant Week, no less.
"This is a great time for you to come, because we're going to be totally, extremely busy," Chef Porter says. "The stress level will probably brim at about 98 percent. But it's been going on for a week now. Everybody's tired already. At least we're not tired and hungover, like I was yesterday."
So I've got that going for me, which is nice. Still, I'm expected to work.
"The only way you're going to be able to see this is if you actually jump in and do it. I've done this long enough that we know where to throw the life preservers -- close enough that you'll have to paddle your ass to reach them. You're not going to die, and you're not going to physically get hurt or hit or whatever, but those paddles are going to be stationed around you at more than a swimming pool's length. We're not going to let you go down, but we want you to actually see what it's like. It wouldn't be as fun or as informative if you just stood around and watched everyone work."
Cool. Any more words of encouragement?
"Yeah. You're going to work with really sharp knives. We've got a lot of Band-Aids. You cut yourself? Oh, well. You cut yourself really bad, we'll Super Glue it and duct tape it, then you'll go back out there, because we've already counted you as a body tonight and we need you to perform. It's not like you can cut yourself and, oops, story's over. We gave somebody the night off so you could fill his position."