The rush began at about ten o'clock. Or, rather, the first of a series of rushes: cheap nike free shoes uk on weekends, customers come in waves, like Cossacks. When I arrived at the line, the heat seared my lungs--the griddle, at about six hundred degrees, was wreathed in steam from cooking pots and egg pans. Martin had ten omelettes on the griddle and was swigging something called SoBe Adrenaline Rush from a thin black can. Next to him, Joel had five pairs of eggs going and a hubcap-size pan of scrambled eggs. Debbie was fishing poached eggs from a roiling pot, while an assistant chef sliced red onions at a furious pace beside her, filling the air with a stinging mist. "I need a four on two, sunny and scrambled, both wearing sausage!" nike free 4.0 v2 uk a grill cook at the next station shouted. Joel nodded. The grill cooks usually made their own eggs to go with steaks or pancakes, but they sometimes needed help: "four on two" meant four eggs on two plates. Joel ripped a spool of new orders from the printer and tucked them under a clamp above the counter, then started cracking eggs into pans two at a time. When he was done, he had ten pairs of eggs cooking: five from previous orders, two from the grill cook's order, and three from the new orders. He finished the five original orders first. He put a pair of sunnys under a broiler and used his forefinger to break the yolks on a pair that had been ordered over hard. Then he flipped the eggs in that pan and those in three other pans that had been ordered over easy--one, two, three, four. He pivoted back to the counter, set five plates on it, and garnished them all with potatoes and bacon or sausage. He then flipped the over-hards and over-easies again, slid them onto their plates along with the sunnys from the nike free 3.0 v4 shoesbroiler, and placed all the plates under the hot lights above the counter.
The whole sequence took about three minutes. Meanwhile,nike air max uk four new tickets had printed out, the potato bin needed refilling, the last five orders were ready to flip, and Debbie had asked for some over-easies to go with a chicken-fried steak. On Martin's side, the omelettes were multiplying--there were fifteen now, all with different ingredients--nearly crowding the egg pans off the griddle. He pivoted and flipped them in one motion, catching the omelettes in the pan as it reached the counter, ignoring a small commotion that had broken out over at the grill station. "Would you eat that?" a barrel-chested black waitressnike air max mens uk named Rose was yelling. "Would you?" Apparently, she'd asked Frank--a hulking young grill cook who had been there for only five months--for an order of pancakes with a side of over-easies, but by the time the eggs were done the pancakes were cold. Frank had made a second batch, but Rose had left them sitting so long that they'd gone cold again. "You need some manners," Frank complained in a small voice, like a bike horn that had lost its squeak. Rose put her hand on her hip and cocked it to the side, then flung a flapjack across the counter as if it were a Frisbee. "I ain't servin' nothin' I wouldn't eat!" Gutstein, being a cook, mostly blames the servers when things break down at the cafe, which they rarely do. "They aren't bad people, but their nature is 'I want, I want, I want,' " he says. "They get spoiled. They put in an order and want it within three or four minutes. So the cooks start sandbagging--preparing things ahead of time." He went over to quiet Rose down but soon gave up and wandered back to his station. "Why can't we be friends?" he sang in a gruff baritone. Behind him, a tall, buzz-cut waiter named Eric made a gesture as if bending a stick. "I can almost hear it snapping," he said. "It's bowed. It's not broken. But it's just about to snap." Short-order cooking is like driving a car: anyone can do it up to a certain speed. The difference between an amateur and a crack professional isn't so much a matter of specific skills as of consistency and timing. Most diner kitchens are fairly forgiving places. You can break a yolk or two, lose track of an order, or overcook an omelette and start again without getting swamped. But as the pace increases those tolerances disappear. At the Tropical Breeze, a single mistake can throw an entire sequence out of kilter, so that every dish is either cold or overdone. A cook of robotic efficiency, moving steadily from task to task, suddenly slips a cog and becomes Lucy in the chocolate factory, stuffing candies into her mouth as nike air max womens shoes they pile up on the assembly line.
On early mornings, well before the first rush, Gutstein air jordans shoes would let me work at the over-easy station for an hour or two. After a few days, I could crack seven or eight eggs in a row without breaking a yolk--good enough for Julia's but not for a rush at the cafe. When Joel cracked eggs, his fingers were as loose and precise as a jazz guitarist's. He held one egg between his thumb and his first two fingers, another curled against his palm. He rapped the first egg on the rim of the pan, twisted it into hemispheres, and opened it as cleanly as if it were a Faberge Easter egg. As the spent shell fell into the trash, he shuttled the second egg into position, as if pumping a rifle. He was proud of this little move. It saved him about a second versus having to grab an egg from the bin. If he cracked six thousand eggs a week, the move saved him about an hour; in a year, it cheap air jordan 13 women shoessaved him more than a week. The egg flip had to be equally flawless but allowed for more personal flair. I often wished that I had a slow-motion film of the different cooks doing it. Edgar Lopez, the sassy Salvadoran who filled in for those on break, liked to throw his eggs high into the air, like salsa dancers, catch them at the top of their arc, and let them slide vertically down the pan. Joel gave his eggs a quick little jerk, so that they stood up on edge and swung over like a door on a hinge. Martin barely moved his pan at all. air jordan 4 shoesHis eggs just seemed to roll over on command. As for mine, they'd catapult up and turn an eager circle in the air, but every fourth or fifth pair would belly flop in the pan and spring a leak.
"The hard part isn't flipping them," Debbie air jordan 13 shoes "It's catching them." But cooking a dozen egg dishes at once, while filling supplies and fielding side orders, is above all a feat of timing. Even if your technique is perfect, everything in the kitchen conspires to throw you off. The customer wants crispy bacon, so you have to root around in a warming tray or toss some slices into the deep fryer. The trash hasn't been taken out, so you have to dump your shells at the next station. A batch of eggs have been stored so long that their yolks are weak and more likely to burst. To keep track of every dish, you need a dozen egg timers in your head, all set to trigger alarms at different intervals. Warren Meck, a neuroscientist at Duke University, has identified the neural circuitry that allows the brain to time several events at once. As it happens, short-order cooks are among his favorite examples. They're like jugglers, he says, who can keep a dozen balls in the air at the same time. He calls them "the master interval timers." Whenever a cook sets a pan on a griddle, Meck says, a burst ofair jordan mens shoes dopamine is released in the brain's frontal cortex. The cortex is full of oscillatory neurons that vibrate at different tempos. The dopamine forces a group of these neurons to fall into synch, which sends a chemical signal to the corpus striatum, at the base of the brain. "We call that the start gun," Meck says. The striatum recognizes the signal as a time marker and releases a second burst of dopamine, which sends a signal back to the frontal cortex via the thalamus--the stop gun. Every time this neural circuit is completed, the brain gets better at distinguishing that particular interval from the thousands of others that it times during the course of the day. An experienced cook like Joel, Meck believes, will have a separate neural circuit set up for every task: an cheap air jordan 13 men over-easy circuit, an over-medium circuit, a sunny-side-up circuit, and so on, each one reinforced through constant, repetitive use.