Or, no matter where you go, there you are.
“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
It’s always works out perfectly even if we don’t know what that looks like, especially when going through a particularly stressful situation, like the one I experienced early in my career at Charley’s Crab in Ft. Lauderdale back in the early 90’s.
Back then it was a highly regarded operation that was all about balancing quality with volume. There was a special kind of madness that ruled this very busy restaurant as will happen when young men have a little too much power and not enough common sense. Greg had come from Colorado with his young family for a fresh start and he was clearly over qualified for the position but to my amazement and relief he accepted the position. He worked for me as my Sous Chef and it was, all in all, a grand time for all involved.
At one point as I was cutting fish in the cooler and as Greg was counting out his line stock for the night he quietly said to me that I was the first Chef he had worked with that he hadn’t actively tried to burn down. He hadn’t stopped counting his fish as he spoke matter-of-factly, never really explaining why but I somehow got that it was some sort of compliment. I didn’t say a word and he kept right on setting up his line,
Somewhere between expediting 300 early birds, doing shots of tequila at the service bar, stripping naked at the beach and Alan Zimmer playing a Blues in E on the piano in the dining room for his Sunday night guests dressed in just his underwear and clogs, three years went by and it was time to part ways.
Greg had finally got the promotion to his own store that he so richly deserved. By that time Zim had washed out, Sparky had been canned and Doc did just what he had to do to get by each shift with his sanity.
Greg left at the beginning of the busiest quarter of the year. It felt like we were getting divorced and I got the kids and yet life, funny enough, went on. The restaurant needs went on unabated and there were still guests to be fed, crew to lead and owners to satisfy. Simply said, the show still had to go on albeit at a disproportionate disadvantage.
The separation had been a potent and effective force within the little social laboratory that was our kitchen; Greg had an excellent skill set, a mystical sense of taste, a great sense of humor and a tenacity to get the job done regardless of the circumstances unlike any I had been party to before.
A man, I’m sure you would agree, that would be sorely missed, by none more so than me for I drew strength from him as a professional and a sense of community from him as a person. Into this breach I found myself, a little less sure and a bit more stressed. His absence necessitated a drastic shift to the game plan, crew schedule and major changes to the priority list of things to keep an eye on, which egos to massage and practically anything else required getting through the next shift.
The person most affected by this change was me but not in the ways I might have previously thought. Sure, I’d worked seven days for the last three weeks but I had found myself somehow mysteriously charged and energetic; able to knock down twelve hours in a single bound although my body moaned inwardly a little more than in the past when I used to throw myself around the kitchen with wild abandon, sacrificing all else for the sake of that last plate up banquet.
Perhaps more painful of all was the sacrifice I made to my wife and children, short lived as it may be. While my career situation changes from year to year their presence in my life does not and all that they require is merely my presence, nothing greater or less. Even they found constructive ways with which to use their new found time together.
It had been a challenge day after day; keeping focused on the most immediate need while somehow coming up with the solution of how I would staff two carving stations at the same time when I had no one available, save a dishwasher or two.
I had always appreciated all that Greg had done and shifting his responsibilities onto myself as well as working at accomplishing all that I had to do those past weeks was a frustrating white knuckled experience given that we were up 15% over the last year and up 15% each and every year for the past three.
While the increased revenue makes for happy owners, crew with overtime and guests who get to experience an operation on its game, those kind of numbers puts an incredible burden on staff morale, physical plant integrity and FFE inventories.
So much so that one wonders if the damage done could be repaired to heart and hearth until, that is, when you hear the echo of honest laughter coming from the pantry and in that raw moment you know, it’s all going to end up fine.
Suffice it to say that there was more irony apparent here than I wanted to look at then, but look, I did.
As much chaos as a change like this can breed it can also be fertile ground in which plant the seeds of greatness.
Changes such as these often become highly charged catalysts, bringing about a positive change with far greater ramifications than had only been dreamed of. Suddenly the possibility to move the mission forward in significant and substantial ways loomed just over the horizon, more attainable than ever before.
Crew who had been chomping at the bit to show the true measure of their mettle now had the opportunity to make their voices heard. A chance to reconcile attitudes and abilities; entering into a commitment of creating real growth through coaching or mentor-ship, to really show them just how valuable they were to us by increasing their value through training, both on site and off, a plan that would get them to where they dreamt to be. Systems that heretofore had been merely acceptable could now go through an evolution so that they, not only, could quantify the information but make it accessible and, low and behold, understandable.
We are all too often simply human and with all things being equal and given just enough time to make anything a ‘routine’, we fall into a place of comfort. Comfort being different from complacency though both can be dangerous without careful consideration.
Several months later I stood on a Saturday night and marveled at the man/metal organism that was that kitchen, alive, organic, pulsing, as it danced its way through the night’s reservation list with a grace and effectiveness that made short work of orders and special requests; precision incarnate.
At that moment I knew that this was going to be the crew that took us through season, breaking numbers without breaking a sweat.
The crew had changed, not for the worse, but for the better. Nobody’s fault, none right or wrong, it just was. The loss of one of its leaders had not deterred this group of individuals brought together for a common purpose but instead reunited them, reinvigorated them, recommitted them to the mission that they, together, chose to make manifest every day that they punched the clock and donned their aprons.
Be where you’re at, have what you have.
Never had I heard more valuable words for I knew there were times when I was, and when I wasn’t. Then I knew, at any moment, I could choose to be present and connected. Sometimes it isn’t pretty but it’s so much better than arguing for your circumstances.
New blood and renewed exercise can bring back damaged muscle and repair it; maybe not to what it was but it often builds into something new. It becomes capable of things that it never could have accomplished before, regardless of the effort used to bring it about. I could have easily slipped into melancholy about what I had lost or how things could have been different but in the end I chose to have what I have, be present and look for the opportunities that existed right there before me.
Something to be said for change, hard as it may be for the heart to bear at times; or so some of us would have us believe. ¨