On the whiteboard hung in the back of David Burke Kitchen, the overnight chef had scrawled the phrase “Let’s kick ass this week.” Beneath, a recipe for success was listed: teamwork, dedication, passion and more teamwork.
But when asked about preparations for Monday night, opening night of New York City’s Summer 2011 Restaurant Week, David Burke Kitchen Executive Chef Jedd Adair joked, “We just get ready to get our ass kicked.”
Choosing among four starters, five main courses and three desserts, Restaurant Week diners could order a three-course meal for just $35. Over 200 people took advantage of the deal at the main dining room of the Kitchen last night, whereas the summer Monday night diner average usually hovers below 100.
Still, Adair maintained the week is “anticlimactic” because the chefs prepare a smaller range of dishes and production simplifies.
“I mean I had an extra martini last night because of it,” Adair laughed. “You worry about it because the number is somewhat daunting [but] once you get used to it, you do the same thing over and over and over.”
Sporting a Yankees baseball cap at the beginning of the night, Adair serves as Kitchen team coach, shouting instructions laced with encouragement and critique. About five minutes after orders are placed, receipt tickets print through a machine stationed at his right and then he “fires,” reading the ticket aloud to the surrounding chefs: “Fire lobster soup. Order in two skate, side of fries.”
Monday night in the kitchen–for which food preparation began over the weekend–is an intricate balancing act for Adair: he reminds one chef to make sure the hamburgers are hot, sprinkles salt and drizzles sauce, and wipes the rim of plate after plate, erasing fingermarks. He receives the occasional waitress reporting that customers have been waiting for too long, asserts in a matter-of-fact tone that some servings need be redone, and even offers The Observer a glass of water.
“Pick up the scallops, short rib,” Adair demanded.
(All is quiet except the clanking of dishes and the sound of his voice. Adair pivots to poke chicken skewers into a slab of pineapple, as another order prints from the machine.)
The ordered chaos continues: “Pick up four skate, two scallop, two chicken, a short rib, two sides of fries and a fried green tomato. Pick it up.”
Around 7:45, after checking on his rooftop party (one of two private events Monday evening) and making small talk with guests about exercise, David Burke headed back down into the main restaurant’s kitchen, noting that something in the elevator smelled like vanilla.
“Right behind, right behind, right behind you,” warned one waiter bustling through with a box of spoons. “Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me,” sang another returning briskly with plates scraped clean. Burke scooped up a strawberry and popped it in his mouth. Fueled by adrenaline, a hectic rhythm had been established.
“This is nothing,” Burke maintained. “People are ordering the same things.”
Meanwhile, the dessert chef, overwhelmed with dessert tickets declared, “This is insane.”
Next came the order ticket over which Adair scrawled, “I am an asshole!” The list included two skate, two ribeye, two Cobb salads (no egg), two short rib, one tuna taco, one barbecue chicken, one burger medium, two spicy spaghetti, three fried green tomatoes and two french fries.
Apparently not everyone was ordering from the Restaurant Week selections.
At table 11 dined a PPX–restaurant code for VIP. (The code is employed so that visitors do not look at the hostess list and see VIP written next to their names.) Calling the diner the “cheesemonger,” Adair made sure to keep an eye on his expansive order as well, checking in with the chefs on their progress for “the guy at eleven.”
Plates continued to fly out of the kitchen, but around 10:00 came a desperate dessert plea for help, as the chef threw her hands down at her side in exasperation: “Can you help please? We’re like completely gone. We need help.”
Shouting for runners and asking waiters to push out carts of food, Adair sprang to the rescue, sweat dripping down his face: “Guys, we need hands.” He drizzled each plate with a ring of caramel, plopped an apple tart in the center, scooped on a ball of ice cream and poked in a piece of fennel.
Glancing up, the dessert chef asked The Observer, “Can you come back tomorrow?”