Patrick Mulvaney is a chef and caterer who opened a restaurant, Mulvaney’s Building & Loan, earlier this year. He will write every month about the life of a Sacramento chef. Starting next month, look for his blog only at sacmag.com/dining.
This is the greatest job in the world. That is what Little Stevie, a chef friend of mine, said over beers last night, and I agree with him. I own a small midtown restaurant whose menu is based on the bounty of the farmers, ranchers and vintners who surround us. We have growers who bring us peaches that drip down to your elbow when you bite into them, winemakers with their latest bottlings, a rancher who delivers our order himself because he wants the meat here before the sun starts to bring on the Sacramento heat. Everything that comes into our kitchen has a history, and we get to add to it when we send the finished plates out to our guests. Offering folks good food and wine in a comfortable setting and getting to see them smile&emdash;it truly is a wonderful life.
Sitting on borrowed chairs in an empty dining room after our first night at the B&L, looking at the makeshift bar and the glare of the construction lights, I realized that finally we had a restaurant. The feeling was overwhelming. All that planning and work and help from so many people had brought us here, and it felt great. There had been plenty of bumps in the road, no doubt, but the room today feels comfortable and looks like the kind of place I would go on my night off.
It has been two years since I moved my catering business into an old firehouse on 19th Street, and 20 since I started cooking. I wake up every day to see that my dream is coming true: running a restaurant that offers diners food and hospitality, and me a bully pulpit from which to sing the praises of our friends the farmers.
Many of the growers are surprised to see their names on the menu when they come in. But to us in the kitchen, they are the stars. Creating the menu on Monday mornings always begins the same way: What is Suzanne picking this week? Did Mahoney say what kind of fish he was bringing? Tina is bringing peaches tomorrow. What pork does John have?
Cooks love beautiful ingredients. What we love even more is using them once service begins.
The first task of our day is assembling the mise en place, French for everything in its place. In order for service to go smoothly, you need to have your station set just so. Towels are always folded the same way, knives to the side of your cutting board, oils, herbs, salt and pepper at the ready. Good cooks are very territorial; woe to anyone who touches anything at the station&emdash;except the chef, of course.
Service begins. It’s what cooks call the dance. If you’re prepared, things fall into a rhythm. Keeping up with the flow is important; walking the tightrope is what we enjoy most.
It’s true we work long nights and weekends. We’re on our feet for hours, standing in front of open flames. We have cuts on our hands, sore feet, creaky knees and no hair below our elbows. But for those of us who cook, this is, indeed, the greatest job in the world.