The Warren Column: Fire and Ice

on 30 August, 2016

Jan Warren weighs up the myriad similarities between bartenders and cooks – and suggests mutual respect

You’re at work two hours early. After prepping five or six solid ingredients and at least that many liquid ones, you feel you can start your shift. You’ve put on your apron and supplied yourself with side towels. You’ve used a Robot-Coupe, a hand blender, a chinois, cheese cloth and a knife. Your station is tight and you feel fully prepared. You will spend the next eight or 10 hours meticulously arranging those ingredients according to your boss’s specifications. Up to this point, you could be a line cook or a bartender.

I’ve always felt there’s a great deal of similarity and respect between these two trades. We both work hard, long hours on our feet, suffer minor (and not so minor) hand injuries, bear the burden of bad backs and knees, and come to work under basically all health circumstances. As cocktail lists become more and more ornate and involved, the lines that separate us are even more blurred. A bartender’s mise en place might include marshmallows made by hand, and his or her tools might include a pastry torch and the same tongs and tweezers you will find in the world’s best kitchens.

As a bartender your responsibility to the line cook is heavy. These are the guys who make the food. Who get burns. Who need these few hours of joy after an intense work day more than almost anyone else you serve, excepting social workers. Pass the cooks a beer or shot while you make their drinks. Be quick with a joke. Give out hugs. These will be duly rewarded when next you dine.

Ultimately, if you take out the fire and the face-to-face interaction with customers, the two jobs are the same. Ingredients are prepped, assembled à la minute according to the recipes you have been given, then handed directly to a customer or to a server who gracefully delivers them to that customer.

I suppose I would say this similarity is most obvious in the sushi world. You sit at a bar and deal with the person preparing your consumable item, who often lets their personality shine through a bit. Perhaps that is why the Japanese make such wonderful bartenders?

The thread that most strongly connects these two people, is the ability to focus. Seems simple, right? Focus? Not so. Most folks these days can’t focus on another person long enough to get through a meal without checking Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat – forget about focusing on an odd assortment of inanimate objects for long enough to force their combination into something sublime.

Whether those objects are liquid modified with ice, or solid modified with fire is immaterial. The ability to focus on them, often under pressure and through force of will and intent create a sum that is greater than its parts is the gift needed to excel in either world. Next time you serve a cook, buy them a shot, and next time you are making food for a bartender, send an extra plate. Spread love. It’s the Brooklyn way.

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