I walk the line


Justin Robertiello

Cameron Keyes working the line

Editors Note: This is the first in an occasional series featuring students writing about their jobs. Most of those attending NVU work part-time or full-time in addition to their studies.

Most people know what it is like to eat in a restaurant, but how many know how to cook in one?

It’s 7:00 a.m. and I am awakened by my ever-so-dreaded alarm.

With my eyes barely open, I wander my home aimlessly until I find my way to a cup of coffee and await the caffeine to work its magic. Eventually the hair stands up on my arms and my heart begins to race. It’s time to go. I slip my shoes on and stumble to my car as I’m off to spend my day making tacos for the hungry.

As I depart on my 20-minute commute, I take some time to mentally prepare myself for my work day. Along with my coffee I play loud music as my last attempt to wake myself up for what is usually a long grueling day of being in a hot kitchen.

As my car approaches El Cortijo in Winooski, the restaurant where I work, I can already feel the hot Sahara-like desert heat coming from underneath the door. I step into the kitchen. I fire up all of the equipment and add to the already excessive heat that is left over from the night before. Now it’s time to grab my prep list and start chopping. Once I analyze the prep list, it’s down to the freezing walk-in cooler to grab what I need. I open the door to the cooler and to my right holds salsas, a little further down meat, and, at the end, dairy products like cheese and milk.

To my left is just a massive wall of different sized tortillas and vegetables. I pick and choose what I want and then it’s back upstairs to start the process of setting up my line. The line is my space where I prepare and cook food then pass it to my fellow cook who does the finishing touches and then puts it up in the window for a server to grab.

After hours of what seems to be never-ending cutting of vegetables and heating of meat it’s finally 11 and the doors open. I stare out the kitchen window into what used to be an empty dining room that is now filled with people buzzing in and out like bees to a hive.

At this point I and my fellow cook are now performing our routine checks on all of our bells and whistles to make sure our service runs as smoothly as possible. Are we stocked up on food? Do we have the appropriate cleaning supplies to keep the line sterile? Do we have enough plates and bowls? Little things like that will make all the difference.

Now that everyone has sat down the servers begin taking orders and now we wait. 15 minutes go by and the ticket machine I can hear in my dreams is going off like a typewriter out of hell. A full restaurant of orders come in and it’s time to focus. Still cupping my coffee, I take a deep breath as my tickets pile up. At this moment in my career I do not panic at the sound of the machine, because I am comfortable in my position, and without thought tortillas go down on the griddle, steaks are seared, and the sweet smell of tacos begin to fill the restaurant.

After a few hours of being on autopilot, we finally get to soak in the smiling faces of our customers as they devour our finished product. Finally, the first wave of customers starts to pour out and I quickly start resetting my line. I start heating up for the next service before I do not have time to.

Before I know it, here comes stampede number two and tickets start flying again. Sauté pans sizzling with fresh kale and mushrooms. The fryer crackling with calamari in it as I’m dialing in and getting ready for what is to come.

Once again tacos are flying and I am back on my toes. After another couple of hours of mayhem, I am finally approaching the end of my shift. I am now stocking up for the next cook who comes in and scrubbing down surfaces so he has a nice clean area to work with. Now It’s time I wipe the sweat from my face and head downstairs to do inventory.

Doing inventory requires being very diligent and aware of what I do and do not already have prepped. Being that this is a Mexican restaurant, the staples that must be prepared for each day are rice, beans, salsas and meats. Vegetables are easy; that’s something we can get done last minute if needed.

Now that I have scanned the walk-in cooler, I must go look at all the dry products. These are the spices, seasonings, potatoes, onions and whatever else you can think of. Then it’s off to the freezer to finalize the process. Do we have fish? Do we have des serts? The list is endless. Now that my list is done it’s back upstairs where another cook has come to relieve me of my duty, and I can clock out. Just like any other job, clocking out after a hard day’s work might just be the best feeling in the world.

Now that my nine hour shift is over, it’s time to go home, wash the smell of tortilla chips off my body and do it all again the next day.