The sous chef worked the saute station because he was shorthanded cooks. One called in with a fever. The other had the chills. A bevy of tasks ran through the sous chef’s mind as he added chicken broth and balsamic vinegar to a pot while swirling in butter. Meanwhile conversation amongst the cooks continued.
“We were at the hospital last night.”
“Not you too?”
The sous chef shook the pan. His hand squeezed the pot’s handle.
“No, not me,” said the sous chef watching the liquid reduce in the pot. “Her father is eighty-one. We called an ambulance. They took forever. We only got to Elmhurst at midnight.”
“Wasn’t he just in the hospital?” a cook asked.
The sous chef shut the flame. A cook held a sieve for him. Another set up a bain-marie. The sous chef poured the liquid through the sieve.
“Two weeks ago, right before his birthday. Last night he felt feverish and started coughing.”
The head waiter entered the kitchen.
“We’ve had several cancellations.”
The sous chef looked at the wall clock above the kitchen door.
“That sucks,” said the sous chef. “You mind if I make a phone call?”
The sous chef stepped away from the line. The cooks continued talking amongst themselves. All had trouble sleeping. One got up early to watch the news.
“You saw that photo?”
“The president shaking hands with the congressman.”
“You heard about that congressman, right?”
The floor staff entered the kitchen. They wiped menus with damp cloths. The excitement gone from their faces. One asked the floor manager if she could leave early.
“Let’s see how it goes,” said the floor manager.
The sous chef returned to his spot behind the line. He set saute pans on the stove without saying anything.
“You okay?” a cook asked.
Nobody said anything. The floor manager sent his crew into the dining room.
Seven minutes later the first order arrived.
Sauteed chicken with balsamic glaze.