Industry Standard - Marsha Lynch

Product wrangling

I’m a morning person. Not that I greet the day by springing from bed singing songs with cartoon woodland animals like Snow White, all cheerful and such. But I am the morning person at a restaurant. I’ve always enjoyed being the first one in, greeted by a clean, cool, quiet commercial kitchen, with plenty of space and sparkling equipment to start the day’s prep.

Being a morning restaurant person comes with certain responsibilities. One important function of the morning person is the holy receiving of deliveries. It’s crucial that product be checked in; you can’t just let someone drop a dolly-full of boxes in the middle of the kitchen floor and hope for the best. One must verify that what was ordered is as close as possible to what was delivered, of course — but you also have to make sure that what’s on the invoice you’re signing is what’s actually in that stack. You have to look at the condition of the proteins and produce. Case of canned tomatoes? Cleaning supplies, bathroom tissue? You don’t need to open those while the guy’s still waiting for a signature. But you do have to see them and check them off the invoice.

Delivery people are nice, hardworking men and women, who have basically nothing to do with your order except moving it from point A to point B. So it’s not usually their fault if the carrots are scrawny or the spinach is already going south, but you’ll have to refuse it and put it back in their hands, have them take it off the invoice and discuss how soon it can be replaced.

These nice folks have a very special talent, though. Somehow they always show up when you’re busiest and least available. I swear to the patron saint of kitchens (St. Laurence!), I could stand stock-still for an hour, sleeves rolled up high, my gloved hands poised over a bus tub of chicken salad ingredients, and the very second I finally give up and plunge my hands in to mix it, there will be a knock on the back door. I truly believe the delivery guys are in cahoots with the disposable glove companies. I imagine them taking luxurious island vacations with their “glove-money.”

And you can’t ask them, no matter how sweetly, to skip you and come back later. First of all, the product is loaded onto their truck in the order they are to deliver it, so they can’t really just trundle along to their next stop, because your stuff will be blocking the next stop’s pallet. And besides — you need that stuff! You’re desperate for something in the stack already. So you try to sigh as quietly as possible while you ditch your gloves with a smile, find your marker and go to work checking items off the list.

Dry goods guy, produce and specialty items guy, proteins guy, fish guy — stop! Fish guy is a super tricky check-in. Fish guy is bringing you uber-perishable product, iced down in a special bin he really needs to take back to his shop, empty. You have to dedicate a clean, waterproof resting place for all the sides of salmon, big cans of fat juicy sea scallops and teensy tiny cans of caviar, local smoked trout filets and plastic net bags of live clams, oysters and mussels. Bags of live bi-valves have special laminated seafood tags attached that must be immediately detached, rinsed and saved for health department regulations. You have to deal very carefully with live product. You have to get them refrigerated as soon as possible with fresh wet paper towels on top in a container that’s perforated to drain the melt from the ice into another container beneath.

And then, multiple times a morning, it’s time to store your product properly. “FIFO” is an acronym for “first in, first out.” Meaning that when you put things away, you have to label and date them; move the older product out of the way, putting the new product behind it, and replacing the older product at the front so it’ll get used first. Hopefully by now someone brawny is there to do the heavy lifting with your direction.

I curse you, daily lemon that somehow always jumps out of the bin and rolls into the back corner of the walk-in. Come here, you. It’s all part of the morning cycle of a commercial kitchen. But you know what else FIFO stands for? I was first in, so … I’m first out.

Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro, Café Lou Lou, and Marketplace @ Theater Square. She currently works at Fontleroy’s, newly opened at the corner of Grinstead and Bardstown.