HISTORY OF BRENDA’S – PART II
and How to Cook a Damn Egg
As planned, as soon the money ran out, I immediately opened the doors for business in the hopes of getting some back in. Of course there were a ton of things I would have loved to have had done before we opened, but alas, I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth.
At this point I had enlisted the aid of a few friends, ex-co-workers and this new girl I was dating to help around the restaurant. Little did she and I suspect that first morning, walking to our new place of work, the hurricane that was about to blow through our lives and land us where we are today, restaurants, babies and all.
In the whirlwind of the build-out, spending the most money I’ve ever spent in a month’s time, and thrusting myself out of the comforts of the “back-of-the-house” womb, there were a few minor details that I had overlooked.
#1. I was really a night person. Having spent my entire adult life then-so- far, working mostly high-end restaurant jobs and serving dinner, my natural waking hour was closer to noon. “Foolish,” I told myself as I made the quiet realization that I had purposefully opened a breakfast restaurant on that first excruciating 6AM commute. Libby, also no stranger to last call, didn’t seem phased until I realized she was actually sleepwalking through the Tenderloin. “Impressive,” I thought.
#2. Speaking of the Tenderloin. There is no word that I can quietly think to myself to describe the carnage that is the pre-dawn streets of San Francisco’s most “colorful” neighborhood. It’s not so much the usual drug deals gone bad, homeless encampments, pregnant chain-smoking prostitutes and generally loathsome debauchery that we’ve had to witness and contend with on the way to work that we mind so much, as it is the piles of human feces we’ve had to dodge to get there. Yikes! Not so conducive to creating palate-tantalizing plates of tender lovin’ goodness.
#3. This last minor detail was not so much an oversight as it was just me being in good ol’ D-E-N-I-A-L. You see, among the many things my 750 square foot postage stamp of a restaurant was lacking, i.e a walk-in cooler, dry storage area, a host stand, employee break area, an office… you get the picture, what we were most lacking was an easily accessible restroom.
As some of our long-time regulars may or may not fondly recall, the only way to get to the bathroom back then was to squeeze directly past me and the other line cook on the hot line, past the dishwasher in the pit and around a corner past the prep cook, thus getting a full tour of the kitchen on your way to do your business.
It wasn’t as if I really had a choice in the matter, given my budget. But there really was no preparing us for what felt like the onslaught of diners who thought it was really cool to check out the place where the bathroom was in the kitchen. ha ha hmm grrrr.
“In-coming!” the waitresses would cry as soon as they saw someone heading to the back to give us in the kitchen fair warning, so as not to accidentally impale or burn any one. On the way back out, we kitchen folk would cry “Outgoing!” lest someone end up with a chest full of hot coffee from an unaware waitress. While this verbal system of survival was implemented out of sheer necessity, it only added to the bathroom entertainment factor. This lavatory frenzy would usually peak during holiday breaks when entire six-tops would line up, Disneyland ride-style, cameras in tow, to take our world famous bathroom-in-the-kitchen tour.
Seriously I could dedicate an entire post to bathroom-in-the-kitchen stories.
Unfortunately for me though, there was one other rather major detail that I had failed to address before opening. Something I wouldn’t discover until I got my first breakfast order at Brenda’s. I still remember the order and the customer. It was our friend “dyke becky” (as opposed to “non-dyke becky”) and she ordered the shrimp and goat cheese omelette. I was deep in my two-month-long-opening-my-first-restaurant-doing-(almost)-everything-myself mania when I realized,
“Hey wait a minute, I’ve never actually cooked an omelette before.” Yea, still pretty embarrassing to admit even now.
See the thing is, in 15+ years in various kitchens I had never physically worked in a restaurant that served breakfast, and as a result, never had an opportunity to work the “egg station” before. I also have to factor in that I just hadn’t slowed down enough to pay my proper respects to the almighty egg, instead just assuming, “Eggs, I got this”. Hell, I had even written a successful, profitable breakfast/brunch menu for another business. In the big picture, this egg-cooking thing was a walk in the park.
So, to say that first day was humbling would be an understatement. While my new girlfriend and our buddy Stephen quietly tiptoed around a rather frightening version of me, waiting on the few tables we had that day, there I was in full view of the dining room, red-faced and irritated beyond recognition.
On that first day in Battle Eggs vs. Brenda the tally went something like this:
Scrambled. No problem, but a proper soft scrambled did take a little finesse and patience. Unfortunately for me, the world does not live by scrambled eggs alone. Eggs 0 – Brenda 4
Omelettes. By the end of the day I had managed to pull a few passable ones together with the liberal use of my chef-y asbestos fingers. Eggs 6 – Brenda 3
Over Easy Eggs. These were by far the most humiliating orders to manage and the ones to invoke the most heartfelt cries of shame and frustration from the kitchen that day. Needless to say, we went through a lot of uneaten eggs that day. Eggs 35 – Brenda 0
Poached. Because no server was quick enough to dodge the flaming acid darts that would shoot out of my eyes whenever they would ask if I would poach eggs for a particular customer, I was able to avoid having to dedicate one of the four precious burners in the kitchen to those beasts. Truth was, I just couldn’t bear further humiliation. No Contest
Final Score: Eggs 41 – Brenda 7
Clearly I needed professional help, which didn’t arrive until six months later in the form of a chubby Antonio Banderas. In the meantime, I went home that night and watched every single egg cooking video on youtube that I could find and bought myself some shiny, new non-stick pans. My egg skills definitely improved, but I could still stand for some improvement, because what I realized those first few humbling months is that Egg Cooking is an ART. So next time you’re about to partake in some beautifully cooked eggs whether it be at a lowly Denny’s at 2AM, your local Rotary Club or a four course brunch at the Ritz, just remember that there’s someone in the kitchen with some real skills making it happen.
Just in case you too decide to open your very own breakfast place make sure to check out my very short tutorial first:
How To Cook a Damn Egg
I’ll start off with the most basic here. At the restaurant we whip our eggs with just a touch of half and half, no salt or pepper, but feel free to add some at home if you like. We also cook our eggs in plain canola oil. At home feel free to use butter instead if you prefer, I do.
OVER EASY (or over-medium, over-hard)