After-Shift Spaghetti, or, Why Cooks Have Such Terrible Diets

Saturday, 8:25 AM I’m still in the clutches of sleep as I toast some hippie 16 grain bread and get dressed for work. The toast gets a thick coating of half an avocado, a treat because Aaron bought avocados for tacos and then forgot about them. The toast has the correct ratio of creamy to crisp but no heat. I didn’t add enough red pepper flakes. Or I forgot to add them. I pour boiling water into my thermos with a bag of Earl Grey, gather up my knives, kiss the sleeping Aaron goodbye, and run out the door.

9:01 I’m late by a minute, which is typical. Restaurant #1 has an open kitchen and my station is set next to an enormous window. It’s bright and cheerful, waking me up as much as my tea. We bustle about setting up our station in time for the brunch to start. I don’t finish setting up until 10:05, but there’s no one in the dining room by then so it’s nothing to worry about.

11:15 Our chef is trying out a new dish, a modern riff on a tuna noodle casserole. I steal a handful of rigatoni that he just cooked and snack on it. I’m starving. He fake yells at me. I tell him I like the amount of chew in the noodles. He puts up a sample of the tuna noodle casserole as a tester just as we get a mini-bump. The casserole is all gone by the time I can leave my station again.

1:30 It’s slow enough that I can roll out tart dough in the back for a dinner dish. I get as many tart shells as their are mini tart pans out of the dough and still have some dough leftover. I peel and dice an apple, then toss it with flour, sugar, and cinnamon. That goes into the rolled out leftover dough, which is turned and crimped. I brush the top with some leftover scrambled eggs, demerera sugar, and more cinnamon. The whole thing gets thrown in the deep fryer. This is going to be, in the restaurant parlance, gross. My station mate comes in and we compare notes from service. Chef has been doing admin duty, but comes back to the kitchen to tell me I can head out now. We’re slow. No one wants to go outside for brunch when it feels like -20.

“I can’t. I have an apple pie in the deep fryer.”

Chef blinks like an owl. “Fair enough.”

2:15 Brunch is over and cleaned up. The deep-fried apple pie has been ravaged. I like the filling, but I think it needs a different crust. Someone suggests wrapping the apple filling in our biscuits and deep frying those. This is not a healthy place to work. I clock out, then use the last of an avocado for a brunch dish to fill one of our bagels and scarf it down.

3:10 I usually work at Restaurant #1 until 3, then head over to Restaurant #2 by 4 where I do pastry. But since I got out early today I drive to Restaurant #2’s neighborhood and head to a coffee shop. It’s a local chain and I love how much attention to quality they have, but each shop reflects its neighborhood. Restaurant #2 is in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Minneapolis and it’s reflected in the coffee shop. There’s lots of glass, marble countertops, and uncomfortable, backless stools. It’s beautiful but cold. I order a pot of Assam tea from the hipster-ish barista and find a spot at the common table. Usually it’s packed, but no one wants to be out when it’s -20. I read for half an hour while sipping my tea. It’s strong and bitter and is only sweet on the aftertaste, just as I like it. My pants are dusted with flour and my hair is a mess. The whole time I wonder if I’m being judged by the well-heeled customers or if I’m judging them for being well-heeled.

3:52 Restaurant #2 is much larger than Restaurant #1 and the kitchen is filled with at least a dozen people. There are three of us on pastry tonight- our Pastry Chef, S, and myself. We could manage with 2, but this way we’re able to get big projects done when no one else is prepping without compromising the quality we’re sending out. I set up the station as S is making brittle and Pastry Chef is spinning ice cream. The tickets start coming right at 5.

6:30 Pastry Chef orders a burger for us from the line and we split it in three. She also grabs each of us our preferred mode of caffine- decaf for her, regular coffee for S, black tea for me. I have a serious girl crush on Pastry Chef. We each scarf our burger, salty and oozing and cut with one crisp, tart pickle each. Why so few pickles? We agree this ridiculous.

9:30 Because there are three of us and I worked brunch this morning I’m cut when the projects get done. At work I was fantasizing about a shower, a cup of herbal tea, and writing. Instead I take a shower and lay in bed looking at my phone while thinking about herbal tea. I’m hungry but trying not to eat late at night and Aaron’s out bartending as a favor to a friend. I persuade myself against cooking.

10:30 I finally make mint tea and write. As an exercise I start to list what I’ve eaten today. I do the math and figure out I ate about a thousand calories today. Uff da.

11:00  Sit down to dinner- spaghetti bathed in butter and black pepper, topped with a fried egg. Normally I’d grate parmesean over the whole mess but our parmesean has turned into a rock from disuse. Instead I microplane scraps of a cheese (goat?)  I found in the refrigerator into flurries over the egg. It’s good. It’s salty and biting and floral and rich and warm and it’s better than almost anything I can think of right now. It came together fast and easy and right now I’m infatuated with this spaghetti. Devour. Do dishes. Go to bed. Repeat day as necessary.

After-Shift Spaghetti

Serves 1

This is not so much a recipe as a list of ingredients and techniques. You can scale this up as needed, and dress it up as you desire.

A handful of spaghetti
One egg
Hard cheese for grating, such as parmesean or peccorino

In a large pot set water to boil. Once the water is boiling salt it well, then add the spaghetti. Stir once or twice to make sure the noodles don’t stick together, then cook until the spaghetti is al dente- tender but not flabby. The time changes based on the brand of noodles, but is normally somewhere between ten and twelve minutes.

In a small skillet melt a small knob of butter over low heat. Crack an egg into the melted butter. Season with salt and pepper and let it cook gently and slowly until the white is set and the yolk is custardy.

Drain the finished spaghtti. Toss with another small knob of butter and a sprinkling of black pepper. Grate some of the cheese over the pasta, then top with the fried egg. Sprinkle more cheese over the egg. Eat.


4 thoughts on “After-Shift Spaghetti, or, Why Cooks Have Such Terrible Diets

  1. I agree – this was so great to read! From an outsider’s perspective who has never worked in the restaurant business… great. Added your blog to my feed reader! Not to mention the spaghetti looks great, simple as it may be…


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