It’s Friday night at 7pm and it’s rocking and rolling in the Brookline kitchen. Cooks are working at full speed, stirring, tossing, their pans sizzling and bursting into occasional flames. Along a parallel line, servers are coming in and food runners are delivering food to the dining room. In between them, a single figure is orchestrating it all: The Expediter.
The expeditor is the unsung hero of the kitchen. He/she channels orders from the wait staff to the cooks on the line and back out again into the dining room. He/she takes charge of the orders and breaks it down for individual stations. In every great kitchen is a great expediter. Meet our “food expo” and guest blogger in Brookline: Becca Fishkin.
As a Brookline native, I attended Brookline High School and started working in the student-run restaurant halfway through my sophomore year. I worked with my best friend in the bakery department and we were responsible for making dozens and dozens of yeast rolls, brownies, cookies and other seasonal sweets. It was fun and it was at 6:00am. I don’t know many teenagers you can get to go to school hours before your first class. But waking up early and working at Restaurant 108 (named for the classroom number) wasn’t work. I guess you could say this was a jump start to me attending the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). I majored in Baking & Pastry Arts and did the Bachelor’s program. Part of the reason I chose this program was because it included a three week food and wine seminar (to Spain, Italy, or California). I’ve been taking Spanish classes since I was in 7th grade so I chose Spain. I went January 2010, and it was awesome. We traveled throughout the entire country and just ate and drank the entire time.
After graduating, I started working at Island Creek Oyster Bar. I was part of the opening pastry team there but I still wanted more. I’m very competitive and I like challenging myself so I asked about working at the sister restaurant, Eastern Standard. I was there for a few years and then came to Barcelona last year. The job posting was for a food runner/expo and I thought it would be nice to take a different path than pastry. I had picked up occasional food running shifts at Eastern Standard and I enjoyed connecting with the guests so I went for it at Barcelona.
Gosh, I don’t know where to begin when it comes to describing what I do! I call all the tickets in English, Spanish or Spanglish. It’s my job to make sure that every plate of food leaves the kitchen up to Barcelona’s standards. I try every paella and fideos that leaves the kitchen; check portion sizes; cooking times (burnt croquettes make me sad) and season when I can. I have a great team of food runners and line cooks. Without them, I wouldn’t have a job! I think since I used to work as a food runner, I know exactly how they’re feeling. I always try to speak clearly and repeat when necessary. My cooks are awesome, too. I’ve worked the tapas station a few times since I started working here and it is usually if someone calls out sick and Chef was in a pinch.
Now, if you asked my food runners what my job was, they would say “Becca just yells at us all night” and I can’t disagree with them. In my defense, the kitchen gets so loud so I have to yell just to make sure my line cooks can hear me calling food or that my runners can hear what tables I’m saying. I also never ask anyone to do anything that I wouldn’t do for myself, but I can never leave the line. If a cook is dragging and then the food finally hits the window, I’ll send the dish out on the fly with one runner, making it clear they have to make sure they get that to Table 10 asap.
I love being the control freak in the kitchen. I’m very organized and during a busy night, I like being the person who helps make things go smoothly. I get to develop a relationship with both the front of house and back of house…all while staying in the kitchen! A lot of my food runners are in college full-time and almost all of them majoring in a career other than the hospitality industry. It’s fun to help educate them more about food. Not just about Spanish food, but the way things are prepared. A lot of them had never even tasted black truffles before. And now they’re all addicted to our hanger steak! Also, if it’s a slow night and I’m tasting paella, I’ll let them try it too. We’re all here because we love what we do.
Of course, there are a few challenges too…like standing in the hot window for hours on end. Your face feels like it’s on the beach in Miami with no sunscreen. There’s a physical aspect of staying calm and collected without getting too heated (literally and figuratively). Staying positive and upbeat is a huge challenge also, especially during brunch or dinner rushes. I try to give “friendly reminders” all day on dishes and things that may be dragging. It’s hard when you look at any of your co-workers and they’re stressed out to the max. It’s important to remind them to keep calm and carry on! I’ve had to break up arguments between people and I’ve also participated in those arguments. Sometimes, I feel like a den mother. I try to push my cooks and runners to the best of their ability yet I’m protective of them too. Another big challenge is, come the weekend, I pretty much have lost my voice. The cooks and runners love it, of course, they think it’s funny.
There’s so many great things about my job and if I had to select one great memory it would be the time when we broke our sales record. The kitchen did awesome…tons of energy and we kept up with the pace too. Super busy, but in a steady flow. It was really nice seeing the sales report that night. It was really fun too because all the guys behind the line were psyched. Being a part of a successful night is always a good reminder of why you love this industry.