Tall Thought 26: Sunday / by Jennifer Wisniewski


"Under Pressure"

I have a new obsession! Extreme mountain climbing documentaries. They're riveting, so I’m sure I’m not alone. I sit in judgement as I watch, like a sloth (maybe eating Doritos), on the couch, talking to myself. Who in their right minds would sign up for this nightmare? Facing hazards such as avalanches, high-altitude illness, hypothermia or falling into crevices ... and never being heard from again. They have chosen to go to a place where they literally cannot breathe. I know one thing about myself: if there isn’t oxygen—you won’t find me there. It’s that simple. Alas, the reason I'm transfixed by them is not lost on me. It’s a metaphor for all of us who have the need to push ourselves and I am on the eternal search for inspiration to keep going (even if I am out of my own proverbial breath.)

We remodeled our restaurant last week and we gave ourselves five short days to take the pieces apart, and to put them back together. It was a close call—and put stress on our whole team—but on Saturday night we had to reopen. We went into a busy service with a kitchen staff that was under-staffed and stressed.

That evening, I was at the door saying goodnight to guests and a mother and son (which, by the way: is adorable!) after eating their dinner made a bee-line for me. Since I have a few years in hospitality I can tell if someone is just being kind or if they are actually impressed. They claimed that “it was one of the best meals they ever had, but even more amazing than the dinner, was watching them cook” (they sat at the chefs counter.) They went on to say how mind-blowing it was that the kitchen was able to execute these beautiful dishes, with very little verbal communication—all of them working in tandem. I nodded my head in agreement.

Since we’ve opened, I've perched myself at the bar and watched the kitchen stock, prep and cook. You immediately recognize that it takes a special breed to do that job. It takes a great deal of physical stamina and an extreme amount of mental toughness, not to crumble under the pressure. Not everybody can do it. To me: it's magic.

On Mother’s Day, I observed two cooks make pancakes for 140 people—and then have to execute dinner service. Sometimes I wonder why they don’t take their aprons, throw it on the floor, give me the finger and shout while walking out, “Lady—you can take this job and shove it!" On my search for inspiration—watching people performing grandiose harrowing acts. like climbing K-2—I quickly realized that it could be found right underneath my nose, silently chopping a mound of vegetables.