Last week, two of the best chefs in the Bay Area united to cook a fundraising dinner in San Francisco. Daniel Patterson from COI and David Kinch from Manresa, both Michelin 2-star restaurants, prepared together a 7-course meal with proceeds benefiting the American team competing at next Bocuse d’Or—the Olympics of cooking. A few lucky diners had the chance to experience this once-in-a-lifetime event. And now, in a rare look behind the scenes, from prep to plating, so can you. Eat vicariously.
Two hours before service, the final prep work is underway. Stainless steel rulers mark precise cutting templates, cooking times are tested, mise en places are set. Chefs make final seasoning adjustments for every ingredient exercising the kitchen’s most important act—tasting.
One hour before service, wine boxes, folded linens and jackets still hang around the dining room. The staff eats the family meal—chicken stew, rice and salad. A hearty dinner that gives them the needed energy to perform. And in a matter of minutes, all is gone. The dining room is staged, chairs are aligned, lights are dimmed; it’s show time.
Fifteen minutes before service, the adrenaline is high in both back and front of the house. Servers are trained on how to present and explain each dish; Daniel and David taste each other’s food. There’s a mix of excitement and healthy anxiety in the air. Everything is ready, everyone is prepared; but tonight, more than any other night, nothing can go wrong.
“Two first!” The chef kicks off service calling the evening’s first amuse bouches. “Yes, Chef!” Answers one cook. And so it begins. Course after course, each dish is called aloud, fired and expedited with great efficiency and sense of urgency. Like a relay race, the peak of activity in the kitchen moves from one station to another following the progression of dishes on the menu. The baton is passed with the chef calling the next order. “Two oyster!”
Throughout the night, a ballet of tweezers and Sharpies can be watched in constant motion. Each dish is carefully assembled by sometimes many chefs, heads down, tweezers in hands like a group of surgeons around the operating table. Focused, until the last sprig of fresh herb, plucked à la minute, is precisely laid down on the finished plate. And there, another artful dish is produced. “I need hands!” Calls the expediter, a server quickly takes it away. With Sharpie in hand, he crosses it from the list and moves on to the next thing, not a second to spare.
Tickets are lined up on the wall that divides the kitchen from the dining room. Written in a language cooks and servers are fluent in—efficiency. As the night progresses, dozens of the same dishes are produced flawlessly, making the kitchen a well-oiled machine. But that’s no excuse to relax; everything is constantly tasted, checked. Daniel and David join their staff jumping from station to station to offer help where most needed.
On the other side of the wall, the dining room is filled with excitement and anticipation for every dish that arrives. Beautiful presentations engage diners creating awe and surprise, like an oyster that begs to be opened revealing a gift inside. Flavors that layer great complexity out of the simplest of ingredients, like a chicken and an egg. The food is exciting, outstanding, unforgettable.
And while guests are suspended in a moment of delight, back in the kitchen, chefs and servers move at full speed. The show must go on.