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Watching the Clock

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What do you do all day? It’s a question we often ask each other but rarely answer honestly. For the latest installment in an ongoing New York series that began with diaries of weekly diets and reading habits, four New Yorkers agreed to chronicle everything they did during a single workday this spring.

If you’ve ever wanted to shadow a sous-chef or wondered what exactly a reality-TV casting director does, this is your chance to find out. Right down to the mundane details: The return e-mails, the meetings, and the subway journeys that form the exoskeleton of any workday. The personal details, too. As work takes up ever more of life, so life begins to seep into work, and our diarists find time to surf goofy Websites, check stocks on their BlackBerrys, and talk to relatives on the phone.

One word for this is balance. Another is multitasking. We do it now more than ever before (enough to somehow add up to 31 hours in a day, according to one recent study). For a sous-chef, it means thinking about today’s lunch, tonight’s dinner, and tomorrow’s food order; for a building contractor, it’s juggling e-mails about a downtown office renovation with cell-phone calls about a midtown theater job.

Reading these together, you may find that the content of one person’s day begins to blur with the next. There is something inherently enervating about the details of someone else’s job, and yet we found it difficult to look away. The voyeurism of tedium is its own pleasure—especially if you’re reading this at your desk.

The Chef
Lesley Covitz, 29, sous-chef, Il Buco


9:32 A.M.
UPSTAIRS KITCHEN

Turn on ovens. Light pilot lights. Hope pasta machine doesn’t explode. Go through refrigerators under the counters for leftovers from last night that can be used for lunch—steak, lamb chops, porchetta (whole roasted pig). Check invoices to make sure last night’s orders arrived and prices are correct.

9:36
DOWNSTAIRS OFFICE

Check lunch and dinner reservations for regulars and VIPs, and decide how much food to prep. Change into chef jacket. Check e-mail from friends and weekly StarChefs newsletter. Look at last night’s menu and decide on today’s lunch menu.


9:47
WALK-IN REFRIGERATOR

Go inside ten-foot-by-six-foot box. Take enough carrots, celery, and onions to make fifteen gallons of vegetable stock. Get eggs, potatoes, jalapeños, and red onions for staff lunch. Take it all upstairs.

10:04
UPSTAIRS KITCHEN

Go through all stations to make sure there’s enough food for lunch menu. Change risotto—not enough mushrooms. Set up stations. Turn the radio to 104.3—Pink Floyd, the Beatles, and Zeppelin. The dishwashers hate it. I hate the mariachi.

10:22
Slice potatoes. Start cooking in rondeau on top of grill. Get vegetable stock going.

10:34
DOWNSTAIRS PREP KITCHEN

Fetch soaking corona beans.

10:37
UPSTAIRS KITCHEN

Start cracking eggs for breakfast. Slice up red onions and jalapeños.

10:48
Check potatoes. Pierless Fish arrives with wild striped bass. There are only six sides; order two more whole fish. Portion bass.


10:54
DOWNSTAIRS PREP KITCHEN

Put bass on ice. Accidentally slice hand with tricky bone.

11:10
UPSTAIRS KITCHEN

Throw pan of potatoes in oven to finish. Get new rondeau for eggs. Sauté peppers and onions. Let it cook.


11:22
Cut twenty garlic heads in half. Roast them for tonight. Start cooking eggs for staff breakfast.

11:32
Eggs are ready. Put food in window. Call downstairs to tell staff food is up.

11:40
CHEF’S TABLE

Eat. Tell servers about today’s lunch specials.

11:53
UPSTAIRS KITCHEN

Check stock. Turn it down. First table arrives for lunch—six reservations.

NOON
DOWNSTAIRS PREP KITCHEN

Bring up porchetta to start cooking for tonight; it takes about four hours. The porchetta was boned and seasoned yesterday.

12:17 P.M.
UPSTAIRS KITCHEN

First table has ordered. Cook their food. Start cutting fifteen pounds of big-eye tuna into four-ounce portions for tonight. Check corona beans—they take forever to cook. Vegetable stock is almost done.

12:40
Sausage is on the menu tonight, so bring up fennel to caramelize; also, two legs of lamb. Take bones, fat, and sinew off the lamb, leaving nice, clean chunks of muscle.

12:52
Another table comes in. Stop prepping to cook their lunch—two risottos, plus steak and tuna appetizers.

1:30
Finish boning out the lamb. Three more tables arrive, ordering lots of salad. Run downstairs to grab five skinned rabbits and a bucket of duck fat to confit the legs in. Take the arms and legs off the rabbits and cook them in the duck fat.

2:00
Put bunnies in the oven. Finish pastas and scallops for the dining-room tables. Chef arrives to check ingredients in stock so he can write the daily dinner menu.

2:26
Lunch is winding down. Start cleaning up. One more table comes in—frustrating. Cook their order, continue cleaning for the evening cooks.

2:43
BAR

Grab a bottle of water. Gossip about a waiter with two publicists.

2:55
DOWNSTAIRS PREP KITCHEN

Night cooks start to arrive. Gather knives, towels, and fennel and start working on the sausage.


3:10
Straighten up work table. Grab iPod and pork leg. Listen to Jack Johnson, Talking Heads, and Paul Simon.

3:15
Skin, bone, and dice pork leg. Season it with fennel, fennel pollen, garlic, chile, and salt. Grind, spin, and taste it, then pipe into natural pork casing. Get caught singing “Psycho Killer” by manager.

5:15
BAR

Run meeting with waiters to review menus.

5:39
DOWNSTAIRS OFFICE

Talk with chef about tonight and tomorrow, and Monday orders. Show him Cute Overload Website.

6:05
UPSTAIRS KITCHEN

Check in with cooks; they need a Spanish mackerel portioned. Say hello to friend at the bar.

6:12
DOWNSTAIRS PREP KITCHEN

Grab fish. Chat with chef and manager.


6:17
UPSTAIRS KITCHEN

Butcher fish. Expedite orders until chef comes up.

6:42
Review weekend food stock with chef.

6:59
Write orders into record book. Call them in.

7:23
Check in with chef. Go downstairs to change.

7:35
BAR

Drink glass of Riesling. Chat with regulars. Go home.


WORk day: 10:03


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