(click through for the interactive project on washingtonpost.com)
Dance of Life: The Kitchen
What matters in a pro kitchen: instant reaction, mindless repetition and crisp, efficient maneuvers. Restaurants run on the French “kitchen brigade” system, modeled after a military hierarchy more than a century ago. There’s the chef, a couple of lieutenants (the sous-chefs), and a platoon of line cooks —the kitchen infantry — manning stations assigned by menu category: appetizers, fish, meat and so on.
It has to be this way. The restaurant kitchen is a highly physical place, and if the saucier lunging toward the stove collides with the meat cook slinging plated quail toward the waiters, there will be a meltdown. Chefs, like generals, know they have two choices: discipline or chaos.
Watch the cook staff at the height of dinner service — the open-kitchen trend has put them increasingly on view — and you’ll see an intricate ballet. A refined body awareness and familiarity allows these tattooed Baryshnikovs to dance silently around one another between flashing knives and a stove at full flame.
“There’s a kind of wonderful grace that only happens when people are really good at what they do, and they adjust to each other’s motions,” says Ruth Reichl, former editor in chief of Gourmet magazine.
- Sarah Kaufmann / The Washington Post “At CityZen, chefs cook up sweet moves”
This interactive project was a collaboration between videojournalist Ben de la Cruz, Pulitzer prize winning dance critic Sarah Kaufman, and interactive web designer Grace Koerber.
This occasional series looks at the choreography of life, and this first installment, set in CityZen, focuses on the delicate dance of waiters, chefs and patrons in a crowded restaurant.
Sadly, this is videojournalist Ben de la Cruz’s last assignment for The Post, as he left yesterday to work with NPR. Ben had a long and storied career here at The Post, and we’re sad to see him go, but happy to see him start a new chapter in his career. Send him off right by checking out his final, beautiful, thoughtfully shot, compelling and engaging piece, “The Dance of Life: The Kitchen”
-AJ Chavar videojournalist/The Washington Post