Embedded at Petite Maison: Wendy Porter Judges Chow Bella's Performance
For most restaurateurs, it's simply about gluttony. But James and Wendy Porter of Petite Maison in Scottsdale are gluttons for punishment. There's no other explanation for why they would invite Chow Bella contributors to work both the front of the house and the kitchen on a weekend, and during Arizona Restaurant Week. Earlier this week, Zach Fowle manned the soufflés Yesterday, Lauren Saria hit up her inner hostess.Today, Wendy Porter offers the view from the other side.
Did that just happen?
A blur of non-stop tickets streaming in. Guests coming and going. Tables reconfigured, then back, then changed again. Glasses clinking, people laughing. Electricity is in the air. Three minutes feels like 30 when you're waiting for a plate, a table, a drink. A normal eight-hour shift for our team turned into 14. We knew Arizona Spring Restaurant Week would be busy across the Valley, and it was especially so at our Little House.
To keep things interesting, we decided to invite a few "embeds" in from Chow Bella/New Times to experience Restaurant Week. Not to relax, taste this, critique that -- but to see what it's like from our perspective. Down and dirty, no special treatment, giddy-up!
It's true: Usually, we require a minimum of three years' kitchen experience and two years as a hostess, but what the heck? We asked, they said yes, and after a week of record-breaking covers, we're damn impressed that two of the Chow Bella crew stepped out of their comfort zone and busted their chops, treating our restaurant like their own on the busiest nights we've ever had.
Zach Fowle showed up Friday at 3 p.m. sharp to work the line, garde manger station which for us is appetizers, salads and desserts. It's a bitch -- there's not much room to move (our kitchen is very small) and he was responsible for the very first and very last bites a guest will enjoy. I'm not sure what Zach's first impression was of his work space when he started, but when we saw he was a tall guy, we knew his arms, legs, and back would be feeling it after a few hours.
We had our line cook Haydon show him the ropes and watch his back throughout service (and to be fair, all our guys were in four hours earlier prepping). A couple of hours into the night, Zach was in full kitchen mode, reading and marking his tickets, plating and putting finished dishes in the window. Of more than 130 soufflés he made, only two were burned. And I think he burned himself only once, but it wasn't that bad (if you don't need gauze, duct tape, and a glove, it's not considered serious in the kitchen).
A little drama makes the night, right? Around 8, in full dinner service mode, a new server was released from his duties permanently for repeatedly taking plates to the wrong table, which created chaos in the already maxed-out kitchen. The problem really put Zach to the test -- making something once in a hot kitchen for hours is tough, but making it twice for no good reason is frustrating. We all agree Zach got a pretty good taste of a cook's life. Dinner service officially ends at 10 p.m., but he was still rocking the line well past that.
And, hot damn, he did us and Chow Bella proud.
No less hectic is the front of the house. Our hostesses are the captains of the ship -- a critical position. They greet guests, seat them, make sure servers don't get triple-sat, control the flow. They also water tables, bus, reset tables, answer the constantly ringing phone, and answer to me for all the above. They let me know if there's a problem, if someone wants to say hi, or if I'm needed in the kitchen. It's a hard job, with important body language requirements, organizational skills, and Job-like patience -- especially when it's busy and absolutely every guest is important.
Lauren Saria may seem quiet and a little shy, but I was nothing short of shocked when she jumped in without flinching. Table numbers, check. Busing, resetting, check. Watering (Still? Bubbles? Tap?) check. It took her no time to get the lingo down, lend our head hostess Sarah a much needed hand, and she never even broke a glass or dropped a fork. She was so busy she didn't see me get chewed out by a guest who wanted a table for four to magically appear where we can only seat two. We are in the "yes" business, and we made it happen eventually, but he was so mad he let it ruin his night, and almost ruined mine.
The end of service is always exhilarating, we're filled with pride at a job well done, and a thrill that somehow we made someone's (hopefully everyone's!) night special, different, enjoyable.
Both Chef James and I agree that Zach and Lauren did extremely well in the midst of the hurricane. We're impressed at their eagerness to give it their all. They smiled through hurdles, asked smart questions, and followed through 'til the bitter end. They're both welcome back anytime.
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