Saturday morning started for me in a mid-priced hotel about a mile from the location of our dinner. It has been said that the best coffee shop in Chicago was right around the corner from us – this I cannot confirm or deny. Having entered bed well after 3:00am I was slow to rise when my alarm started making robot noises at 9:00am. It was when I reached over to quiet the singing machine that I noticed that I had missed a handful of calls and text messages from Daniel who stayed in our host’s condo with some of the rest of our team the night before. It was clear from the series of messages that he was trying to explain to me that there was a flood of biblical proportions at the apartment and I needed to come quickly.
After volley of retaliatory missed calls and text messages, I collected myself and prepared for a day during which I would be cooking in what I could only imagine was waist-deep water. Collecting a couple gallons of coffee from the aforementioned purveyor we dove head first into what could have only been a nightmare.
Upon breaking into the confines of our temporary home, I was relieved to see that there was no standing water and the only real causality for the evening was everyone’s sleep and a rug of Crate and Barrel origin. Since I had not been there I leave it to Mayur Subbarao to recount the evenings happenings to you:
Now it was late. Twenty-four courses of culinary madness served and cleared, no thanks to my own rather comical blunders: Cacao spheres in trays that had miraculously managed to invert 90 degrees onto their sides; a freezer-bowl full of cuit sous vide caramel ice cream base that had shot itself out of the freezer door all over me, my fellow dessert cooks, and the floor.
Now it was quiet; most of the cooks, including our fearless leaders Michael and Daniel, had left, and I was tidying up a few things in a kitchen that was dead silent, except for the sloshing and gurgling of a washing machine full of aprons, napkins, and caramel-soaked rags.
Hm, not so much of a sloshing and gurgling any more. More of a splashing and rushing…
I turned around to see what looked like a wave of water issuing forth from the utility room. I think I must have screamed like a six-year-old girl, because Daniel and Akiko rushed into the kitchen in mere seconds, by which point I was already ankle-deep in water. I waded to the utility room in a frenzy, only to realize that there was an office between it and the kitchen. Computers! Arrgh! was the only thing running through my head as I grabbed everything that looked vaguely electronic and piled it on the desk. Daniel and Akiko were right behind me, moving away vulnerable objects and throwing down anything absorbent… most of which was currently in spin cycle in the washing machine that had caused this mess to begin with.
Having removed everything we could (it was too late for the poor rug, RIP), we went into the utility room only to realize that the pipe leading directly into the washing machine had come loose and was now shooting water all over the place. By the time I fixed it, I looked like I’d been thrown into a swimming pool fully-dressed, and the 30-degree temperature inside the utility room was certainly not agreeing with me. Meanwhile, however, the crisis had decidedly separated the professionals from the amateurs; Daniel and Akiko were calmly mopping up the flood and cleaning the kitchen (again).
“For heaven’s sake, this happens all the time at work,” said Akiko. “You don’t want to know what gets spilled on the floor in a given day. Just go to sleep and we’ll deal with it tomorrow.”
We turned in rather calmly, and it occurred to me that somehow, flying to Chicago to execute a 24-course dinner out of an apartment kitchen with a minimal staff of volunteers which involved chilling wine on a garage roof and setting up sous vide baths in a bathroom sink…
…had given me a sense of proportion.
The hot coffee sparked the minds of those who had to battle the deluge all night and we got to work in quick fashion. Hours slipped by, and sometime just after noon I excused myself to do a little grocery shopping and to meet, for the first time, my lovely lady friend’s father.
We were doing great on time having done most of the preparation the night before and I left Daniel, Brian, Akiko and Mayur to polishing off the last few things while Kathryn and I hit up the Treasure Island and made our way to a restaurant that only served small sandwiches for our rendezvous with her Dad.
I know the idea of scheduling such an important meeting on a day already filled to the brim with nervous tension, possible calamity and exhaustion seems reckless but life does not always allow you to choose the field for your greatest battles. I wasn’t too concerned because I had some inside information that let me know that we both liked Ayn Rand, specifically Atlas Shrugged, for what I could only assume was her pride in accomplishment, enduring work ethic and rape fantasy.
Needless to say the tiny sandwiches were small, talk was delightful and uplifting and as we broke from the small building and into the brutal cold I was alive with excitement. That night we would be serving diner to two of the only people in the world who could actually give us an honest comparison to the meal that we were trying to recreate and I was giddy in anticipation.