- On The Line
- Season 1
- Episode 6
A Day With A Line Cook At Brooklyn's Hottest Chinese Restaurant
Released on 11/10/2022
Being a line cook is a lot about working
with and inside of organized chaos.
During service, it's really, really hectic
and incredibly fast paced.
15 minutes will feel like five seconds.
It's really just about getting the food out
as fast as it can be made, as well as it can be made.
Prepping by comparison, I get to take all this time
to compose myself and it's a little bit like
a moment to breathe before we have to get going,
and I obviously just take a lot of pride
in putting out the best possible product.
Hi, I'm Tristan Kwong, line cook at Bonnie's Brooklyn.
We're here in Chinatown.
It's 10:00 AM and before we go into Bonnie's,
I gotta buy some fruit for the restaurant.
Right now we're in an alleyway
underneath the Manhattan Bridge.
I would consider it a hidden gem.
I come here 'cause they have a huge selection
of Asian fruits which is indicative and representative
of the Chinese American culture we represent at Bonnie's.
The fruit platter changes every day
based on what they have at market.
So let's go see what they have.
The fruit plate is on the menu
because at the end of a Cantonese banquet dinner
they'll serve you either a plate full of oranges
or honeydew or something boring and bland.
At Bonnie's we wanted to switch it up
and give you something way more delicious.
So it's the end of September right now
and I'm looking at end of summer, beginning of fall fruit,
which holds a lot of pit fruit
and a lot of citrus and grapes.
We used to get fruit from vendors
in huge cases of like 50 or 60 a piece.
Not only was it expensive,
but you didn't really get to do a lot of quality control
so things would be rock hard.
I live down here so I have access to all of this
and then I can just take it to the restaurant in Brooklyn.
Sorry about the train.
We're actually literally underneath the Manhattan Bridge.
So these are muscadine grapes.
They're like regular grapes except bigger
and they have a thicker skin
and the flesh is like a gummy bear.
These are Asian pears and they're really, really good.
They're like halfway between like an apple and a pear.
They're super juicy.
The best ones always have the most
like super [beep] spots on them
'cause that's all the sugar coming to the surface.
Avocado are technically fruit so I'm gonna grab these,
not for the fruit plate but for family meal.
Four for $5, where can you get a cheaper avocado?
I make family meal for the team almost everyday
and I like to make good food to give people good feelings.
Onto basket two.
So these are longan, translates roughly to dragon eyes.
So we're gonna wrap some dragon fruit.
We have three varieties.
It's white, yellow, and red.
The really ripe ones will have a little bit of give,
but you gotta be careful
'cause out here if you squish it too hard
they'll come over and yell at you.
It's about 11:30 now and I need to check out,
so we can get to Bonnie's.
It's noon now.
We just got to Bonnie's.
So this is our dining room.
It's gonna be packed in about a couple hours.
This is the pass where all the food comes out.
And this is our service kitchen
where I spend most of my time as a line cook.
I'm gonna head downstairs
to our prep kitchen to put the fruit away
and see what I gotta do for the rest of the day.
So we're in our prep kitchen now
and the first thing I do when I come in
is check our master prep list
to see what I need to do for the day.
Task get broken down based on stations.
So we have a wok station and a steam station.
It's kind of first come first serve
so you can grab whatever task you like
the earlier you are or you could push off the task
that you really don't like to someone else
if they come in later.
There are a couple things that I usually do
as a line cook to get us ready for service.
Today I'm gonna be de-boning ribs.
I'm gonna be making green sauce for our fish
and I'm gonna be cutting fruit.
And the first task we're doing today
is green mustard condiment for the fish.
We're gonna change and let's go upstairs.
All right, let's go.
So as a personal icon of mine, Gucci Mane,
likes to say, A man without the sauce can be lost,
but the same man can be lost in the sauce.
So the first thing we're doing today
is making our ginger scallion sauce,
and that's the base for our green mustard condiment
that goes on the fish.
Ginger gets peeled really easy with a spoon.
It does not take much.
I can't tell you about everywhere,
but here we try to have the line cooks as involved
with the process of the stuff that we serve
on a day-to-day basis.
I think it's important that we have eyes and hands on it
so we know exactly how it's made
or if we need to make it during service.
Just in case we know how to do it.
The fish comes butterflied and de-boned.
From there we take the fish
and we scrape all the meat out with the spoon.
We grind it up with shrimp, water chestnuts,
and garlic chives.
And then we take that same meat
that came out of the fish skin
and stuff it back into the skin.
And for service we throw it up on the plancha,
shallow fry it, and comes out like a beautiful ocean hotdog.
On a technical scale that dish is crazy
and it goes really nice with the sauce we're about to make.
Throw the ginger into the Robot Coupe.
It's like now a paste
like it still has some consistency to it.
You wanted to have like a small crunch
or at least a little bit of texture,
and now I'm just gonna throw the peppers in
'cause they're gonna take much less time to blitz
'cause they are much softer.
If I threw the peppers in at the beginning,
the peppers would be mush
and we'd still have pretty big chunks of ginger.
So we're gonna move the oil into this wok
get it ripping hot.
Very powerful things demand respect,
the wok demands respect.
You can see it's like a jet engine.
All the jets point one direction.
This is easily my favorite tool in the whole kitchen
and I think every restaurant should have a wok
if not even just to like heat up water.
So I'm just gonna add some garlic here and scallions.
That's salt, sugar, and MSG.
So we pour the essentially boiling oil
over our ingredients
so that the oil will pick up the flavors.
You gotta go slow
'cause it's working with the moisture inside.
It's super hot.
Right now we're just gonna let it hang out
and we're gonna let that oil soak up all the flavor.
I have to blanch these scallions in the wok.
This is a pasta tank.
We use it to clean the wok.
I'm gonna shock it right here
and it's some really, really cold water
so that they stay nice and green.
Hmm, flick that rib.
So this is our ginger scallion sauce.
Like we whipped a bunch of air into the oil
so it's emulsified.
It's like nice and bright green.
It is my favorite sauce in the restaurant.
And we'll just pour it up, put it away
until we're ready for service.
So I'm gonna label and date these
and I'll throw 'em in the fridge.
So it's 1:30 now,
we're gonna be boning ribs so to make rib sandwich.
So we have baby back ribs steaming in our steamer here.
So they're just whole ribs.
We throw 'em in here
after they've been marinating for 24 hours.
Right now I'm just splitting the backs of the ribs.
We take the membranes off.
I'm just trying to create like an opening
for the bones to come out.
This is more or less a three day process.
We spend one day marinating them in a secret marinade,
and then they get steamed the second day.
You can see that they're like super duper flexy.
They're basically ready to fall apart.
And then on the third day after they've chilled and settled,
we take 'em out, we portion 'em.
Like pretty much no give
I can just slide my finger under here
and their bone will pop out.
My tip to not burn your fingers
is to burn your fingers a lot.
It's like building calluses.
The more you do it, the less it hurts.
At this point,
[beeps] faze me no more.
The Cha Siu McRib obviously modeled
after the McDonald's McRib
except this is not a homogenous congealed patty of something
that is supposed to resemble rib meat,
but actually about a third of a rack of ribs,
which is absurd.
It's like eating four or five ribs at one sitting,
boneless, just in a couple bites.
It's covered in cha siu glaze
which is a very, very Cantonese dish.
It gets Chinese hot mustard
and it gets placed on a milk bun
we source from Chinatown,
bread and butter pickles and onions.
Between the acid and like the fattiness and the ribs,
the bite is just magic.
Next thing we're gonna do
is just stack 'em up together like this.
So it's 2:30 now.
I'm gonna bring these downstairs,
put some heavy weights on top to get 'em flat
so we can portion 'em tomorrow,
and I'll bring fruit up so we can cut our fruit plates.
[soft upbeat music]
All right, so actually this is my favorite part of the day.
When I get to cut fruit, I get to slow down.
I get to take my time
and I get to be like super meticulous with it
because not only is it food,
but I consider it to be like partially art.
We're gonna start with the pomelo
I'm gonna go ahead and supreme it
because pomelos have quite a thick skin as you can see
and supreming just kind of means to like remove the flesh
from in between the segments.
Growing up in Queens,
in a large Asian American neighborhood,
there was always a lot of fruit around.
Fruit also has like a deep rooted connection
in like Chinese families
where if you have an argument with your parents,
they won't really say sorry to you,
they'll just bring you a plate of cut fruit
and that's more like their apology.
Or if they wanted to say I love you
they won't like say I love you to your face,
but they'll bring you a plate of cut fruit
and it's essentially the same thing.
The one we opened, we had two desserts on the menu,
one was a fried milk sundae,
which is mindblowingly good and we had a fruit plate.
I got put in charge of the fruit plate.
I wanted to put something out
that was as good if not better than the sundae,
which is really, really hard to do.
When they put me in charge of getting fruits
they also granted me the title of fruit somm
like fruit sommelier.
And it was kind of like a running joke for a little while,
but like now I actually do like curate, buy, quality control
all the fruit inside the restaurant.
So it does make sense even if it does sound funny.
And I wear that with a badge of honor
I changed my Instagram handle to fruitsomm.
Follow me @fruitsomm.
I'm like one of the few people in this restaurant
that have like a deep interpersonal like relation to fruit.
Cutting fruits to order during service
is kind of a nightmare because there's so many things
that are going on at the same time.
So I'll cut enough to have some backup
and I'll plate roughly maybe like four or five.
And then that way
in case we do get fired on some during service,
we'll have some fruit on backup.
Now we're gonna cut our dragon fruit.
So I like to go white, yellow, into red
because the red one will stain my knife,
and if I cut red into a white one
it will stain the fruit completely.
So these are dragon eyes.
They're called longan in Cantonese,
which literally translates directly to dragon and eye.
They're called dragon eyes
'cause if you split 'em open like this,
they have a black pit in the center
and the flesh is kind of translucent.
So it looks like a dragon's eyeball.
These are lychees.
And I'm kind of doing the same way I do the longan,
and these ones taste like rose water mixed with citrus.
I like cutting them like this
'cause they kind of look like little acorns.
It'd be kind of boring if it was just like
a bunch of like cut squares of fruit.
So I like to have a little bit of fun
in the way we like cut the stuff.
I'm gonna plate a couple up so that we're ready for service.
I like to start big to small so that way I can create gaps
for the smaller fruit to sit inside of.
You want it to look like bountiful without looking crowded,
and you want it to look full
without feeling like overwhelming.
Add a couple last touches
and then I'm gonna wrap these up for service.
And it's 3:00 PM right now
and I needed to get started on family meal ASAP.
Okay, so I'm kind of running late,
but I just brought up a bunch of stuff for family.
Today we're gonna have tacos.
I'm gonna make tacos
because when we were at the market earlier
I saw a bunch of really, really cheap avocados
and I wanted to make guac,
so we're gonna have guac and tacos.
We usually have a lot of excess rib meat
from the scraps from the McRib.
I'm just gonna throw 'em on the plancha,
I'm gonna chop 'em up like carnitas.
I'm about to char a bunch of peppers to make salsa
'cause we don't really have any tomatoes in house.
Whatever I can find in house
and whatever we're not running low on,
I can use for family meal.
There's no rules.
The only rules that I get it up in time
for people to eat and for us to open service.
I personally put a lot of effort into my family meal
just because I don't want to feed our staff garbage.
If they eat bad, they're gonna feel bad,
then we're gonna have a bad service.
I'm gonna char a bunch of stuff over the wok now.
Family meal is usually left up
to the lowest guy in the totem.
Here, whoever comes in earliest
is usually the guy who works in the middle shift,
which is the shift I'm working today.
A lot of the time I don't really know
how much I should make for family meal.
I would rather there be leftovers that people can take home
than make not enough food for everybody
'cause everybody's gotta eat, you know?
So I'm usually making food
for between like 14 to 17 people a day
inside of one hour.
So it's not always the easiest thing to do
which is why it's important to keep all your tasks
like nice and tight.
These are avocados you saw me buying earlier today
at the fruit market.
It's gonna be a quick mix.
So we're gonna add a little bit of lemon juice
'cause we don't have limes here.
I'm gonna add a little cilantro, some onions, salt,
and because we are a Chinese restaurant
we'll throw a little MSG in there.
I think you have to perform well under pressure
for almost any line cook job, not for the faint of heart.
I'm gonna get the salsas in the blender
then rib tips on the plancha.
I'm a little bit nervous that I won't make it in time,
but we'll see.
So these are our rib tips.
They're waste that comes from the McRib.
We're gonna treat it like carnitas
and I'm gonna let it run for the next five or so minutes
while I finished up the rest of the salsas here.
One of the family meals I made once
ended up on our menu for a special.
It was a long hot pepper stuffed with the fish paste,
which is something I ate growing up.
Sometimes you're just like [beep] around and you find out,
you know what I mean?
I think family's a great time to do a little bit of R&D.
You're just be in a kitchen setting,
like work with things that you probably normally
wouldn't get the chance to work with.
Think like roasted red pepper flakes
from an Italian restaurant, but from Korea.
I don't know if this is gonna be any good.
That's pretty tasty.
So that's almost family.
Two sauces and a guac
and I gotta get these ribs all chopped up.
All the meat is already cooked 'cause we steamed it.
I threw some orange juice, some lemon juice,
salt, and MSG in here.
It's gonna coat it up
and then we're about ready to go on family.
I'm just lighting the oven.
I'm so large and I actually can't see the pilot light
so I kind of just go in here and I pray to God
and I keep clicking the button.
There we go.
All right, so it's 4:30 now,
we're getting our final push before service.
You can see everyone behind me is pushing really hard
to get their meal set up.
So we got four of us back here.
It's three of us on the line and one person at the pass.
Right now we just gotta finish putting stuff away.
My station is middle station,
which means that I help both sides.
So I help pick up fish on the steam side
or I could help pick up things off the wok
because I know how to work both.
Mainly I'm responsible for picking up ribs
and finishing everybody's dishes.
We're all pushing really hard right now.
We have about 25 minutes before our doors open.
I think the most important skill set for a line cook to have
is a sense of urgency and a sense of organization.
Right in here is our congee.
So we have all the toppings for our congee
set up directly across.
It's about creating paths
of least distance between two places.
That's how you be ruthlessly efficient.
[Chef] Line check in five minutes,
make sure you have sanies,
and all the paste, and all the broths, and congee too.
[Chef] Yes, chef.
All right, so I got chef in the window
pressing us for time to get set up.
Doors open in five minutes
and the dining room's gonna fill up real quick.
So we're gonna get our final checks done
and we're gonna have a good service.
All right guys, it's five o'clock.
I hope you guys got to see what it's like being a line cook.
I hope I made it look easy.
Hi, I'm Tristan Kwong, line cook at Bonnie's Brooklyn.
[beep], what was it? [everyone laughing]
A Day Running A Family-Owned Venezuelan Restaurant, From Prep to Dinner Service
A Day With a Michelin-Starred Chef, Making Fresh Pasta & Running a Kitchen
24 Hours at a Michelin-Rated Restaurant, From Ingredients To Dinner Service
A Day at a 143 Year-Old Restaurant With NYC's Most Iconic Desserts
A Day At Portland's Best Mexican Restaurant
A Day With A Line Cook At Brooklyn's Hottest Chinese Restaurant
A Day With the Chef de Cuisine at a Top NYC Restaurant
Brad Enters An Ice Fishing Contest: It's Alive 100
Every Tool An Iconic NYC Bakery Uses To Make Bread & Pastry
Working A Shift At A Classic New York Pizzeria