The secret to a great dining experience often lies behind the scenes, in the kitchen. At Petit Trois, Chef Ludo Lefebvre's intimate 21 counter-seat Parisian bistro in West Hollywood, it falls on U.S. Army veteran and chef de cuisine Will Marquardt’s shoulders to make sure that everything from food supply to quality of service is in tip-top shape.
We asked Marquardt to give us an insider’s look into the demands of a chef de cuisine at one of the country’s best restaurants. Here’s a day in his life, as told to Carren Jao.
October 26, Thursday
Before 7:30 a.m.
There are only a few rays of light shining at this time, but I ride my back from my apartment in Silver Lake to Hollywood. It’s only about four miles so it’s not too bad. I rode my bike a lot while working in Portland, Oregon, so when I moved to Los Angeles, I actually got rid of my car. I’m not a big fan of traffic and parking, so a bike is my preferred means of transport.
Just before 8 a.m.
This is the first of two or three coffees in my day, just a simple Americano.
This is basically our entire restaurant in one picture. This is Julie and Leo, our line cooks. We’re doing a bit of prep before the restaurant opens. We have a whole chicken, which will be turned into poulet rôti, and the meat for tartare ready to be cleaned.
In addition to making sure everything is going well in the kitchen, like watching over the cooks or tasting the food, I also have projects I have to do. These projects are food preparations that may be too advanced or too time-consuming for the cooks to take on.
Today, I’m working on this pate de campagne, a ground pork shoulder with pistachios, cognac and seasonings, then wrapped in bacon.
I didn’t write down the specials on our sign today, but there are days that I do. All of the managers share responsibilities such as this one. The sous chefs, the front of house manager and I all take turns setting out the sign, making sure it’s written on and indicate the correct specials.
This is Gilbert. He delivers our baguettes daily. He usually comes in just before we open at noon.
This is Petit Trois’ Parisian-style flan. I’m a fan of dessert, so I’m lucky enough to try a small slice each morning before we put it out just to check that everything tastes all right. I don’t get a whole slice though
It’s thirteen minutes before we open and I can already see people waiting. About ten minutes before, we usually see people waiting outside or in their cars to get a seat at Petit Trois.
We’ve just opened, but we’re almost full. You’ll also see that Economat sign, which is just our pantry space for our dry goods.
Here is our ticket rail. As soon as these get called out the line cooks get started and we send out complimentary baguette and butter.
These are the items we keep warm, ready to serve. From left to right at the front, we have our mornay sauce; brioche butter sauce, which goes on the chicken leg; and poivre peppercorn sauce. Behind that is the bordelaise sauce, which we use on our signature Big Mec; French onion soup; and then a thicker mornay sauce, which goes on the croque monsieur and croque madame.
This is the restaurant getting busier.
We only have 21 seats, so this ticket shows that one party had seven people in it and they all ordered the Big Mec.
This is Leo making the seven burgers.
Not everything about being a chef de cuisine happens in the kitchen, a lot of the work also goes into paperwork: entering invoices, making sure orders for food are correct, making sure prices are entered into the system correctly. There are things we get locally from a farmer’s market, so I have to let our farmer’s market liaison (Sam) know what we need. I put in orders for bread and cheese, along with other staples. We also have quite a few items that we get from France, so that needs to be ordered as well.
Trois Mec is right next door to us, so when they’re open, they make a family meal for everyone around this time. In the restaurant industry, hourly employees have to have breaks, but the restaurant doesn’t stop for those breaks, so as a manager I also have to cover for them during their breaks. That’s why I’m doing dishes or go back on the line to cook the next orders.
That’s me washing dishes.
That’s me flipping a Big Mec burger, one of our most popular items.
There’s this time of day where the sun’s rays just come into the restaurant’s window and it’s great. It bounces off the disco ball and little rays of sunshine spray all around the bar. The restaurant really lights up.
We have a very intimate restaurant, so we don’t really have a break room where we can sit, eat and relax. During family meal times, Trois Mec is still closed, so the staff can usually sit over there and eat, but since I’m covering for them, my break usually falls at a time when Trois Mec is already open, so this is me at the alley with Trevin, our bartender. I’m having a mushroom, ground meat mix with salad and bread.
I’m now cutting off a small slice of the pate to make sure it tastes right. Either our Sous Chefs or I taste everything before it leaves the kitchen.
This is that first small slice to see whether this pate turned out well.
Our order guide contains a list of every food item in the restaurant. I’ll go through each item before placing the order to ensure we have what we need for prep tomorrow. This usually takes around 15 minutes and will be the last thing I do before leaving for the night.
It’s been a long 12-hour day, so I’m happy to be riding back home.