One of the roughest nights of my career turned into a game changer for me. About 7 1/2 years ago I was working a country club about a year out of culinary school as the interim sous chef. Interim as in it was a small town and the previous sous chef had recently gone to jail. The club had hired a guy to manage independently so it had turned into a shady business. We were all paid under the table except for the chef. We were paid what we should be getting paid after taxes but it was all off the books. Because of this, finding someone who was to replace the previous sous chef was not easy. I was also going to school full time, as well as working full time.
There was Friday night the chef was going out of town. I had been the interim at this point for a couple of months. I was a competent enough line cook and could hold my own at this point. On a Friday night, we usually had the chef, me, and one other cook/dishwasher on duty. Shouldn't have been a problem. The chef told me that a cook who was very good as well from the manager's other restaurant in town would help out that evening. So far everything seems fine.
I get in to the restaurant after class about 3 1/2 hours before service was to start. The other cook was supposed to arrive at 4:30, an hour before service. I had already finished a great deal of prep the night before so I should have had enough time. SHOULD have had enough time. That's when things started to happen. I got in and my several ingredients for the weekend specials had not come in. The manager had also come by and had taken a bunch of my mise en place over to his other restaurant. Shot to the gut number three, I found out at 4:00 that my dishwasher got arrested for fraud. I try calling the other dishwasher but since it was his night off, he had taken a trip with friends and was 2 1/2 hours away and drunk at a party. After spending 15 minutes I didn't have to spare on unsuccessfully finding a dishwasher for the night, I throw myself into prep, trying to catch up and improvise the specials. My entire game plan was screwed up and I'm trying to recover. I'm working in my mind how to double on the saute station, expediting, and washing dishes, at least the pots and pans. The kitchen is small so it seems feasible.
And now for the best part, the cook that's supposed to be helping me hasn't shown up yet and its 5:00. I start panicking. I call the manager at the other restaurant and ask where Clint was. He's puzzled at the question. He then realizes "oops". Clint didn't have a car so I had to go pick him up. He was at the other restaurant. It's only 5 minutes away, but that's still about 10 minutes of lost time. On top of that, still have to fill Clint in on all the specials, as well as tonight's unique working arrangements.
I can't give a lot of details of the evening because the night was mostly a blur. I remember though it did not go smoothly. We were overbooked. I worked my stations while Clint picked up grill and fry. At one point a waiter was nice enough and came over and would work the fry station between tables to give us a little relief. It was one of those nights that everyone has had where the ticket line gets longer and longer, the evening goes slower and slower, and food just doesn't seem to be going fast enough. Finally around 8:00, the manager walks in I tell him to start doing dishes since I'm still in the weeds without me doing dishes.
Eventually the last orders get out. Tickets times were not fast, but everyone got fed. The night ended with me passing out with a cup of coffee at an empty bar. I felt horrible and that I had let the chef down. The one bright side happened the next night. The chef was back in town and Saturday went down with no incident. After service, he came up to me and said I was the new permanent sous chef. He said that I had a nightmare of a night, but I didn't back down or give up. He'd seen people walk out in that situation but I had kept going and didn't complain, just cursed under my breath a lot. That's why he was giving me a shot at the position.
I look back now and kind of chuckle that one of the worst nights of my career turned into a huge turning point at the same time.