Curt Yazza is a line cook at the ever-popular 715. I’d probably eat there more often if I didn’t spend so much money on beer at Harbour Lights, escpecially after talking with Curt about the restaurant and what it’s like to work there.
Joseph Griffin: How does your day at 715 start?
Curt Yazza: I usually get to the restaurant around 9, clock in, scope everything out in the kitchen, make sure everything’s in place, turn on the oven, the pizza ovens, get the water flowing in the pasta drop, turn on the oven that’s underneath our range, kick on the salamander, turn on the fryer, turn on the panini presses, open up our cold tables, set up our steam wells that hold our pork balls, lamb balls, cauliflower soup, split pea soup, and other miscellaneous items. Once the kitchen’s good and ready I go downstairs, change, get into my uniform, get all the pots that I need, the third pans, the six pans, utensils, bowls and pretty much whatever we need on the line and take that up, get that squared away, get all the lamb balls and pork balls going and the soups going, go back downstairs, start prepping our quiche–and that takes a little bit–go back upstairs and start doing finer detail. If we need more stuff on a cold table, make a list, go downstairs and get what we need, and go back upstairs and start prepping. By that time it’s usually about 10, maybe a little before 10. Start going and figure out what specials you’re going to run for the day on a sandwich station, what specials you’re going to do for a sautee station, what specials you’re going to run for a pizza and grill station. Service begins at 11 o’clock. And, usually, by 11 there’s people waiting outside.
JG: Do you work a lot of 12 and 13 hour shifts?
CY: I work two doubles a week. Monday and Tuesday. Come in at 9 and usually leave about 9:30 or 10 o’clock in the evening. Doubles are pretty rough.
JG: What are some things you like to do when you’re not on the shift?
CY: On my days off I like to ride my fixed-gear bike on long-stretch rides. I also like to cook in my free time. It’s more like in-depth cooking where you actually go in and prepare your own bread. I make my own pasta. I make my own soups and everything’s from scratch just like in the kitchen I work in. Nothing in that kitchen comes in a bag or is pre-made. Everything’s made from scratch in that kitchen and that’s a really good point. It builds a really good work ethic. Makes you a better cook.
JG: How did you get into cooking? Was it something you always wanted to do or something you just stumbled into?
CY: When I was younger, I would watch cooking shows on PBS, and I started messing around in the kitchen. Then I went to college, dropped out, played in a bunch of bands, toured for a little bit. Went back to college, dropped out a second time, joined more bands. I play drums. Tried to fuck around on other instruments but I felt percussion was the most interesting. And maybe five or six years ago when I came out to Lawrence from Arizona, I got a gig through Jimmy John’s, delivering. And when we weren’t delivering, we would help out on line making sandwiches. It’s only making sandwiches but then at the same time it rekindled this cooking aspect in my mind. So after working at Jimmy John’s for about maybe six months I got a gig working at Jefferson’s.
JG: Making oysters?
CY: Oysters, yeah. Burgers, fried food, did that for, I think, six months. Then from Jefferson’s I got a gig over at Dempsey’s, and that was when they revamped their menu and they had the old sous chef from 715 take charge of the kitchen. We made all of our own sauces: ketchups, mustards, three different aiolis. We prepped our own salmon for salmon burgers. I started working with an actual grill, and kitchen etiquette came in to play in a big way. A lot of communication skills. That kitchen is fucking small as shit.
JG: At Dempsey’s?
CY: Yeah, at Dempsey’s. Three people is pretty much max that can work in that kitchen. Four’s pushing it. So, after Dempsey’s, I talked to the old sous–his name’s Matt Lawson–and he’s currently cooking in Saudi Arabia. He’s over there making bank and cooking all this crazy, awesome shit. He got me a gig over at 715 doing prep on the weekends. So for about three months, I was working seven days a week–five at Dempsey’s and prepping on the weekends at 715. Then I transitioned over to 715. Started doing more prep work, worked my way up on to the line and I’ve been there ever since. It’s been about a year–maybe a little over a-year-and-a-half–that I’ve been at 715 Restaurant. I was at Dempsey’s for about a year. And here I am now.
JG: How do you think 715 compares to some of the other places you’ve worked?
CY: There’s no comparison. 715 Restaurant is fucking awesome. The amount of work and effort that’s put into each individual dish that comes off that line is far more substantial than anywhere else that I’ve worked and all the other kitchens. It feels good to be able to work in a restaurant, in a kitchen of that calibre.
JG: 715 is a popular restaurant in Lawrence. What do you think makes it so popular?
CY: I would have to say the food. The food is where it’s at. There’s also the atmosphere. High ceilings. It’s kind of dark. No TVs, which is awesome. We don’t have any taps, like beers on tap there. Everything’s just straightfoward. The service is really good. Also the open kitchen is pretty fuckin’ rad. At first it took me a while–probably took me about a week, maybe a week and a half–to get used to walking up on the line and having all these people watching you, watching you cook, really checking you out. But it’s pretty awesome. You get going and you tend to forget about it. You do what you have to do, do what you love to do, and just cook.
JG: I was going to ask you what it’s like cooking in the open kitchen, if you get nervous with customers watching you do your job.
CY: There are some times when people sit at the chef’s table, which is six seats right in front of the kitchen. It’s probably a two foot distance from the kitchen to where they’re sitting. From time to time that still weirds me out. There’s people that come and just hang out and some ask questions and a lot of them, most of them just watch, you know, like wide-eyed; “Oh, it’s like a show! Whoa!” Like it’s cooking theatre or something.
JG: On a busy night, how do you stay on top of things and keep track of it all?
CY: Usually when it gets really busy, it’s up to the expediter to sort everything out, call out what’s next, what’s coming up, on this ticket we need this, we need that, where is everything. He’s pretty much the traffic conductor that funnels all the traffic out, all the food out on time. And when I’m working on the grill or on the pizza station, I try to get everything out on time in order to fulfill each order, each ticket that’s called out. It’s pretty strenuous, pretty tedious, working expo station. But it’s great. It’s a lot of stress, and once you get done with it and the rush is over, you’re just like, “Fuckin’ sweet! Nothing really failed, nothing blew up.”