Soho's food machine OCT 18 2013
Here's how Balthazar, one of Manhattan's busiest and most-beloved restaurants, serves 1500 meals every single day.
Roughly one in 10 people who enter Balthazar orders the steak frites. It is far and away the restaurant's best-selling dish, and Balthazar can sell as many as 200 on a busy day. A plate of steak and potatoes requires a tremendous input of labor if you're going to charge $38 for it. At a smaller restaurant, cooks are typically responsible for setting up their own mise-en-place -- preparing food for their stations -- before each service begins, but at Balthazar, things are necessarily more atomized. The fries, for example, go through numerous steps of prep, done by a few different people, before they wind up on a plate.
Step 1 begins at about 6:30 a.m., when Diogene Peralta and Ramon Alvino, the prep cooks in charge of potatoes, each grab a 50-pound case of GPODs, from the Idaho company that sources Russet Burbank potatoes, known for their consistency, and place a massive plastic tub on the floor behind them. This morning, Alvino is flying, his left hand's fingers imperceptibly rotating the potato between upward strokes of the peeler, blindly flipping the naked spuds over his shoulder into the tub. I pull up my phone's stopwatch to time him for a minute, treating each potato as a lap: his slowest is 10.7 seconds, his quickest 6.4. Alvino, a shy man from the Dominican Republic, has been doing this same job for 15 years. "Like anything else, it was difficult at first," he says, but he caught his rhythm after a couple of months. Peralta has been at it for 14 years. Today, they will peel and chip about 600 pounds of potatoes. (Since russet supplies are short in late summer, Balthazar stockpiles thousands of cases of potatoes in a New Jersey warehouse.) Next, they will soak them in water that must be changed three times in order to leach out starch. The potatoes that are peeled today won't be fried, actually, until tomorrow, and then refried -- but that's another guy's job.
What an intricately designed system; even the menu is designed to drive profit.