What Goes On Behind The Kitchen Doors Of New York's Gramercy Tavern

gramercy tavern pig

Photo: Julie Zeveloff/Business Insider

You may have given some thought to what goes on behind the kitchen doors at an upscale restaurant, but chances are, you have no idea.We recently got to spend several hours in the kitchens, offices, and dining rooms of venerable New York restaurant Gramercy Tavern, speaking with everyone from the waitstaff to executive chef Michael Anthony about their roles in the restaurant.

We peeked into every nook and cranny, from the florist’s work-space to the chocolate room (yes, there’s an entire room dedicated to chocolate).

Click through to find out exactly what goes on behind the scenes at Gramercy Tavern, and how a staff of 180 serves around 550 impeccable meals a day.

This is the entrance to Gramercy Tavern, on East 20th Street. It was recently ranked the sixth best restaurant in New York City by New York Magazine.

But we're heading in through the service entrance.

The restaurant has two kitchens; an upstairs space for cooking and a downstairs space for prep. The first thing we saw when we walked into the prep kitchen was this half-butchered, 200-pound Berkshire pig. Nearly every part of the pig will be used.

The first shift of prep cooks arrives at 7 a.m. They break down the massive amounts of vegetables that arrive from local purveyors and the Union Square Farmers' Market.

When we check back in a few hours later, they had switched from carrots to garlic.

On days that the farmers' market is open, two chefs make the six-block trek downtown and return with wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow filled with fresh produce. If a new ingredient is in season, they will run it up to the restaurant for the sous chefs to sample.

The downstairs kitchen area is large, but workers fill every available space. We watched a cook wrap fresh spinach fettuccine, which would later be served with duck confit.

Cooks are encouraged to pursue passion projects. We spoke with Paul, the line cook in charge of Gramercy Tavern's charcuterie program. He had just returned from a weeklong charcuterie-making class in Alaska and was passing samples from his class around the kitchens for the staff to taste.

The pastry team has its own space, off to the side of the prep kitchen downstairs. At 10 a.m., breads and pies were already emerging from the oven.

One pastry cook is on full-time ice cream duty. When fresh fruit is available, it often appears on the menu in some form of ice cream or sorbet.

This is just one of two freezers where ice creams are stored.

There is A LOT of baking to do in a single day. There are to-do lists all over the kitchen.

Even the tiniest components take hours to make. These chocolates will eventually become truffles on the plate of petits four served to each table at the end of the meal.

Here they are, lightly dusted and cooling off.

They'll be plated alongside macaroons and a pastry that is constantly changing.

Unlike many New York restaurants, Gramercy Tavern has plenty of storage space. Ingredients, all labelled and dated, fill the walls.

The restaurant has a florist who changes the arrangements daily. She has her own work-space in the basement of the restaurant.

Here's what the final arrangements looked like on the day we stopped by.

When we asked if this locked cabinet held the restaurant's liquor supply, our tour guide laughed. The contents of this wire bin are only used for cooking.

This is Gramercy Tavern's wine cellar. There are around 500 bottles on the menu, and they are constantly changing.

There's no dedicated sommelier; the waitstaff is trained to be well-versed in the wine list. They learn about (and taste) a new wine or beverage each night, and there are mandatory staff wine training sessions once a month.

Of course, waiters are equipped with a handy cheat sheet in case they can't remember the description of a particular vintage.

Here's what it looks like inside the chocolate room. It's actually carved out of a corner of the wine room, and is cool enough to keep the restaurant's chocolate supply from melting.

The beer storage room is next door. There's a rotating selection of draught beers on tap.

A bulletin board in the back office is covered with reviews of the restaurant and articles about food that the managers think will inspire the staff.

The real cooking takes place in the upstairs kitchen. A huge centre island separates the fish and meat stations.

The garde manger, where cold appetizers and salads are prepared, is off to the side. It's generally manned by a more junior cook.

The fish and meat stations each have three positions: hot appetizers, an entremetier post where garnishes and sauces are prepared, and a roast position where proteins are cooked.

The kitchen is incredibly organised, and cooks are constantly reminded to keep their work-spaces spotless.

Everything is labelled with a name and a date. There's blue tape all over the kitchen, and many chefs keep Sharpies in their chefs' jackets.

In addition to the line cooks, there's a steady stream of culinary students on internships, mostly from the Institute of Culinary Education and the Culinary Institute of America.

In the hour before lunch service starts, things start to get really busy. In the coffee station, a waiter fills creamers.

Everyone has a role. Waiters fold napkins and set tables.

Glasses are given a final inspection and wiped clean of fingerprints.

The staff eats in the tavern room, with tables mostly divided among waitstaff and kitchen staff. At Gramercy Tavern, there's a real emphasis on family. Many employees have stayed on for years, and have family members who also work at the restaurant.

The kitchen staff has its own pep talk, led by the sous chef in charge of expediting, or calling out orders.

Around noon, tickets start to come in. The sous chef calls out the items on the ticket, and the line chefs call the orders back.

Another big responsibility of the sous chef: tasting. Almost nothing leaves the kitchen without being tasted, Geoff said.

One lucky diner at lunch didn't know it, but his fish was sauced by executive chef Anthony.

Things get busy really quickly.

Each plate is wiped clean with a tiny towel moments before being whisked out of the kitchen.

Lunch service winds down around 2 p.m. On a standard day the restaurant serves 550 covers.

Then it's just a few short hours until the dinner crowd starts pouring in.

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