When I was in high school, I worked as a cook at the Olde Colony Steakhouse in Collierville. I learned to measure and cut rib eyes and filets by sight to within a fraction of an ounce to the proper thickness. I also learned to tell the degree of doneness of a steak simply by touching it while it was on the grill. Every night I would receive complements from our customers on the quality of their steaks. The waitresses were always happy when I worked because they knew their orders would go out on time and their customers would be pleased with their meals. That usually meant good tips for them.
The kitchen was separated from the dining room by a half wall and a large plate glass window. The salad bar was positioned on the other side of the window from the large charcoal grill, and the customers could see us preparing their steaks as they filled their plates at the salad bar.
It was a Friday or Saturday night, and the steak house was packed with customers. I was working with Billy, another cook who was maybe a year or two older than me, and we worked great together. We were flying around the kitchen, getting the plates up to the serving window with great efficiency. Everybody was busy and everybody was happy. I had a system for everything from cooking catfish in the fryer to the order in which I placed food on the plates. I had my charcoal grill set up perfectly, with the left side at a lower temperature, the middle a little hotter, and the right side the hottest.
Then the challenge came! The waitress walked an order back to the kitchen to tell us her customer was adamant that his steak should be prepared perfectly. He wanted a 12 ounce filet mignon, not butterflied, cooked well-done but not burned. He didn’t want to see even a trace of pink when he cut into his steak. We told the waitress it was going to take a long time. That was a thick piece of meat to be cooked well-done. She said she would do her best to explain that to her customer.
There were others at his table who had better sense, and ordered their steaks anywhere from medium rare to medium well. The waitress wanted us to send the entire order out at the same time, so as the man’s 12 ounce slab cooked ever so slowly, his companions grew impatient. The waitress came back to the kitchen every 5 minutes to check on the order, but there was nothing we could do. About 30 minutes later, all of the steaks were done to perfection. We were preparing the plates, leaving the well-done slab of meat as the last one to come off the grill.
As we began putting the order in the window for pickup, the waitress started delivering the plates to the table. And then it happened. As I was transferring the well-done 12 ounce masterpiece from the grill to the plate, I dropped it … onto the floor! Billy moved quickly to block the view from the salad bar window, and I scooped the steak off the floor and put it on the plate. Nobody but Billy and I knew what had happened, and we weren’t about to tell them we were going to have to cook another one. We implemented the three second rule!
Their table was the last to finish that night, and as they were leaving, the man with the well-done 12 ounce filet mignon sent his compliments to the chef. He was happy, and we just hoped that what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.