It didn’t take long for things to get a little out of control.
Due to additional traffic brought in by the Fleur Delicious event in Eureka Springs that weekend, the ticket printer in Caribe’s kitchen was screeching a little more often than usual, even for a Friday night.
KJ told me later that night about her cozy 50-seat dining area she now uses, just a small part of the multi-room building.
“When I first moved here from downtown, we had the whole thing open, and we fed several hundred a night,” she said. “It was just too much. I went a little crazy. It was still just little old me and one salad guy in the back. We managed, but it was just too much.”
She later trimmed service down to the main dining room, and she ended up making more money due to reduced overhead.
Tonight, she had extra help (me), but I wasn’t really much help without knowing the menu. We never really had gotten around to that.
During slight lulls, KJ showed me how to start fajitas and a salmon dish on the grill and finish them on the stove, with her special combinations of Caribbean-inspired sauces. Small pans lined up with coconut milk, veggie stock (with pineapple juice), rum and other goodies.
“I’m a real believer in the two-phase cooking process,” she said, moving the beef or chicken from the grill to the waiting pan, and later to a plate of salad, rice and beans.
Ohmygosh, the beans… we’ll get back to those.
The real crazy came around 7 p.m. A waitress went home sick. Tickets were slightly piled up. A few folks in the dining room were getting testy.
Dying to help out, I inched into the line a few times, but KJ was in the zone. She politely/tersely told me that I’d have to wait, it was easier right now for her to just get.it.done.
Meanwhile, Chris, the front of house manager, is slightly freaking out. I offered to help in the front, and he and KJ thought that was a dandy idea.
Chris had me help bus tables, check on folks’ water, deliver plates from the kitchen and such. I wasn’t anyone’s waitress, officially. But, of course, you step into the dining room and you’re fair game.
“Could you tell me about the heat level on these salsas (from the platter)?” I was asked more than once. I politely responded that I was just helping for the night and wasn’t familiar, but I would send someone (Chris) over right away. (Yes, I did.)
I fetched requested sides, refilled water, sliced limes, even served a margarita or two. But my favorite part is talking to people, when appropriate, a remainder from my PR days. I actually really enjoyed it.
Back in the kitchen, things eventually slowed enough where I could get involved again. Rice, beans, kids’ tacos. More fajitas, enchiladas, ring the pickup bell, go, go, go. Running. Out. Of. Stuff.
Around 9 p.m., KJ shut down the kitchen. No more dinner tonight, folks. She had to get ready for the event she had agreed to, which was to start at 9:30. She collapsed for a moment in the corner, doing a combination of stretch, faint, yoga, something.
A whole new crowd loomed, many of whom will be fed for free. I had to wonder if she was still feeling all the “community” jazz she mentioned earlier.
One more installment, plus an “inspired by” recipe, coming soon!