The Kitchen

Not many diners are aware of the blood, sweat and passion that go into setting that perfectly grilled tenderloin before their rapturous gaze and eager fork. We pull back the curtain and follow one new restaurant from idea to opening night.

Slide Shows

The "Cut-Finger" Incident

Blue Canyon under construction

Miscellaneous shots before opening night

Behind the restaurant, chef Brandt Evans barrels from Blue Canyon's kitchen like a 6-foot-3, 275-pound freight train. One of his young line cooks, Andres "Tito" Lopez, has nailed his left index finger while slicing Yukon Golds. By the Dumpsters, another cook wraps white tape around the wound, but blood is still dripping onto the sidewalk.

"Did you cut the tip off?" Brandt asks.

"Yeah, just about, man," winces Tito.

Working in kitchens for 17 years, Brandt's been through this more times than he can remember. "You gotta sit, drink some water, keep it up above your heart." He gently but firmly pushes Tito down onto a milk crate. "How far'd you go in? Is there a fingertip on the [cutting] board?"

"No no no. I just sliced — it wasn't even hanging or nothing, just a slice."

Brandt readies a butterfly Band-Aid to put over the tip, then he'll tighten more tape to hold that on. "This is gonna hurt all right," he warns.

"Go ahead," Tito says tightly, hunkering down and turning his face away.

Brandt distracts him with nonsense. "You ever see, you ever remember 'Puff the Magic Dragon'—"


Brandt is big enough to hold Tito's hand in one place while the rest of the cook eels around like a dervish. Once the wrapping is tight, he lets Tito loose to caper and spin in pain.

"Aaagh. Hoooooo! Hooo! Yeah! That felt good!" the kid hollers.

A server on cig break nearby suggests that he needs a glass of vodka, not water.

"I was thinking the same thing!" Tito laughs shakily. Brandt winds elastic bandage around the injured finger until it looks like there's a golf ball inside.

He reminds Tito to throw away whatever he was cutting, along with the board, and get his knife washed. With typical ghoulish kitchen humor, he then adds, "You could always just go on the grill and sear it."

"Yeah, that'd stop it from bleeding for sure," Tito agrees. "Eh, just stick it in the fryer." He points his oversize cartoon finger. "Blue Canyon is that way."

Brandt slaps him on the shoulder. "Welcome to the kitchen."

In a region still waiting for the vaunted economic recovery to step off the bus, good news is hard to come by. But no matter how desolate the landscape appears, the entrepreneurial spirit perseveres, pushing through the rust and rubble to stretch toward the light.

Perhaps no business sector embodies that more than the ever-volatile restaurant industry, that very volatility seeming to draw individuals willing to stake everything on a toss of the knife. Despite a lengthening butcher's bill of high-profile closings, new restaurants continue to open their doors here, each certain theirs is the one that will beat the odds.

"The banks hate the word restaurant," observes Brandt, 32, co-owner and executive chef at Blue Canyon Kitchen * Tavern.

While persistent myth states that 90 percent of restaurants fail in their first year, published studies indicate that the actual failure rate is nearer 60 percent after three to five years — comparable to other businesses.

The first bank actually loved the Blue Canyon project and thought it would be a great asset to the area. But they wanted key-man life insurance, performance bonds and other conditions — some of which Brandt and his partners couldn't deliver.

They approached several other banks until they met with Ohio Savings Bank, which was more interested that they had the collateral than that the venture was a restaurant.

They also landed a 20-year, fixed-rate note from the Small Business Administration. At $1.4 million, it's the highest SBA loan ever granted in Ohio.

"You have to be a pit bull and you have to be off your rocker a little bit to be in this business," says Brandt.

An offensive and defensive tackle in high school, he was good enough to play as a walk-on at the University of Akron. But he hated getting hit and he hated running. Fortunately, he also worked at the Inn at Turner's Mill under executive chef Tom Ward, who awakened in him a love of food.

Brandt was accepted to the Culinary Institute of America on the strength of a recommendation from a local CIA grad who volunteered to serve as his mentor, a hotel executive named Bob Voelker.

After graduating, Brandt cooked under master chef Charlie Palmer in Manhattan. That's where Tom Ward tracked him down him in 1995, luring him back to be executive chef at Wards' Inn in Moreland Hills. Three years later, Brandt took over Kosta's makeover from a misplaced Tremont chophouse into a showcase for his self-described and popular "Ozark-Asian-funk" cuisine.

He left Kosta's in December 2001to open his own restaurant, but his original investor walked out on him two days before they were going to ink the bank papers. Another deal fell through, too. Brandt was beginning to think he'd have to join a chain or leave town. But his father-in-law said, "Contact that guy you know from the hotel; he's a mover and a shaker."

Bob Voelker was happy to walk Brandt through the shell of the Hilton Garden Inn he was building downtown, then they went across the street to Ginza Sushi and talked for a long time. Then, they traveled to Atlanta together in March 2002, talked even more and began the stereotypical notes-on-napkins planning.

"I think we both knew we were on the same page," Brandt says.

"The only way that I was gonna get into the restaurant business is if I had a chef that was anchored by the ankles with chains, that was here forever," Bob says. So he made Brandt part of his Gateway Hospitality Group partnership. "I said, 'Brandt, if I'm gonna do this thing, you're gonna be a partner in this deal because you're never gonna leave here."

Over 18 months, the two of them visited more than 300 restaurants around the country, often 20 a night; rarely eating, mostly looking and taking notes.

Bob chuckles, "Every time I come back from a trip [the designers] say, 'Now what are you gonna change?' "

On June 4, Blue Canyon Kitchen * Tavern, on Wilcox Drive at I-480 and state Route 82 in Twinsburg, joined Northeast Ohio's restaurant ranks.

The $4 million log structure seats 200 — 300 if you count private parties — and is divided into several distinct spaces, including the Great Room with 32-foot cathedral ceiling, antler chandeliers and giant cedar trusses; the Tavern with its horseshoe bar; the outdoor wood Terrace; and the Lodge private dining room.

Aug. 29, 2003 — Birth

At an earlier restaurant gig, Brandt was unfazed the night his general manager cut off a finger and his sous-chef accidentally poured boiling sugar on his hand, melting his fingers together.

"No big deal — football game," he shrugs. "Now, birth? Whoa. No way. I said, 'I don't wanna be in there. I don't wanna look at any of that stuff.' "

But he managed to nerve himself past that uncharacteristic squeamishness in time to greet Madison Sophia Evans, getting into the delivery room just as the baby's head crowned with beautiful black hair.

"That next day, I woke up and life looked completely different and this restaurant looked different to me. This restaurant's gonna succeed. It's Madison — I have to. This has to be successful, there's no ifs ands or buts about it. I got tuition coming. I got a wedding coming. This has to be successful."

But to do that for her, he's going to have to sacrifice experiencing a chunk of her childhood. And he knows it.

"There's a lotta stuff that I'm gonna miss, like her getting off the schoolbus, -- doing homework with her, putting her to bed." He'll get days off, of course, but not many compared to the days he'll spend in the kitchen, in his office, especially early on. And holidays with the family? Forget it.

"Boom, that's your money day," he says. "Mother's Day? Father's Day? Guess where I'll be? Here.

"I also looked in the mirror and I told my wife I'll kick myself when I get older because I know I can build and run a successful restaurant. I know I can."

September 2003 — The ground

Blue Canyon will rise on a natural terrace halfway between the hotel below and the Falls Canyon office complex on the ledge above. It's the former site of a 10-acre quarry from the turn of the last century, huge chunks of glacial sandstone jutting from the ground.

Standing on the site with a blueprint, Brandt points to a pair of stakes and says, "These two far red sticks will be the front door."

They'd wanted to have ground broken by the end of August, but pulling the bank deal together — the second bank deal — has delayed that.

Blue Canyon will complement Bob's Twinsburg Hilton neatly. When weddings are booked in the hotel, the restaurant is likely to gets the rehearsal dinner. Blue Canyon will also turn out room-service meals for the hotel. It's all part of Bob's strategy to create his own market: Build a hotel and surround it with restaurants and office space.

October — Setting the date

Bob, Brandt and Bob's brother, Val, sit over yet another meal at the Damon's sports bar down the hill from the restaurant site, where big screens fill one wall with ESPN and CNN. Where Bob is tall and rawboned, Val is dapper and precise, with a twinkle in his eye. He's the third owner in their partnership. Bob is CEO, in charge of development. Brandt is back of the house, Val is front of the house.

"My menu's almost done," reports Brandt.

"I thought it was," Val notes archly. This is Brandt's Menu Version 4.0, or maybe 5.0, nobody's keeping track.

But the date is locked now: On June 4, 2004, Blue Canyon opens to the public.

Oct. 31 — Groundburning

Rather than a traditional groundbreaking, Blue Canyon hosts a "groundburning" on Halloween. A redwood fire is kindled in the approximate middle of the future kitchen. The restaurant partners, dignitaries and contractors toast homemade marshmallows over the blaze to create s'mores like those that will be on the dessert menu.

A workman in Badger Brothers Inc. shirt sprays neon-orange paint to trace the arc of the bar across bare dirt and rocks. Badger specializes in log homes — Blue Canyon marks its first commercial project. Bob walks some of the VIPs on a tour of the restaurant, the rooms outlined on the ground in spray paint.

After describing the planned structural log rafter system, drilling into bedrock and the solid foundation his men are pouring, Geoff Badger predicts, "This building is never gonna move unless God wants it to."

As if in reply, a sharp, chill wind blows over the easels holding interior trim samples and renderings.

March 1, 2004 — Job site

It's cold and windy when Brandt takes Traci Ezzo of Vintage Wine Distributor Inc. — one of the two wine reps he'll be buying from — through what is starting to look like a building.

Just inside the doorway, he raises his voice over a powersaw's screech. "This whole wall will be a gleaming wall of water!" He leads her into the Tavern and points out where the Terrace will be. That wooden deck is being extended 15 feet to accommodate 40 more people.

"We already booked our first wedding," he says over the thudding beat of a tradesman's boombox.

It took three tries before they found a crane big enough to get the mammoth cedar trusses raised in the Great Room, says Dale Finael, head carpenter for construction and finishing. Each log weighs 4,400 pounds.

After the rough tour, Brandt and Traci settle into the "war room," a small meeting room in the office complex above the restaurant site. This has been the nerve center of planning Blue Canyon. The table and a credenza are piled with samples of cultured stone, marble for the bartop, fabrics and glassware. The walls are papered with blueprints, elevation drawings and aerial photos.

"What do people price now?" he asks. "Times two?"

"Two, 2 1/2," Traci shrugs. "It all depends. Some people go three. House wines, you're gonna be able to be extremely flexible with. That's where you're gonna make up your extra dollars." She suggests that he stick with doubling on the higher-end labels.

"I wanna go two," he agrees. "I want this place to be a steal."

The combined buying power of Bob's four hotels (plus two under construction and two more planned) will let Blue Canyon compete on price for food with the big restaurant chains. "I can put my beef fillet at $19.95, not $28.95," Brandt says happily. "Add a nickel of fried leeks — whoa!"

Nick and Jen Monachino of Monarch Interiors arrive for a meeting with Brandt and Bob. Tackling the daunting task of Blue Canyon's interior, they've brought flooring samples today.

Nick shows off sections of Mannington PVC flooring with a realistic wood grain lasered in.

"It's impervious to everything," Nick says, rapping on it with a chunk of granite tile for emphasis. No scratches, no dents, no gouges..

"How much is it a square foot?" asks Brandt.

"We're right where we have to be. We're actually under."

Jen holds up a copy of the menu. "Is this it?" They need a final menu so they can size leather covers for the Tavern and wooden menu boards for the main restaurant.

"Working on it," Brandt assures her.


Nick and the chef are busy gleefully pounding floor samples with pieces of granite.

April 5 — Big hire

Brandt's finally got a key member of his new team, Susan Geul, a pastry chef from Baricelli Inn. She will do a lot of her work in the wee hours, when no one else is at the restaurant, usually starting at 2:30 a.m. Other than one Orlando bread for a couple sandwiches, Susan will make all pastries and breads in house.

April 24 — Hiring fair

It's Saturday morning and the Blue Canyon team is running its second hiring fair, this one at the Twinsburg Hilton. Applicants fill out forms and process through a battery of interviews. The last stop is Brandt and Val, set up at one end of a long table in a meeting room. The chef is charging his battery on caffeine, a tall Starbucks up and an empty Pepsi can in front of him already.

They're getting applicants from Applebee's, Alice Cooper'stown, P.F. Chang, refugees from the Amazon Trail closing; veterans with 20 years in the business and high-school kids looking for their first job.

Matt is a lock. He's a quietly cocky young guy with long sideburns and a ballcap from fire food & drink on Shaker Square. He's a culinary candidate and Brandt wants him aboard. The questions are mere formality.

"How's your sauté skills?"

"Superb," Matt replies without hesitation.

After he leaves, Brandt says, "Pit bull. He'll be a pit bull. I'm all about healthy competition. Only the strong survive on my hot line."

Dan is older, 40-something, hushed and deliberate. He's looking for a title position in the kitchen, but would be willing to start as a line cook.

"You're a sous-chef now?"

"Ah, no. I've been on the West Coast for 20 years. I came back from Oregon because of a family illness. I'm looking to do, ahm ... I'm looking to do exciting food." His subdued voice conveys anything but excitement.

Dan and his ex-wife owned a bakery/café in Oregon. He claims his strength is sauté. Does he want to work nights or days?

"I put down days because I had to fill something in, but it really doesn't matter that much to me."

After Dan leaves, Brandt flutters his hand: iffy. But people who want to work day shift are hard to find, so Dan's still in the running.

One high-school girl wants to be a hostess. On the job, she'd need to be able to recognize and greet regulars. Brandt asks her what his name is.

"I don't remember," she admits.

He points his pen at Val. "What's his name?"

"Bob...?" she ventures.

"We'll give you that one 'cause they're related."

When she's gone, Brandt points at the dry-erase board right behind him, which has both their names and titles written on it in large letters.

"I'm gonna be doing this till five..." he sighs.

May 14 — Inspection

The man with the clipboard has everyone's attention. It's the second go-round at Blue Canyon for Andrew Deikun, coordinator of the food protection program for the Summit County Combined General Health District. In short: the health inspector.

He spent two hours here yesterday and noted a laundry list of things that needed to be corrected. The alarm was sounded and everyone has been blitzing the repairs and upgrades. They have to pass today or it screws up the rest of the inspections and licenses the restaurant needs to stay on track.

Deikun checks thermometers in each of the refrigerated drawers that didn't pass yesterday.

"Turn on all refrigeration units, you did that. Fifty foot candles of light, check that. Provide additional lighting on the other side of the dishmachine."

Brandt points out that they've gotten a lot done since Deikun's previous visit. The inspector says he's not surprised, since they have so many people working on site. "I know you guys want this," he adds.

Oops — a bare, untreated wood panel at one end of the bar needs to be sealed.

"Let's get it, let's do it. We gotta pass today," calls Brandt, clapping his hands like a coach. The builder, Geoff Badger, rummages and comes up with a can of polyurethane.

"Yeah," nods Deikun. "That'll get us through today if you guys wanna slap that on there." After it's sealed, it'll eventually be covered with black wood laminate like the rest of the vertical bar surfaces.

"OK, all I need to see is the menu."

The required warning about consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish or eggs has been added.

"We passed!" Brandt enthuses later. Training of the new hires begins in a week.

Yet, with each step forward, there seems to be another backward. Every single booth came in wrong and it's going to cost a whopping $18,000 to reupholster them.

May 20 Situations

Last night, Blue Canyon moved beyond menu tastings for a few select friends at Bob's house. The Hilton down the hill threw a fifth-anniversary bash that included loading revelers onto Lolly the Trolley and trucking them up for a hardhat tour of the restaurant and a grazing table of several Blue Canyon menu items. Estimates of the crowd that wandered through the site range from 400 to 500.

Brandt's sous-chef, Larry Coffman, and Larry's brother Scott, known as "Rocket" — both Kosta's veterans — concentrated on the food, while Brandt deferred to Susan and acted as her sous-chef to help crank out mini-desserts.

He's gotten maybe three or four hours of sleep each of the past few nights. Then they shot advertising photos at Hudson Springs earlier today. "Just me like in the middle of the water, holding fresh fish, saying, 'It doesn't get any fresher than this.' I'm like almost falling asleep falling in the lake," he sighs.

He'd quit smoking when Madison was born, but it's not surprising to see cigarette ash down the front of his T-shirt.

In the kitchen, Larry says, "We got a situation."

It turns out the exhaust hood for the dishtank was sized for a different machine, which this one replaces. Steam is escaping rather than being captured. New shrouds will have to be fabricated and installed.

Marguerite Marini, sales rep for S.S. Kemp & Co., their equipment supplier, warns that the dishwashers will have things hot and steamy for a while until the shrouds are shortened.

Brandt, who started in the business as a dishwasher, shrugs. "Y'know, it's the rule in the kitchen: It was hot last summer, it's gonna be hot this summer, it's gonna be hot next summer — just get used to it."

Marguerite is more concerned that the added heat in the kitchen will force the ice machine to work harder. She walks over to check on it, bending to peer at a large puddle of water underneath.

Suddenly, she straightens with a yelp: "Oh oh oh! Wait, we gotta shut this off! Oh honey, shut the water off! I got a hole over here."

Everyone rushes over. Someone shuts off the water line. When they turn the water on again, everyone can see fluid squirt from an opening high up on the back.

The plumbers only hooked up one of the ice machine's two drain lines. Brandt gets on his cell to the general contractor.

First the dishtank, now the ice machine — what else is screwed up?

On cue, an installer from Electrical Appliance Repair asks if by any chance the boxes the fryers came in are still around. They aren't.

"Somebody drilled through, ... put that little restraining device right through the data plate," the installer explains. "Took out the last two digits of both units. Perfect hit.

So let's just pray that there's no warranty [issues]."

Cell to his ear, Brandt shakes his head slowly. "I hope this is normal when you build restaurants, because it feels like I'm on a cursed boat."

May 22 — Orientation

Val takes charge of the 70-some new hires packed around tables in the Lodge, riffling through team handbooks and their training schedule for the next nine days. He tells them that, whatever they think they know, they're all going to be relearning the business of service. He shares the story of his sister, Judy, who also grew up as part of the Voelker family restaurant. "She was never a culinary, but in the front of the house she was awesome," he says. Judy died eight years ago from leukemia.

"Today, when I look at you, I see a little bit of her in you," Val says. "Because the smiles, the passion that you have — it is so critical for me to see that and to bring the best out in you."

Then, it's Brandt's turn to speak to the troops. It's classic Brandt.

" really see this restaurant as a football team•" he declares.

Thursday, June 3 — The day before opening

Brandt's needle is nearing E by late afternoon.

A new lock had to be put on the back door into the kitchen, but no one thought to inform Susan or give her a key. So • Brandt drove back to the restaurant at 2:30 this morning to let his pastry chef in so she could start her work. Once inside, his mind started buzzing with to-do lists and he ended up in his office till 6 a.m. He then "slept late" in a chair at Great Clips, getting an early morning haircut.

Bob is torqued because the city came by this morning to inform him that Blue Canyon's sign — huge handcarved log with the restaurant's name in its side and a lifelike mountain lion resting atop it — is placed illegally and needs to be moved 10 feet farther from the right of way. The sign that is cemented in place, fixed in stone.

For now, he and Brandt slide into a Tavern booth with Karyn Kreps-Frisina, who is handling marketing. Based on the test dinners and special events, they want to thrash out last-minute menu changes, yanking a few slow movers, tweaking combinations.

Lake Erie walleye is off. So is the trout salad. Karyn scribbles notes on a Xeroxed menu; she'll make the corrections in the computer and print out new menus for tomorrow's opening.

Talk then centers on bread for the sandwiches, almost all of which is made in house by Susan. Bob wants to use brioche more. Susan's been baking it only once a week, for brunch, but they've just added it to three sandwiches for weekday lunch, which means she'll now be baking it every night.

Workload on the kitchen is a huge issue and Brandt's wary of tipping the balance further now that he's shorthanded. In the past week, he has lost three people from culinary, including the day chef and Matt Eland, the night sauté who seemed so hot to come aboard. He called in that he was running late one day, then never showed up. Three days later, he sent Brandt an e-mail.

"Trust me, that's why half these guys left the kitchen already," Brandt says. "They got scared we're making everything from scratch — they're used to popping cans."

The menu meeting wraps up and they scatter to their tasks. Not 10 minutes later, in the kitchen, Bob's voice rises in an argument with a rep from the company supplying their coffee system. "I'll tell you what, take the whole damn thing out! I'll find someone else to do it if you can't get it done right," he barks and then stalks off. The rep turns around slowly, blowing out her cheeks.

Less than 24 hours before opening and Bob's just fired their coffee outfit.

Friday, June 4, 11:05 a.m. — Opening day

The next day, the ribbon's been cut, the mayoral proclamation is hung on the wall. In half an hour, banners proclaiming Blue Canyon's opening will be hung from the Terrace.

Considering, Bob decides that he got almost everything he wanted on the project. The wall of water never happened, but the wiring is in place for it later. More immediately, the wooden tops for the horseshoe-shaped booths in the Tavern and the Kitchen still haven't come in — they're covered temporarily with fabric stapled down.

Out front, a mini-excavator is swinging the heavy sign into new position on its anchor stones, 10 more feet back.

Project carpenter Dale Finael is on his knees in the Tavern, trying to get one of the double doors leading out to the Terrace to stop sticking.

Brandt's pulled a miracle, snagging a pair of fast hires to replace two of the guys who bailed. He pulled in Keith Guzik from Bertram Inn and Walter Goodson from the late Amazon Trail.

Bob stands on the Terrace now, watching two Amish painters brushing a coat of rich chocolate brown onto the window frames. A U.S. Foodservice semi rolls past below, heading for the rear driveway. "Here comes the food for tonight," he says.

The VIPs at the ribbon-cutting included Twinsburg Mayor Katherine Procop, someone from Rep. Steven LaTourette's office, the executive director of the chamber of commerce and, of course, the vice president of operations for the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce, Barb Evans — Brandt's mom.

Now, it's lunch — the restaurant's first live one — and the kitchen is beginning to rock, the servers hustling.

2:30 p.m.

Lunch is over. Day-shift servers are opening their pay envelopes outside Val's office, while others fold clean napkins for dinner at tables in the Lodge.

Brandt's hunched on a milk crate out back, shaking his head over a cigarette. Val's driving Tito to the hospital because his finger kept bleeding through the bandages ... the heat lamps aren't hot enough ... the pilot's out on one end of the 10-burner flattop ... the heavy mixer has started shutting itself off right in the middle of making bread...

But he can't freak out, even though it feels as if the dominoes are tumbling. "If they see the captain's worried about the boat, the boat'll sink," he explains.

Some of the cooks are at the prep tables, chopping or setting out for dinner. But the floor out on the line is still a mess of discarded gloves, spills, trampled fries. It's time to drop the hammer. He pulls himself up and lumbers into the kitchen.

"Can we clean up the hot line?" he booms. "It looks like a frickin' pigsty! Everybody drop what they're doing and clean the hot line!"

Six cooks scramble up front with cloths and brooms.

Now that he has action, Brandt takes the volume down a notch. "Come on, guys, it's showtime. No more testing. We're not good enough to walk off the line thinking we won the Super Bowl."

4:55 p.m.

Brandt walks through the kitchen, calling his crew outside for a last powwow before dinner begins. The cooks gather by the wall that surrounds the Dumpsters, some sitting on upturned milk crates, almost all with cigs in hand.

Leaning on stacked sawhorses, Brandt takes a deep breath. "All right, guys, tonight's opening, all right?"

Heads nod. "Let's do it!" calls Tito, back from the hospital with two stitches.

Abruptly, the chef's voice thickens and his cadence slows. "I waited three f-----g years — I've actually waited my whole entire life to own my own restaurant. • I scrubbed so many f-----g floors to get to this day. I've gotten my ass kicked so hard my whole life. I was actually that type of guy in high school that was supposed to be nothing. And you know what? I am one of the best f-----g chefs in Northeast Ohio and I'm proud to say that. And the reason why I am and the reason why I'll continue to be that is I have you guys on me•

"Now, the reality sets in. I'm $4 million in the hole. Four million in the hole. I took a $1.5 million SBA loan out. If I don't return that, my daughter doesn't go to college."

That means he can't afford a salad getting plated with nearly raw chicken. He can't afford marshmallows going out untoasted. He can't afford to have diners see the floor of the open kitchen covered with mushed fries. He can't afford anyone slacking off or screwing up.

"I know our balls are getting scrubbed every day because we're behind staff, all right?" he says. "We got two wonderful, wonderful guys who joined our team. I'm so pumped they're here.

"But I'm telling you, from now on Hurricane Jesse's here and that's me. If you need to know who Jesse is, you just talk to the Coffman brothers 'cause I ain't gonna put up with s---. I'll get here every night at 2:30 in the morning like I have been and I'll still be cranking."

He takes a breath, then: "Tonight's special will be the black grouper. It's coming off of sauté•

After the night's menu details are delivered, he asks if anyone has a question. His sous-chef, Larry, asks quietly, "Where do you want me to work tonight?"

Brandt looks at his lieutenant. "Sauté. I'm going home."

That pulls a few chuckles out of his hushed crew.

"Sorry I got a little emotional," he says. "Probably the next time you ever see me cry is if something happens to my daughter, so you can just imagine how emotional I am and what this place means to me."

He tells them he hopes every order is for the sauté station, his beat. "I'll go down to the hotel, get all you guys lawnchairs and you can watch me work," he says. "And that's how everyone should think on every station." His finger stabs out at each young cook in turn.

"You should wanna get your d--- scrubbed on pizza. You should wanna get your d--- scrubbed on salads. You wanna put out the best f-----g desserts like you're working at Trotter's restaurant. That's how you gotta think."

He knows what they're going to feel in the morning: sore, bruised, burnt, fingers sliced. "That's the kitchen, boys and girls. That's the kitchen. And you know what? It's gonna get 10 times hotter.

5:35 p.m.

The line is an insane babble of voices; orders, commands and questions climbing over one another, weaving into a quilt of white noise.

"Rocket! You got crostinis down there, fondue-breath?" "Throw some butter in here•" "Crostinis coming up!" "How're you coming on those two trouts, chef?" "Where's this going?" "I got two trouts coming up on 17." "Here! Here!" "I need a

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