Growing up in the hotel business is a double edged sword: you don’t have to look too hard for work when you’re a kid, but the work you get is the work you do, there aren’t a lot of choices. That was the story for all of the guys who work together to run the Captain’s Table growing up. As kids, Brad Taylor, Rob Conner and Travis McKenna worked as maintenance guys, desk clerks and bus boys, taking the jobs that were unfilled or needed the most amount of support. Each of the three eventually took a liking to the kitchen, fortunately, because that is where they ended up.
“We just did whatever was needed at the time,” Brad said of his earliest years in the business.
A typical Saturday afternoon in season has the group working as one to prepare for the evening ahead. At least one of them is there every night all year, cooking and ordering and running the kitchen, but Saturday nights are an all hands on deck affair, and have been for most of the guys lives.
Dinner at the Captain’s Table restaurant
Of course, Brad, Rob and Travis aren’t kids anymore and really haven’t been for some time. In the intervening years they went from helping where help was needed anywhere on the property to cultivating a new culture for the next generation in the kitchen. Travis is the youngest and he has been working there for more than 15 years. Speaking with the guys as they finished up the Saturday evening prep work, I got the impression there were different practices depending upon the night in question. Travis said they weren’t so much practices as they were mutual understandings between all.
“We’ve been doing this together for so long, we all have specific things we know have to be done each night,” he said. “We never have too many days off.”
As with any other job, the longer you do it, the better you get. What is interesting about the guys at the Captain’s Table, though, is between them they have more than 50 years of experience. They know the whole building, not just the kitchen, so as the summer comes and goes, they have an excellent sense of what is going to happen from day to day.
Making great meals
We’re all familiar with prep work, getting the ingredients ready to be made into food, but over the four or so hours that comprise a Saturday summer dinner rush Brad, Rob and Travis will work together to do make more than 200 meals. Because of the restaurant’s reputation for quality food, most of this is done from scratch. The prep work is mostly about making soups and bases, chopping vegetables or pre-seasoning food that will later be properly prepared. The guys already had been hard at it when I showed up in the early afternoon and were putting the finishing touches on the prep and beginning the cleanup, shelving recently-washed plates and glasses so they would be ready for use again in the coming hours.
They joked with one another and talked as they cleaned. As the waitstaff began to come in and do its own prep work, they guys would take a break, maybe have a little something to eat and then prepare for the evening. Many people make reservations at the Captain’s Table, because it is such a destination restaurant, but many more don’t. Brad said it wasn’t unusual to have 20 or so reservations on a Saturday afternoon and then make 250 meals that evening.
But over the years the hard work and attention to detail has paid off for the trio. After more than a decade running the kitchen together they have gotten a system down that allows them to be more efficient that they have in a long time. They now have a little downtime during the week and even days off, which are a relatively new development.
“When we first started we worked seven days per week,” Rob said. “This is one of the first years we can take days off during the summer.”