Whipping up food in an open kitchen is challenging enough—now try doing it shoulder-to-shoulder with three other guys. We asked the team at The Black Hoof how they cook for 170 Saturday-night diners in the space of a walk-in closet.
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1. The Black Hoof’s menu, with its emphasis on small sharing plates, is dictated by the limited kitchen size and counter space. Every piece of real estate is used: Plates, bowls, sauces, and spices sit on shelves behind the chefs; small fridges and freezers are jammed under the counters; pans are right by the stove; cooking oil is stored next to the dishwasher. “Even the smallest piece of equipment has a home—you’re not wasting time looking around,” says stove cook Daniel Roe.
2. At the Hoof, there’s a huge emphasis on prep work. “You need to make sure you have everything ready for an eight-hour shift. I can chop herbs on the fly, but that’s about it,” chef garde manger Jon Nicolaou says. “Our emergency solution is Daniel [McMahon, the cook at Cocktail Bar], across the street. We can text him for more marrow bones or brioche, but that’s a last resort.”
3. All the plating happens on this narrow kitchen pass. Unfortunately, it’s in a high-traffic area, so dishes have been known to take a tumble into the dining room. “If it happens, you’ve just got to act very calm,” chef Jesse Grasso says. “The worst thing I ever spilled was a board of tacos, chicharones and all. That was messy.”
4. This slicer takes up a third of Grasso’s counter space, but he says it’s worth it. “Because we’re a charcuterie place, people expect to see the slicer up front. We’ll probably sell 40 boards on a busy night, so I’m constantly slicing. It has to be right in front of me to save time.”
5. Owner Jen Agg snagged the Hoof’s first four-burner electric stove from the apartment upstairs. (She has to replace the stove every year.) With all four burners, the oven, and the oven light on, the heat is intense: There’s a reason stove cooks usually only last six months. “When it’s busy, you don’t notice the heat,” says Roe. “However, it is the reason I don’t wear an apron—that’s too much clothing.”
6. This shelf was recently added to keep sauces warm. Before that, cooks used the top of the dishwasher for the same purpose.
7. On a packed Saturday night, there are pans on every burner, searing foie gras or scallops and heating curry-goat ragu. In the oven, empty pans stay warm at the back of the top rack, while slices of baguette get gently toasted in front. The bottom rack is full of bone marrow.
HOW TONGUE ON BRIOCHE ($14) IS MADE
1. Grasso reads out the order.
2. Nicolaou passes Roe a bowl of cold tongue (already brined for a week and cooked sous-vide for 30 hours) and slices of brioche.
3. Roe places the tongue in a pan on the burner and the brioche in the oven.
4. Grasso reaches for grainy mustard and pickled celery; Nicolaou shuffles right to accommodate.
5. “The only time I talk is when things are ready,” Roe says. “I’ll say, ‘Tongue anytime,’” and then I just shut up.”
6. Grasso takes the tongue and brioche, plates the sandwich, and finishes it with a tarragon mayo.
7. When the dish is ready, Grasso says “Hands,” alerting a food runner, who will pick up the plate within five to 10 seconds.
928 Dundas St. W., 416-551-8854.