It's two hours before office workers will begin savouring their lunch-time meal at The Merchant Kitchen, but executive chef Jesse Friesen and his staff are already kicking it into high gear.
"It’s a very important time in the day, because you’ve had enough time in the morning to get a lot done," Friesen explains. "But now the clock is ticking for the door to be open so there are a lot of tasks that have been started, but they now need to be completed before we open; there’s a million things happening all at once."
The staff — there’s usually four or five of them in the morning — have a daily routine following a plan put in place by Friesen at the Donald Street restaurant next door to the Alt Hotel.
"It’s a big-picture plan, so they know what needs to be done," he says.
They get started at 7 a.m. — Friesen arrives at 8:30 a.m. after dropping off his son at daycare — and they slowly ramp up things as they move towards the 11:30 a.m. opening.
Friday is a bit of a different creature — it’s a busier lunch day featuring larger groups of people, who tend to stay a little longer than other weekdays.
This particular Friday is extraordinary. Friesen and his staff are not only preparing for the daily lunch rush but also making dishes for a new menu and a social media shoot to promote it.
At 1:30 p.m, managers from Merchant Kitchen and Academy Road's Pizzeria Gusto — where Friesen is also executive chef — will sample a few of the new creations: scallop ceviche with plaintain chips, tobiko and pickled cucumber; MK caesar salad with baby romaine, garlic croutons, chipotle dressing, boar bacon and queso; and tofu, caulilini and broccoli tempura with sweet chili aioli and ponzu.
He's also debuting his submission for September's Burger Week. His entry features a Korean fried boar patty with kimchi, kewpie mayo, pickled onion and cilantro.
Friesen says a lot of folks working in the industry pine for the daytime shift, wanting to get away from the late, hectic nights, only to find out the pace of the morning shift is equally frantic — if not more so.
"Working during the morning at a restaurant is a very, very important shift," he explains. "There’s a lot more pressure because you have a deadline that you have to get everything done and there’s a lot to do."
It’s front-line work and a key ingredient to the end result.
— Steve Lyons
Photography by Mike Deal