It was Harry S. Truman who coined the phrase, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” And he was right, especially this summer in San Antonio.
With temperatures topping 100 degrees for more than 55 days so far this year and August breezes offering blessed little relief, local chefs are turning to many solutions in order to keep their staffs as cool as possible in the heat. Some of their tips would work in your home just as well.
At Oloroso, 1024 S. Alamo St., temperatures over the stove can get much hotter than it is outdoors. And the heat has shown little affect on people’s tastes, chef and co-owner Josh Cross says.
There are still plenty of orders for braised short ribs and hot soup despite the temperature, though some have admittedly switched to the Andalusian gazpacho when the vegetables are at their freshest.
That means a large cooler in the kitchen is filled with Gatorade, and staff members go through several glasses over the course of each evening.
If you were to peak behind the kitchen door, you’d also likely see someone duck into the refrigerator for a brief respite. “There are no shortage of people willing to get in the walk-in,” Cross says with a laugh. He’s often walked in himself only to discover several others also at work.
The summer heat has also affected the staff’s hair styles, as all of the men have cut theirs as short as possible.”We couldn’t take it,” Cross says.
One reason Big Bob’s Burgers, 2215 Harry Wurzbach Road, is popular is because its burgers are grilled over an open flame, which can make the open kitchen hotter than anything Mother Nature has cooked up for us.
“It is about 120-140 degrees over the grill, and, yes, it is really hot,” says owner Robert “Big Bob” Riddle.
But it’s not as bad as it seems. Or so he says. “To tell you the truth, you get used to it and don’t really notice it that much,” he says. “The trick is to not drink any soda, just water, or in my case, 6-8 sugar-free Red Bulls with lots of ice. Sugar makes you sick in the heat.”
Grilling burgers and frying onion rings, tater tots or french fries in an open kitchen also doesn’t bother Riddle or his staff. “I don’t know what people think about being able to see us,” he says. “We are so busy that we just keep cooking. They do seem to like the huge flames when we flip the burgers.
“Cooking in front of guests has its good points and bad points. It is cool to see lots of our regulars, but it is awkward if you drop something or mess something up.”
At his two Papouli’s Greek Grill restaurants, owner Nick Anthony tries to keep his kitchen staff cool with air conditioning, but he knows that isn’t always effective. Fans keep air circulating through the kitchen, and the dress code is as relaxed as the Department of Health will allow.
Anthony gives his employees bottled water to keep them hydrated. He also distributes cold neck wraps that they can wear to keep them as refreshed as possible. At home, a cold, damp towel might work as well.
And if all else fails, Anthony has a fool-proof way to keep his staff cool: “Everybody gets to have margaritas! OK, not really.”
Jason Dady’s foray into barbecue, Two Bros. BBQ Market at 12656 West Ave., is a lot more casual than his other restaurants, including the Lodge Restaurant of Castle Hills, Bin 555 and Tre Trattoria. So, the rules are not as strict, especially since temperatures in and around the smoke pit cause the thermometer to rise drastically.
“We’ve swapped the button-down chef’s coat for short sleeve sweaters,” Dady says, adding that whether it’s 100 degrees or 50 degrees outside, the pit can feel like 200 degrees.
There is an escape for some kitchen workers. It’s a step out the back door for a moment. As Josh Cross says, the heat of the evening “is almost refreshing” compared with the heat in the kitchen.