Witnessing ‘the cleaning ballet’

Chef Joseph Lenn, right, hangs a just washed pot while Thales Craig-Bettis cleans the chimney at J.C. Holdway after dinner service recently.

“It’s the most amazing thing,” raved my friend Gay Lyons. “You’ve just got to see it!”

My friend Laura Cole was incredulous, as well. “You mean you’ve never seen it?” she asked.

What the heck were they talking about? Gay explained. “It’s when Chef Joseph Lenn and his kitchen team at J.C. Holdway clean the restaurant kitchen at the end of each night. It’s unbelievable — it’s like watching an elaborate dance. I call it ‘the cleaning ballet.’ ”

Well, now I’ve seen it. And it is pretty amazing.

My opportunity happened when Laura attended a Women’s Fund event and bought a dinner at J.C. Holdway’s chef’s counter for six guests. She asked Chef Lenn if the dinner could be at the end of the evening — and if the guests could please watch “the cleaning ballet.” And, lucky me — I got to be one of the guests!

But, first, we were served dinner from the eatery’s awesome tasting menu.

Chef Lenn welcomed guests with some delicious sparkling rose.

Yum. Called, appropriately, Si Irrésistible, it is a combination of Grolleau Gris and Grolleau Noir grapes.

Here’s our crew. From left, Kim Henry, Laura Cole, Gay Lyons, Adrienne Webster and Jennifer Holder.

We also were welcomed with three openers, including my personal favorite, pimento cheese with benne seed crackers.

Get a load of these sweet and spicy pork ribs with peanuts and scallions.

Springer Mountain chicken wings with white Alabama sauce.

Normally, when chefs say they are serving “wine pairings,” that means they will match a different wine with each food course. But, on this night, Chef Lenn — who knows each of us pretty well because we are regulars at J.C. Holdway — paired a different bottle of wine with each guest! He knows what each of us likes!

I was paired with a pinot grigio, of course!

Here’s Laura’s pairing.

And Gay’s. Well, you get the idea.

The first course was unbelievable: ricotta gnudi with crab, shrimp, dried olive, sourdough and Parmesan. This would be my “best bite” of the night.

Erin O’Connell is general manager of J.C. Holdway. You also may know her from her previous job at Downtown Wine + Spirits.

Federico Da Pieve kept the wine flowing.

Meanwhile, Chef Lenn, left, and Kyle Saylor, were assembling the braised pork shanks that would be our next course.

The braised shanks were served with a hoecake, red cabbage and pickled celery. I love it when dishes are finished at the table, as this one was when Chef Lenn poured the broth over.

Doesn’t this look fantastic?

Awww. Cute friends.

The next course, wood oven roasted chicken, required the use of tweezers in its presentation.

Adding a little sauce.

And, voila! Fabulous! The chicken was served with turnips, mushrooms, carrots and kohlrabi greens.

And, for dessert, white chocolate mousse with strawberry sorbet, chocolate crumble and cocoa nibs. Gee whiz!

After dessert, Gay poked me in the ribs and whispered, “It’s starting.”

And, sure enough, without saying a word, one guy started shoveling the coals out of the wood oven and others started covering prep items with plastic wrap.

Here’s the wood oven with all the coals removed.

Steaming the stove top.

Everyone wordlessly doing their own tasks.

Spraying the chimney.

Thales Craig-Bettis getting into his job. Literally.

Scrub a dub dub.

Many hands make light work.

Zak Hood putting a squeegee to good use.

And, then, the coolest thing happened.

They started pulling the stoves out!

So they could mop behind them.

You gotta love a guy who is just as handy with a mop as he is with a knife!

Isn’t it impressive that they do this every night?

By now, we were almost out of wine.

Chef Lenn joined us.

We toasted the fun evening.

And I got this cool shot through a wine glass!

J.C. Holdway cleans up nicely!


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