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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13 Responses to Witnessing ‘the cleaning ballet’

  1. Rusha Sams, on February 27th, 2020 at 2:14 pm said:

    I need that crew to come over here and clean my kitchen!!! Lookin’ good!

  2. Gay Lyons, on February 27th, 2020 at 2:16 pm said:

    What a great evening Laura & Joseph put together for us. The company was fun, the food was perfection, & the “ballet” was impressive as always. Your photos do an outstanding job of describing everything. Love the one through the wine glass, which I think was mine (raised for a toast).

  3. Becky Hancock, on February 27th, 2020 at 4:02 pm said:

    I have witnessed the “ballet” at Nashville’s Josephine, where my college best friend and her husband are GM and Chef, respectively. After the last diner has left, the kitchen crew cranks up the music (not what was piped through the speakers for the dinner guests, for sure!) to accompany their hard and necessary work. There is a true sense of camaraderie. It shows such commitment to excellence, down to the last drop of grease or wayward herb snipping! Kudos to Chef Lenn and his dedicated team.

  4. Charley Sexton, on February 27th, 2020 at 5:07 pm said:

    What a fun way to finish out the night! I love an organized team.

  5. Cynthia Moxley, on February 27th, 2020 at 5:24 pm said:

    Rusha: My thoughts, exactly!

    Gay: It was a delicious blast. I actually think the wine glass in question was Joseph’s.

    Becky: I agree with you about it showing a commitment to excellence. I wish all eateries were this spotless.

    Charley: Amen, sir!

  6. Sara Hedstrom Pinnell, on February 27th, 2020 at 8:19 pm said:

    We had the “chef counter” experience last night and ended up with 2 desserts after watching them being prepared! The wine is good but we love the Old Fashions!!! Love this blue streak!

  7. Kim Henry, on February 27th, 2020 at 9:45 pm said:

    So much fun!

  8. Cynthia Moxley, on February 27th, 2020 at 10:33 pm said:

    Sara: Thanks for reading and commenting! Glad you all had the chef counter experience. isn’t it a wonderful thing to do?

    Kim: Indeed!

  9. Laura Cole, on February 28th, 2020 at 1:54 pm said:

    Perfect summary of a wonderful evening with friends! I am always in awe of watching him clean alongside with his employees. It’s so inspiring!

  10. Kathy Brennan, on February 29th, 2020 at 12:15 pm said:

    Wonderful to see, thank you Cynthia and friends. Reassuring! Thales grandmother, Nancy Bettis, was a very good friend.

  11. Joseph Lenn, on February 29th, 2020 at 12:26 pm said:


    I know it sounds crazy, but it’s a great way to unwind after a busy service. The fact that it’s noticed by our patrons is even more gratifying.

  12. Cynthia Moxley, on February 29th, 2020 at 1:03 pm said:

    Laura: Thanks a million for the invite! Such fun!

  13. Cynthia Moxley, on February 29th, 2020 at 3:15 pm said:

    Kathy: He certainly is an energetic young man!

    Chef: Thanks so much for donating this item! We had so much fun with you and your whole staff.

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