Restaurant Diaries: The Locker Room

The Ginger Pig, Part 2

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Chef-owner Natascha Hess (second from left) and her team in Pony Up's kitchen. / Natascha Hess

What’s it really like inside the four walls of a bar, restaurant, or food truck—or, increasingly, under the cover of a parking-lot tent—these days? Our readers know the ins and out and ups and downs of the industry intimately. This Restaurant Diaries series brings you tales from the thick of it, in hospitality folks’ own words.

This is Natascha Hess’ second entry (click here to read her first). She’s in the thick of opening her first brick-and-mortar restaurant in Denver’s Berkeley neighborhood after operating food truck The Ginger Pig for four years.

What an exciting week! We are getting so close. We can feel it. I want to share all the things that happened this week, but all I can really think about is our amazing pop-up this week at [Denver’s] Pony Up. It was a beautiful thing to see such amazing teamwork within each one of our teams and then seeing our teams working together like they have been doing it all along for years. Last night was so special—a real culmination of so many years of so many people’s blood, sweat, and tears.    

Cooking was a lot like sports. Prep felt like practice, service felt like the game, and the kitchen sounded and smelled like a locker room.

The thing that is so cool about working in a kitchen and what draws so many of us to it is being part of a team. I fell in love with cooking professionally and wondered, “Why am I so obsessed with this?” I realized cooking was a lot like sports. Prep felt like practice, service felt like the game, and the kitchen sounded and smelled like a locker room. 

I was right at home. I’d spent my whole life on teams and in locker rooms. I played hockey at [University of] Wisconsin—that is how serious I was about sports and being part of a team. I put in Malcolm Gladwell’s requisite 10,000 hours on the ice. My team was my tribe, my friends, my family: twenty instant sisters who had each other’s backs.   

When I left Wisconsin and moved on to law school, I interned at the Adams County Public Defender Office. They’d send me to the courthouse all by myself with 12 or 15 files a day to represent clients, many of who were already incarcerated. There were too many cases, not enough attorneys, and no one to help me. Sometimes I would have to ask the DA (my opponent!) for help. I felt so alone; there was no team, no kind of support system.

Cooking, like sports, gets you into the now and you are so busy you don’t have time to think about the past or the future, the me or the you…it is just we. In the kitchen everyone has to put the team ahead of themselves. I missed this mentality. I missed being a part of a team. 

This week my team was put on a very special stage at a very special venue and I could not be more proud of them. We were ready. Sometimes I think of food trucking as AA baseball and the food hall as AAA. I am pretty sure we are ready for the majors! 

I went to bed dreaming of a Ginger Pony in the future…

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