The Charge of the Kitchen Brigade


The Charge of the Light Brigade, Tennyson’s brilliant work about the Battle of Balaclava, is one of those poems of which fragments stick in my mind long after my school days. The vivid imagery, the use of words and rhythm to convey movement and urgency, the repetition of phrase to echo the volleys of the guns and I could go on.
In the strange, meandering way my trains of thought take, I was chatting with a friend and quoted a line, and instead of Light Brigade I referenced Kitchen Brigade. The kitchen brigade (from esteemed French chef Escoffier) refers to the cooking hierarchy and structure in a professional kitchen, where each cook is assigned a station and works at that station throughout the meal service.
While clearly a busy dinner service does not literally compare to a battle, there are definitely smaller-scale parallels.
It is reported that Lord Tennyson wrote the Charge of the Light Brigade in about 20 minutes, six weeks after the actual event. I scribbled this in 15, and that is my only personal parallel with the Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

On the line, on the line,
Cooks to your stations
Ready for service,
As one kitchen nation
Forward, the Kitchen Brigade!
Charge for the knives, Chef cried
Into the service of dinner
Ready at stations

Forward the Kitchen Brigade!
Was there a cook dismayed?
Not, but they knew
Someone had overbooked
Seat capacity overlooked
Theirs was not to make reply
Theirs was not to reason why
Theirs was but to feed, or die
Into the service of dinner
Ready at stations

Tickets to the left of them,
Tickets to the right of them,
Tickets in front of them,
Cooking and plating
Sweating and straining
Into the weeds
Never leaving their stations

Forward the Kitchen Brigade!
With not a cook dismayed
In face of fire
They sweat and they cooked
And not a garnish overlooked
Theirs was to prepare the food
Cook the meals, cook them good
To the tables, as they could
In the service of dinner

And at the end
With tickets spiked
Dining room empty
They nurse their wounds
The burns and scars and aches and pains
Not one cook fell, the team remains
Still at their stations,
The Kitchen Brigade.


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