Restaurant AVA Draws Customers into the Kitchen to Pitch In For the Holidays

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With holiday events stretching restaurant staffs, a few local chefs are turning to a Tom Sawyer-like solution to keep their kitchens and catering gigs running smoothly.

"I can't afford to take my cooks out of the restaurant," says Restaurant AVA's co-executive chef and co-owner Randall Copeland, explaining why he's allowing amateurs to assist him this holiday season.

Copeland says the informal apprenticeship system - which he uses throughout the year - is a winning deal for all parties involved. His friends and guests get the chance to work with restaurant pros, while he gets his onions diced and garlic chopped.

"People love the environment," Copeland says. "There's something glamorous about the restaurant business. People are intrigued by it for sure."

While a few of Copeland's designated sous-chefs-for-a-day have previous cooking experience, many of them "can't chop an onion to save their lives." But that doesn't mean they're useless at an off-site event, Copeland adds.

"You can sure help me wipe down plates," says Copeland, who relied heavily on volunteers during his six stints at 48 Nights.

Still, he says, "you walk a fine line, especially when you're getting paid. You don't want people getting in the way."

But Copeland's largely lucked out with his recruits, many of whom are regular customers who offer their services. He feels beckoning guests behind the scenes is hospitable, a sentiment he suspects is shared by the two or three other local chefs he knows to be in the habit of saying "Wanna be my sous?"

"It really has worked out," Copeland says.

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