I’m sort of… in between health insurances (anti-depressants) at the moment. As a result, I have to arrive at my own psychological breakthroughs and as such, realized that because I spend nearly all of my waking time at the restaurant, I’ve relied (too heavily) on my co-workers to accommodate my various eccentricities.
I used to have circles of friends for this, since committing to a singular personality has proven too difficult. However, over the past five years, I’ve become that friend, who has fallen off the face of the earth. At best, I’m now a fleeting thought among former classmates and co-workers, who might cross their minds when they see something food or chef related online or on television. They might recall some of our times together and then remember that I’m “too busy” pursuing my dreams to hang out.
or return their calls.
As a sort of a manicured, hoarder/hipster/loner, I’ve limited going out to one place – work. and I insist that my co-workers moonlight as foodie friends, substance abusing confidants, black friends, white friends, gay friends, fellow negative nancies, television enthusiasts, geeks, sluts, passive aggressives, emotional compensators, and self-esteem boosters. Some roles fall into place organically while others are forced upon.
Btw… straight guys are not interested in a gay guy’s lament over the length of time since his last romantic encounter.
You’d real…ly have to peel back the layers to discover it, but I enjoy myself in the kitchen. I have both collective and clandestine relationships with most of the cooks and still manage to learn new things, which is the whole point of this.
Recently, I was introduced to a cured egg yolk. This is something that I would have never, in a million years, considered. I didn’t even know that it was possible. I had been bored with my station for a few weeks before witnessing this, and then one day, chef changed the soup to include this spectacular technique. Once the yolks are cured on a bed of salt and sugar, you’re left with jewel colored, medallions that contribute an interest to any dish.
The cooks and I also share a love of brown butter, juniper, and butterscotch, which bonds us for life. There are good ideas in this kitchen and though I’m sort of kicking and screaming my way through this experience, I’m getting what I need here.
But with the really good seems to be a shitload of the really bad.
As my affection for the kitchen staff grows, so does my hatred of the wait staff, who claim that they, through no fault of their own, have no choice but to complicate our workload and compromise the menu at every turn.
It’s the customer…
I’m sure that the 20% (or more) that they “earn” to do so, has nothing to do with it.
The really good:
Chef has started to schedule me to work the saute station on Sunday and Monday. Though he calls it entremetier.
Bless his heart…
I’ve never worked a station for more than six months, whether I was prepared for the move or not, so naturally, having spent the past ten months at the same station was giving me a little wannablowmybrainsout-itis. This slow move has given me something to be excited about and scared of, again. It’s nice to take a break from being pissed off. Terrified by the growing number of tickets, uncertain about the quantity of my mis en place, and thrilled by the simple victory of no returns or complaints at the end of the night. My end-of-service cigarette tastes better, my walk to the bus stop… jazzier. My 2:00 a.m. binge eating and television watching… more rewarding.
The really bad:
I’ve been hating servers ever since I was encouraged to do so by my first sous-chef, and still feel grossly unprepared for the accumulation of hatred towards them at this restaurant. These servers have an air of self-importance and a lack of awareness for other peoples’ time that I’ve never witnessed before. Sometimes, I feel like I’m the only person who realizes that they are doing the work of society’s under-achievers. and that I’m unfairly made into the bad guy when I’m compelled to remind them. In my defense, I only do so after one of them, crazed by their need to over-service their customers, provokes me with off-menu requests or inquiries about the location of products that they’ve seen a hundred times. If my board is lined with tickets, it’s not the time to hover at my station and wait to be addressed. or even worse… not wait to be addressed.
“Where can I find the whole milk?”
“We have one walk-in in this kitchen, where the hell do you think you can find the whole milk?”
They are… clearly… asking for it.
I’ve witnessed as much as a third of chef’s prep time be commandeered by multiple servers who ask the exact same questions as the one before them, as they each show up from their previous nights bender of alcohol abuse and discounted menu items that their cash every night lifestyle affords them. Am I unreasonable for thinking that they should communicate with one another and try to streamline these questions before talking to chef?
how did you segway into talking about a dish that you made at home or a restaurant that you dined in, recently?
why are you snacking on the chef’s mis en place like it’s a buffet that has been laid out in anticipation of your arrival?
For the love of God, the man has a whole fucking pig in front of him and is trying to portion it out before service. Waste someone else’s time. Go fold a napkin… or…polish… anything…
The really good:
Gaining the affections of the Spanish employees.
There are two things you want to have happen in a kitchen. 1.) For chef to like you and find you useful in some way. and 2.) Gain the trust of the Spanish workers.
This is how you know that you’ve arrived in a kitchen.
It’s no secret that the tireless work ethic of Spanish employees are the backbone of most commercial kitchens.
This may have been an example of racism, but, before ever setting foot inside a kitchen, I was informed, during my culinary school interview, that I would work with loads of Spanish cooks and dishwashers throughout my career, should I chose to stay in this business, and that I should do whatever, within reason, to keep them happy and that they would do the same for me.
“Do you speak Spanish?” she asked.
“No, I don’t.”
“Well… do yourself a favor and learn. You’re gonna be working with a LOT of Spanish people in this business.”
As a self-absorbed, he-bitch, with impeccable taste, or… gay, as it’s commonly referred to, this can be a challenge. I’m guessing that Will & Grace wasn’t exactly the hit in El Salvador that it was in the U.S. and so the tolerance for the fabulous isn’t quite at the same level. But, through a series of butchered, Spanish phrases, hand gestures, free ice cream and Sprite, I’ve managed to dance my way into their hearts, which usually keeps me in enough cold plates, hot bowls and clean ban marie water, to get through service without incident.
Also, the trick to getting a hot, Spanish guy to show you his penga (or at least a pretty decent outline of it through his pants), is not to be so sensitive when they occasionally poke fun at the gay guy (in this case…me).
They are going to laugh at the gay guy.
By maintaining a decent sense of humor about it, it will eventually become hilarious to them if they show you their cock. The more often that you pretend to be “embarrassed” or “flustered” by it, the more often it’s likely to happen.
Yeah… in retrospect, her advice definitely feels racist-adjacent, at least.
But being the humanitarian that I am, I treat all people, regardless of color or ethnicity, the same way, “I’m better than you. Help me. Now, leave me alone. Let’s make-out later. Wait. Can you throw this away for me?”
The really bad:
Personal food orders from the staff do not look to be slowing down any time soon, despite our passive-aggressive and overly aggressive responses. This policy varies among restaurants but at this one, anything ordered before “closing” is fair game. and they will be discounted 50% on top of that. This may be the pet peeve that irritates me even more than substitutions. It’s the obliviousness, followed by the idiotic patronization, followed by the complete lack of giving a shit, that sends me over the edge.
For example, if the kitchen closes at 11:00 p.m., the restaurant will allow servers to order food until 10:59 p.m.
Following is an example of such an instance, almost verbatim:
Two minutes before closing time.
The cooks had their asses kicked, as is usual for the weekend, and we can’t close our stations down fast enough. We’ve been on our feet for nearly twelve hours – some, even longer. We want cold beverages and hot showers and unsure if we’re more hungry than tired (or vice versa). We’re done, finally…. or so we thought. The ticket machine rings. It’s an order for two starters AND an entree from a member of the staff. For some reason, this asshole in question, decides to follow up his order with a person visit to the kitchen. Mind you… this was AFTER we served a “family meal” before service.
Cooks: “Are you f$#%ing kidding me?”
Server: “The food here is so delicious…”
Cooks: (Disgusted by the attempt at translucent placation) “Why would you chose to ring in food, now when we’re trying to get out of here? Why wouldn’t you at least do this a half hour ago?”
Server: “Well, I had to wait until I finished with my tables and I didn’t want it to get cold…”
Cooks: “Well… by all means… let me just stay open for another half hour to make you food…”
Server: “Thanks guys!” (obvious sarcasm) followed by eye roll and b line to leave the kitchen. He’s lost interest in trying to win this argument. He just wants his food. He doesn’t care anymore.
It seems sacrilege to do so… and I’ve never actually prayed for someone to get mugged on their way home.
With only five years down and who knows how many ahead, and despite it being frowned upon (this business is all about who is willing to work themselves into the ground, “you saw your family recently? you must not be committed.” ), I need to reacquaint myself with a life outside of the industry if I expect to have any chance of surviving within it.