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Hello Like Before

Life is funny sometimes. and I mean that in the most miserable way possible.

It’s difficult to communicate how I can be obsessed with this industry and yet, the common factor in all of my previous restaurants, thus far, is that I’ve eventually grown to hate all of them.

Once again, I left another restaurant, as a result of confusing my sense of entitlement for “culinary principles”. Armed only with big dreams and seemingly, unrealistic expectations of my new employer, I, revisited the world of unemployment.

The thing about unemployment is…. it’s awesome.

For a while.

In the beginning, I’m coasting on the couple of paychecks that I was fortunate enough to save and reconnecting with more successful friends for meals, after being forced to ignore them for the better part of a year, and the reality of not having an income is only a conversation piece. Interesting enough to be the center of attention with just the right amount of “you got this tab, right?”

change jarThe following month, after nothing but daytime naps, marathons of t.v., and waiting for inspiration to visit, I’m given a slightly more aggressive reminder of my status, after paying a few bills that refuse to take this hiatus with me.

I don’t understand what happened? All I did was pay for my cell phone bill, student loan payments, cigarettes, a couple of sandwiches, the occasional Greek combo platter, some cases of dr. pepper, and a few pick-me-up items on eBay.

Essentially, I continued to live the same lifestyle as an employed person.

The month after that, I realized that I had made no changes since vowing to do so after the first reminder and the deductions proceeded. Begrudgingly.

The following month hit hard.

After a couple of days of paying for incidentals with my laundry quarters and receiving a bank statement that read simply, “Bitch, this isn’t looking good.”, I was contacted by my former chef and asked to consider some part time work while she looked for a full time replacement of my previous sous chef, who had also recently left.

In the wake of “Miley-gate”, I’ve become more conservative about what defines a twerking situation, but this was definitely one of those times.

I returned, a few days later, a little humbled to be returning to the place that I swore to have hated for various front-of-the-house and horrible customer reasons, but in spite of myself, my extended cameo was very well received. The following week, it was as though things had never changed. I hated them all just as much as I did before I left.

Still, I was grateful to have been thought of, and to be honest, after a few weeks of having to determine the priority between laundry, transportation, and groceries, a check for a couple hundred dollars, feels like I’m earning an investment banker’s salary.

Dear Diary,

It’s been nearly a year since my last posting and there’s so much to share.

 

I finally quit the  job that I hated in exchange for a new job that I hated.

Was, for all intents and purposes, “excused” from said, hated job and accepted an amazing job. But earned “no money”.

Was financially, forced to leave said, amazing job… for a job that pays more than double my previous earnings. and that I currently hate.

 

I guess there’s not as much to get caught up on as I thought.

Yours,

CB

In My Feelings

My brother, Johnathan, who is ten years younger, with an athletic body and god-like head of hair, recently became a father to the most beautiful, chocolatey, cherub, twin boys in existence. Of course, he would. His long-time girlfriend, who I absolutely adore, would have served as the inspiration for LL Cool J’s, “‘Around the Way Girl”, had she been alive in 1990. We recently became Facebook friends and I noticed that her posts state that she is “really in my feelings right now…” when she’s feeling particularly overwhelmed by something, as I imagine that a young mother of four is perfectly entitled to feel.

and… as with most things that I learn about people in my life, my compassion for what they must be going through, drifts toward thoughts of my own challenges.

narcissistI couldn’t even begin to imagine the stress of caring and providing for a family of six. It must be exhausting. I’m also very overwhelmed by my life. After returning from Paris last year, I feel totally off my game and am left wondering if I should continue with this “chef” life or go back overseas, maybe focus on my love life? maybe re-invent myself again? wait… what were we talking about?

Needless to say, I love this phrase and wish to use it as often as possible.

I’m really in my feelings, right now.

I’m safe on paper but convinced that verbally, I wouldn’t have been able to pull it off with much success.

More Rihanna. Less Dianne Keaton.

What “we” mean when we say this, is that we’re being totally owned by our emotions. In my case, not many can multi-task being superficial and feeling entitled, with blatant depression and insecurity. My ability to experience such a complicated range of emotions makes me feel superior to others while disconnected from them and sad because of it.

I’m off track, both personally and professionally, which means that I’m expressing my fear of being alone and frustration about my career, by over-eating and being as much of a slut as opportunity (and luck) allows.

I did okay around the holidays but as of late, things have taken a significant dive. The last guy that I was attracted to, wanted to know if I was willing to be “generous”.

Great. I ‘m pretending to be a non-smoker for this?

Even more degrading was that for a split second, I tried to tally how much I had available in my checking account.

As if the professional side had become jealous of all the “fun” that the personal side was having and demanded to play too, I was dealt another emotional kick in the balls, when my chef informed us that he would be leaving the restaurant in six weeks.

This was two months before I had planned to shock and awe the restaurant staff of my (very irresponsible) decision to leave. Though given my relationship with the front of the house, what I naively envisioned as gasps of horror and clutches to the heart, might actually be sighs of relief and raised middle fingers.

I need to move on. To… something.

forkAt this moment in my life, my professional experience has resulted in being miserable in two very different industries. and one paid substantially more than the other. There’s no clear, winning position at this particular fork in my road.

road 1:

return to an industry that you despised, with my tail between my legs, and with skills that are undoubtedly, obsolete by now. make twice my current salary and spend the rest of my life, using extended, paid vacation times and issued, “sick leave”, to window shop suicide approaches. on the plus side, I’ll have health insurance again. and weekends.

road 2:

resume working in an industry that I’m growing to hate, despite being unable to think about doing anything else. continue to resenting customers and the coworkers who encourage them. earn the same wages that I did as a part-time employee during summer vacations from college. hook up with the occasional dish washer and/or waiter and hope that this, along with binge drinking, are supplemental enough distractions until I’m “fortunate” enough to go even further into debt after opening my own restaurant, that has a very strong possibility of failing within the first six months because I refused to accommodate a high maintenance, vegan.

Emotional Fraud

happy pillsI’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.

Go figure.

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.

cured egg yolkRecently, 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:

saute stationChef 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.

lineupI’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.

pengaAlso, 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:

The Scene:

server foodTwo 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.

Until now.

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.

Broken Record

There are few ways to recycle the same statement before even the complainer grows tired of hearing it.

But I’m not there, just yet.

In fact, I’ve broadened my misery to new heights, exploring deeper realms of its possible source, desperate to come to some sort of epiphany, only to have my efforts backfire into a forlorn state of despair.

unless I fall in love.

that will provide a much needed, extended, distraction.

a shitty job, is tolerable, at least, if you’re getting laid on a regular basis.

Having a shitty job and a shitty love-life just isn’t right.

I’m in my mid-thirties, and am, for lack of a better word, stuck.

I don’t own a home, I don’t know how to drive a car, I’m out of shape, terminally single and my “dream job” isn’t so dreamy anymore. I don’t have the stamina to keep battling all of these odds.

I need a break, somewhere.

What I’m struggling with, primarily, is that I’m not miserable because I hate what I’m doing. I chose this profession. I even “paid” to have this profession. I’m miserable because… in some f$ked up way, I love what I’m doing too much. I’m so committed to what I do, that I’m willing to be a passive(sometimes, not-so) aggressive, nightmare, in defense of my “principals”.

Take our current beet salad on the menu. I loathe every component of it – from its color-coordinated cuts, to its dress in brown butter vinaigrette, to its garnish of fried Amaranth and celery leaves, but if I must be tortured by its construction, then I want it to be done as my chef envisioned it and not deconstructed as a result of a customer’s inhibition. I personally find beets to be so… Great Depression area but despite it’s shocking popularity and pretension, I get this salad. I know why it is the way it is. Therefore, I’m compelled to inform the server who rang in the order for its substitution or request for components on the side, of what a spineless, cash-obsessed, prostitute they are and remind them of what a disappointment their current career choice must be to their families.

It’s because… I care.

With a sizable loan debt still looming over any current plans for financial stability, much less, the launch of an eatery, and a take-home pay that would make most of my social circle, blush, I’m dream-job-adjacent, at best. I’m in the vicinity of great things happening. I’m on the cusp of finding success.

If I’m not arrested for assault, first.

I assign a series of hurtful comments to specific servers, based on their accumulation of the outrages tickets during service:

college drop-out

failed artist

cash whore

substance abuser

ambitionally challenged

dumb

It’s characteristic of life in this industry for every day feel the same as the one before. and when that day sucks, life can become pretty grim.

I wake up with a groan because I know that I will be going to work in a few hours.

I have my morning pee.

I have a meal while watching television.

I have my first smoke of the day. During this time, I realize that it was a mistake to wake up so early.

I return to bed for 2 to 2.5 hours while my ipod playlist, designed specifically for napping, shuffles softly in the background. Sounds of Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, Roberta Flack, Erykah Badu and The Isley Brothers, fade in and out of my consciousness.

I awake for the second time with a more aggressive groan, accompanied by a few curse words, knowing that I have just enough time to smoke again, shower, brush my teeth and slip back into a variation of the “street clothes” that I wore yesterday.

I ride the bus, secretly hoping for a bus-jacking, light mugging or minor fender bender – nothing newsworthy but dramatic enough to warrant not coming in for the day.

I arrive in the kitchen to the other cooks, trying to guess my mood for the day, always assuming, that its miserable.

and they’re correct.

I change into my “jacket”.

I roast beets, I peels beets, I cut beets, I shuck oysters, I blanch vegetables, I cut chives, I mandolin slices of carrots and radishes, all from local farms, of course. for whatever that’s worth, anymore.

I plate the same eight dishes over and over. and over.

I compromise the integrity of every dish, repeatedly, while hating the server who is responsible for the table, with a passion, and begin executing a plan for letting them KNOW IT.

Service ends, reluctantly. Some nights involve screaming at them, that the kitchen is CLOSED.  That it should have been closed over an hour ago. No more orders will be made.

I begin to “wipe down”.

I have my end-of-service smoke, preferably alone, in the alley behind the restaurant.

I return and double check my station.

I change.

I punch-out.

I decline offers to have a shift drink.

I board the bus for home.

I launch into a diatribe about the misery of service (and my life) to my unyieldingly supportive best friend.

I shower and generously apply foot lotion to my shattered feet. Then cotton socks.

I eat in front of the television until I’m bored with it or begin to nod off.

I have my before bed smoke.

I have my before bed pee.

and do everything just as before, the following day.

Somehow, I don’t think Michel Bras or David Chang are doing this.

It’s You…Not Me…

I swear that it took me longer(ish) to feel this way at my last restaurant… but I now think of quitting ev…er…y day, sometimes all day, which is too bad because I nearly like everyone there. despite pretending to hate more than half of them. It’s sort of… my signature move.

I need to get the f$#k out of here.

I’m struggling with two things. The menu and prep times are way too elaborate for my tastes. Apparently, for the customers’ as well, who often appear unsure about what is edible and what isn’t, leaving behind a minimum of two garnishes still stuck to their plates, that are later hauled in by our (tight bodied…) busboys. Some of the more arrogant servers, have up to a forty five minute schpeel about the menu before ever ringing in a first course, because they feel it necessary to help guide the guests . I wouldn’t describe myself as a “machine” but my station usually earns the reputation of being very well stocked and organized. In nearly five years, I’ve rarely run out of mise en place or been pressured by chef about a ticket time, once I get the hang of a station. Currently, given the complexity of the dish and the multitude of items that need to be on my station, I’ve been weeded here more times than I care to count. Less than a year ago, if someone had told me that a GM station would have me weeded, regularly, I would have laughed in their face. and then thrown my drink in it. I’m also completely and utterly…, over the plate splitting, kid’s pasta ordering, dairy and gluten free, substitution requesting, and front-of-house food ordering, allowances that this restaurant is unnaturally comfortable making. We (the cooks) are… the help. No question about it.

As a cook, I have one of two options when I find out what my restaurant is all about. I can try and preserve the remaining bit of my sanity by taking the professional, high road and parting ways amicably or I can deal with it and allow my hatred and resentment to fester into a substance abuse dependency and collect a paycheck. At present, I’ve decided to work towards the former while exercising the later.

Every day, I have to give myself a behavioral coaching for not treating the servers like garbage, not threatening to quit, and not excessively sharing my hatred of (the preparation of) a dish, but by 8:00, which is not so conveniently, at the start of our first rush, my nicotine filter has worn off, unveiling my personality to anyone who has ever taken psych 101, as an insecure, sexually repressed, homosexual with bi-polar tendencies. Over the course of the next three hours, I will loathe chef for failing to realize the negative impact that his overly ambitious and accessorized menu has on the flow of service, then wonder if  the problem is me and has more to do with my ability, wonder what I’m doing here if I’m so miserable and why I feel so guilty at the thought of leaving this place, make disparaging remarks to servers who enter the kitchen and envision the beating that someone (never me for some reason… but a faceless someone…) would give them if that kind of thing were allowed here, then offer to fool around with (some of) them, mentally draft my letter of resignation, sing the first course of some song that we’ve all taken turns singing (or backup singing) throughout the day, and give myself silent (sometimes not so…) kudos about my performance at the end of service. A very brief flicker of loving it is subsided by the desire to get the hell home to rub Gold Bond on my feet and cheeseburger my way through my feelings in front of online television.

I’m in a tough place right now (again…). I’m about halfway through the ten year plan that I gave myself to get my act together, professionally, and I’ve definitely hit a road block. There are days when I’ll overhear some of the other cooks dialoguing about new cook books, kitchen reality shows, chef personalities, who’s in the midst of opening a pop-up, knife brands, or techniques and I recall my days of wanting to be a poet before a chef. I was interested in my stuff but listening to other people talk about their work and inspiration, was grueling… After a few minutes, it all begins to sound like one long, pretentious way of saying, “Look how much I know.”

My concern, of course, is that if I can’t seem to stand working a busy service, making people happy, or staying abreast of the developments in the industry that I was so desperate to be a part of, a few years ago then what am I doing here? After five years, all I’m certain of, is that I want to make food for people without compromising and that the current make up of the industry (being dictated to by the front of the house more than the executive chef, while making less than them despite having more formal training) makes me insane. Particularly, because I seem to be the only one who feels like this at this level. These daily compromises don’t seem to have nearly the same effect on chef or the other line cooks, making my daily tirades of culinary martyrdom, appear unstable. One day, after we were confronted with yet another slew of waiter rushes (personal food orders from the waiters, usually just before the kitchen closes for the evening), I asked one of the cooks, “Why don’t you hate them more?” to which, he simply shrugged and replied, “I do… but it’s not gonna change anything.”

God, I miss therapy.

At the moment, I can’t afford to run away from my lack of inspiration again.

Despite doing absolutely nothing in preparation, I’m still of the mindset that something amazing will happen in less than a year. It’s a unique situation because while I adore nearly everyone this restaurant, been introduced to some great products (lobster mushrooms, geoduck, chinese long beans) and learned a handful of interesting techniques (ash puree, cucumber honey, “torchon”) the only thing keeping me from a total meltdown (there have already been countless minis), is the comfort that I might soon be…leaving.

What I find particularly nightmarish about the policies at this restaurant, is the tireless commitment to… “customer service” (ass-kissing) forced upon us. Specifically, in the form of letting the customer completely bastardize the menu as often and as scrupulously as they wish. I’ve deconstructed so many dishes, that I feel like I’m working a jigsaw puzzle… but instead of a sense of accomplishment after the completion of it, you want to kill yourself.

Motivation is almost non-existent. Any enthusiasm over a new product or technique is quickly subsided by the reality that it will be cut in half for a split dish, re-treated or omitted.

To me, it feels like many of the customers who flock to this restaurant aren’t interested in the vision of a trained cook. Its become a haven for them to play chef. Minus the years of experience, fearlessness, and hefty student loan fees. I’m nothing more than a hired set of hands.

No one is interested in my opinion.

Least of all, the front of the house staff, many of whom, have (absolutely) no remorse about indulging a customer who “can’t” have green lettuce in the Mixed Green Salad and requests that one be composed only from the bits of radicchio in the combination. There’s no competition between my misery and their chance at a 25 percent gratuity.

As an extra fuck you, many of the servers use a portion of their earnings to order food toward the end of service….that they eat at the bar while the cooks are still working. There have even been instances where they felt compelled to offer their feedback of the dish that we resented making for them in the first place, “I thought it was a little heavy on the vinegar…” to which, the response is typically a classic, “fuck you.” or “that was my urine.”

So…after serving over two hundred customers (on some nights), a third of which, have an allergy, a request for a split or an alternative setup, we are expected to hang out a little longer and make dinners (at a 50% discount) for co-workers who just made more than we did in a night.

Management sees no problem with this. Mostly because they’re drunk by the end of service. I also assume that their purchases mean more money going into the restaurant. If they aren’t voided out at the end of the night.

So what if a couple of cooks feel undervalued? Give them a drink at the end of the night. They’ll get over it.

Ahh…the shift drink. A solitary libation designed to make me forgive (or forget) the horror of service as a result of the routine negligence of chef’s vision. It’s during this time that I’m expected to be chummy with the very people who I had previously envisioned being beaten for their excessive substitutions and personal food orders.

That being said, I have my favorites. Those being… the funny or the good-looking ones. There are a few servers who find substitutions as frustrating as we do but feel that their hands are tied by (micro)management and are sympathetic to the physical abuse we suffered after a late night rush and respectfully, look for food elsewhere (on most nights). When they’re too exhausted and food options are limited after midnight, they at least have the decency to ask for it instead of assume that they are entitled to it. For that reason, I will make them food and spare them the verbal lashing that is quickly becoming my signature move.

For the first time in my career, I’m encountering a breed of server who take their position waaaayyyy too seriously…. and it just so happens that we have, not one, but two of the most annoying professional servers in the world.

I will refer to them as “Fred” and “Wilma”.

“Fred” is a cook’s nightmare and a customer’s dream, who will do nothing short of allowing them to make up their own dish, regardless of the chaos caused behind the scenes. He takes unnaturally, great pride in his serving abilities and I’m not unconvinced that he hates us and believes that it’s his responsibility to “guide” the cooks. Its more than obvious that he is desperate for the praise of management and has even assumed responsibilities beyond his job description, like typing the daily changes to the menu, taking on the role of beer aficionado and volunteering to organize large parties. I heard a rumor in the kitchen that he even designed and purchased his own business cards. It’s unclear to me if he is just a total asshole with no regard for his co-workers time or simply lacks awareness, with no clue that he is often the focus of our hatred and the butt of our jokes. “Fred” is tirelessly committed to making as much money as possible under the guise of providing “the best service possible”. He not only allows an appalling volume and range of changes requested to dishes each night, he encourages it by inviting customers to share dishes during his notoriously, lengthy description of the menu (that you know he practices at home) and offers unapproved accommodations for any allergies or dietary restrictions at the table.

Every day, he invades the kitchen to interrupt chef’s prep work before service to inquire about menu changes and talk shop with him about an article in the food section, a restaurant that he previously dined in or prod for details about an unfamiliar product on the menu, that ultimately leads to a need to taste because he “has trouble conceptualizing” (a direct quote) the description. He then spends the rest of his time attached to the general manager’s ass until service begins.

As someone who knows, these translucent attempts at camaraderie, scream daddy issues to me. It seems selfish to make other people’s lives miserable because your father didn’t love you enough. At least I have the decency to manifest my love/hatred of men into a series of unhealthy relationships outside of the workplace.

In “Fred’s” mind, we are all here to make money and provide excellent service.

And this is true.

But he has no understanding of the other components of what makes a restaurant successful.

The Chef and his food.

It doesn’t seem to occur to him (or he doesn’t care) that the chef has constructed a dish in a particular way because he believes in it and because he spent years paying his dues and perfecting his craft in order to be able to express himself through his menu. He has orchestrated flavors and textures that are meant to compliment one another in these dishes.

For “Fred”, the menu is entirely negotiable if a customer is paying good money and he couldn’t care less about how much we want to take him out back and slap him around. He is here for money. and possibly to be the most famous server in the world, if that actually exists. As far as I know, there is no Top Server or Iron Server but when there is, he will undoubtedly join the cast and make it to the top 3, at least, and I will be able to affectionately point to the screen and say to my viewing companions, “I fucking hated that guy…”

“Wilma” has the exact same “work ethic” as “Fred” but cunningly portrays a bubbly, southern, girl to distract her coworkers from her horrible personality. She will throw any of her coworkers under the bus in a second. She claims to be just as frustrated as we are (even though she will be leaving at the end of the night with nearly double our pay, most weekends) and that the requests are “out of her control” but routinely splits, substitutes, orders dinners for herself and rings in tickets after the kitchen has closed.

The major distinction between the two, is that “Fred” will take the verbal abuse from the cooks… but “Wilma” is a unique mix of callous bitch and emotional disaster, who may or may not cry, depending on the number of cooks who get involved. Of course, this means nothing to me. I can cry on demand too (I grew up on All My Children), but I work with a bunch of straight guys… and a girl in tears (no matter how horrible) is like kryptonite to them.

The back of the house also comes with its own frustrations. Primarily, com…mun…i…ca…tion. As the GM “cook”, I’m always the last to know about the direction that the restaurant is heading in. Case and point, I only learned about a dinner event planned for the end of this month from a Facebook posting on the restaurant’s page.

I realize, quite painfully so, that I’m no longer in charge but it seems like anyone who has taken leadership 101, would make certain that all members of kitchen staff would know what was going to be happening in the kitchen.

But this is the nature of the business – not only this restaurant. It’s common for the GM station to be regarded in this way. The focus will always be on the hot line and the assumption is that since I only plate salads and desserts that I “have it easier” and can adapt at a moments notice.

My workspace is often used as a storage space for deliveries that I have to shuffle around before I can even begin my prep.

I’m rarely given any lead time if I’m working a ticket with the hot line. For example, if I need to plate a tomato salad that is going with a steak entrée, I need to wait for the steak to cook, and rest, and be cut before I begin my salad. In this situation, it would be customary for the cook in charge of the steak to say something like, “coming up on that steak in three…”, giving me three minutes to plate my dish but often times, I’m overlooked and if I don’t have to the time to watch them because 1.) it makes me look like I have nothing to do and 2.) I have several other tickets to work, then all of the hot items are finished without my knowing and then I have to plate on the fly so that the hot food isn’t compromised.

Cooks from the hot line also feel that it is acceptable to borrow from my station if they have not adequately prepared theirs. For example, if I’m using roasted eggplant as part of my seasonal vegetable salad and the saute cook has run out of his stash of eggplant needed for the poached halibut, then he comes over and helps himself to a handful (or two) of my eggplant, leaving me at the risk of not having enough to finish service.

Fortunately, these frustrations are subsided with fun stuff during slow points, like, which Golden Girls or Avengers character each one of us would be, random outbursts of song and seeing who can carry the most plates to the expo station while doing the cabbage patch or the electric slide.

I don’t have these outlets for frustration with the front of the house, so my only release is the imaginary beating they receive.

A better person would be able to transform these frustrations into motivation. I’m approaching my five-year mark in the industry and have yet to really find a restaurant that suits my (possibly unrealistic) needs. Perhaps, it’s because I need to create this restaurant, myself.

That is, after all, the reason why I’m doing this.

To the naked eye, it might appear that I’m completely miserable in my career. and on most days, I am. But, in a sick way, I’m miserable because I love this so much. I’m craving the opportunity to express myself with my own restaurant and trying to go about it in an intelligent way by learning all that I can in these kitchens and becoming as fearless and as talented as I can under the circumstances of culinary oppression from poor, corporate policies.

Hopefully, it will fall into place after one more self-discovery (eating everything and engaging in light whoring) abroad and before I’m arrested for assaulting an overzealous waiter or entitled diner.

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