A existential chef’s initiation into the industry circa 1970
Despite all the bad karma that seeped out of the sink drain I knew nothing could possibly drag me away from the restaurant industry. Maybe one day I’ll be the Chef, and become a raving lunatic who screams at anyone dumb enough to stay within ear range of my booming voice. An insane culinary Guru who proudly sports a tall white hat that accentuated a bulging forehead vein popping out and threatened you silently. At least it pulled me eyes directly to it and made me feel threatened. A slightly mentally deranged and touched in the head man who is permitted by law to carve carcasses with an array of razor sharp knives of all sizes. I can’t help thinking how proud that would make Mom and Dad. Oh the hell with the Stock Exchange Mom, I wanna carve lamb forequarters and exchange recipes. I want to carry big ass knives around and scare the shit out of the dishwashers. My gastronomic voyage would be completed once I became the all powerful illustrious king of the kitchen, The Chef.
Truth be told the restaurant industry simply jumped up at me and shouted “This is it” Este Este Este!!. This is what you ask? It was the people, the “restaurant people”, an almost cosmic group of mix and matched misfits. I was spellbound by this diverse group of dedicated individuals, who work together in a form of impromptu performance art centering around biodegradable remnants of the tastiest and most orgasmic morsels of nutrition I had ever indulged in. Each person plays an integral role in this drama. Like an experienced stage hand I set up the props over and over, so the chef could turn organic ingredients into edible works of art, perfectly arranged on the plate I had cleaned. Our lead waitress, Laura would put six of these recently cleaned, now presently food adorned plates on a large oval tray, also cleaned by yours truly, and with swanlike grace, effortlessly carry it off, to be placed in front of some more than likely alcohol saturated patrons. The patrons would then eat the wonderful dish of blissful organic delight, inadvertently leaving something on the plate that would eventually become my responsibility. The waitress would entertain them with a variety of skits, ranging from cute and flirtatious to downright suggestive. The performance continues. Meanwhile, backstage, the chef, Jimmy ( his given name was too hard to pronounce) is performing voice exercises and using my deer in headlight eyes as his focal point. Rapidly building to an everlasting crescendo, I listen intently to the chefs advice, disregarding the part where he assures me I should leave this God forsaken establishment or die. Another suggestion he had for me was doing something to myself I felt to be physically impossible. (Not that I wouldn’t try!!) That too, I chose to disregard! Sufficiently emasculated, red-faced, and disenchanted, I returned to my pot sink in a highly evolved state. Taking a “the show must go on” attitude, I needed to ready myself for the onslaught of table remnants that our patrons found objectionable. In walked the lovely leading lady, flashing me that piercing knee buckling waitress smile, and began emulating the chefs thunderous performance. Thankfully, it was not directed at me, but rather on the only person here that was truly as lowly as me, Rod the busboy. Now I got an opportunity to view my peer’s reaction to a brutal lexiconic workover, so I might hone my anti-beration skills for the next portioning of verbal abuse. It would not take long, and I unfortunately had little time to study my new mentor, and was left to my improvisational skills. The burning narrowed eyes of my dream vision met mine, and for just one second held me in a frozen state. While flashing her signature seductive smile, Laura’s eyes softened, and in that songbird like voice, she asked, “JT, will you set up my next tray?” With a wink, she was gone, the busboy was fighting back tears, the chef was deciding my fate, and I of course, was setting up Laura’s tray, like it had never been set before. As the chef pondered the proper interpretation of various swear words and insults, in order to more effectively crush my spirit, I arranged Laura’s tray oblivious to my surroundings. The chef began to explain to me who I was working for, but fortunately for me his lung pounding performance was interrupted by the appearance of an enigmatic presence. The next character to enter, stage left, was a tall, tuxedoed, and very suave Frenchman, bearing the title restaurant manager, Didier. Didier’s job, as I understood it, was to make the entire cast miserable, so we would reach deep down to our inner selves, and come up with the performance of a lifetime. I wanted to reach deep down and pull out a Smith and Wesson, but then again, I was young and impressionable back then, so I did indeed find myself motivated by the threat of that French penguin. That, and a paycheck, and another opportunity to allow Laura to know what an awesome dude I really was. Didier began to roar at all of us, and yet then again, to no-one in particular. It was delivered in a language foreign to me that sounded oddly complementary. Rod the busboy assured me that those seemingly sweet words that came thundering out towards the entire cast, were in fact foul French slang that could make the onions break down and cry! As Didier loudly and a bit too cantankerously explained to us how important it was that we comprehend the significance of his tirade. Even Jimmy looked worried when Didier was in the kitchen. Oddly, the only one that was not intimidated was Laura, the vivacious waitress, who seemed to render our fearful leader speechless using only her eyes. Like the Wicked Witch of the West, Didier disappeared in a puff of smoke. Or maybe Jimmy was burning something, I really don’t remember. But he was gone, Laura’s tray was set to absolute perfection, Rod the busboy had regained his composure, and Jimmy was ready with the next round of tantalizing treats arranged in artwork on my clean plates. All had performed admirably in Act 1.
Anyway, you get the picture; This performance goes on all night, every night. Some of the actors change, but the results remain the same. Curiously, at dinner time, Jimmy took on an air of compassion that made me think of my own father on some of his better days. He would speak ever so softly, and hold out a bowl of beef stew, which because it had some wine in it, was referred to as Beef Bourgogne. But delicious it was. No Dinty Moore for this restaurant worker. As quickly as everything had gone to hell in a mixing bowl, the calm and serene peace of family meal changed the entire setting. I sat at a small table with Ernie, the old man who was in charge of maintenance. Funny, because he could barely maintain himself, and as I later found out, he was the 65 year old uncle of the manager. I cleverly positioned myself so I could catch a glimpse of Laura each time she entered the kitchen. It was these Zen saturated moments that made us all forget how loud and harsh the decibel level could get at service time.
My gastronomic voyage had officially begun. I dove in with a work ethic beyond reproach. I have arrived!