The Lost Kids
While I change, I think about my prep for the day…I’ll have to make the goddamn parsnip puree again, because Charlie forgot to steep the fucking sachet of herbs in the cream when he made it yesterday…gotta make pickled chestnuts, soak cherries in Armagnac, make roasted pear consommé, chicken skin chips, cut foie…It’s all definitely doable, and because of the law of hangovers (which states that all mise en place will get done miraculously early), I will be set. If only I could get this fucking agar agar stain out of my apron, my life would be perfect. But life is never that.
I walk into the kitchen and set about starting my day. I gather all my shit and then get started on setting up the hot apps station. During my first hour of work, I usually don’t talk much, just to make sure I’m headed in the right direction and so I don’t get in trouble for dicking around right off the bat. After an hour and a half, when I’ve gotten my major projects out of the way, I usually start talking to Dennis. Dennis works roast, and he’s usually pretty on point with picking up on my jokes, so we get along. “Go out last night?” Dennis can tell when I’ve been out drinking regardless of any effort I make to look like a normal, healthy human.
“What’d you do?”
“Creative drinking with Seamus. You know. The beers, then the ciders, then the wines…the equal opportunity drinking.”
“Anything else equal opportunity happen?”
“No, asshole.” Thank fucking god…
“Hey, monsta’. How ya doin’ this fine day?” I turn around, and It’s Andre. Goddamnit.
“How was your day off?”
“Why don’t you ask your mom?”
“So cliché, Gretchen, really.”
“Ask her! OK, walk away. Doesn’t negate the situation.” Andre stalks away in a half-serious tizzy. What a dildo. Last time we all went for drinks, he got wasted on three shots of Fireball and proposed to me. Beyond the fact that I thought only white yuppie girls and their boyfriends drank Fireball, I lost any shred of respect for him when I realized what a lightweight he was. I mean…come on. We’re cooks, are we not? Get it to-fucking-gether.
“Nice,” Dennis grins, clearly relieved I have driven Andre away from our prep area. Dennis hates Andre. Mostly everyone has some disdain for him, but Dennis hates him most, ever since this one day in service a couple months ago when Andre sabotaged his mise. Dennis had just gotten moved to roast, and Andre got stuck on entremet. He’d been on that station for the past seven months, and he assumed he was next in line for roast, but Dennis jumped to roast from hot apps. Dennis has natural ability, and Andre is just one of those people who will always be in the shits. It’s as if he knows entremet like the back of his hand, but then he tripped acid and said “oh my god, man, who’s hand is that!” Ever since the mise sabotage, they have been mortal enemies.
“I just can’t handle his love,” I start to complain to Dennis. “It’s getting motherfuckin’ creepy, dude. Like just because you have girlish hips doesn’t mean I’m gonna grant you access to my exclusively female dating pool. Is that so difficult to understand? Like one time I mentioned a guy I dated in high school when I was telling a story, and he goes, ‘oh, so you’ve dated guys before?’ Like oh…you got me…because you have made such a valid point, I suppose that I should date you, right? Wanker.”
“Oui.” The first thing I’m gonna do when I get out of this kitchen is stop saying “oui.” I’m not fucking French. It’s a terrible habit, and I’m seriously over accidentally using it colloquially with non-kitchen friends and family. I could almost think of nothing douchier. Bartender: ‘Do you want to keep it open?’ Me: ‘Oui. Er…’ Face palm.
We finish up prep and set up for service, and then we steal some bread from pastry in lieu of eating the grey meat that Charlie put up for family meal. Fuck that shit. I’m living proof that coffee, alcohol, and refined carbs (and one glass of water per month) are all a person needs to survive. “Brah, let’s bust out this service and get the fuck out of here. I’m tired, I want to go home, and I’m sick of cooking foie and scallops all night every night.”
“Oui.” The first ticket comes in, and everyone on the line focuses up. I return to my station down the line.
“May the odds be ever in your favor!” I announce, quoting the Hunger Games as I do every night. Andre laughs his stupid laugh. Service starts strong, and I’m selling scallops like foie never existed, which is unusual.
“Devon, fire one octopus.”
“Puss on fire!” I smirk at Devon down the line.
“Grizzly, maybe some new material would be worth considering,” he laughs. I do say that every night, but to me, it never gets old. My hangover is starting to get a little exhausting, but it only makes me a little more delirious. I’m not fucking anything up so far, so I’m in a good mood. As long as Chef doesn’t throw anything back at me, I’ll call it a solid Monday. Well, it’s Thursday, but my Monday. You know.
“Hey, Jimmy, forty-two has a vegan for second course, but there’s a foie with it. I’ll let you know when you can toss the salad.” Elijah, one of our runners, laughs. Jimmy doesn’t get it. I look around, sort of bummed to have a joke fall on deaf ears, but then I see Dennis hunched over, trying not to lose his shit. Great success…
“Oui, salad tossing postponed,” Jimmy replies, finally catching on.
“You know, Jim. Gotta buy me a drink first.”
“Quiet the fuck down, please!” Chef pretends he doesn’t like my shenanigans, but I know he appreciates some good sucio humor.
“Ouiiiiiiiiii.” The whole line quiets to a hush. Best not to push my luck…it’s gonna be a quiet service from here on out. All I need to do is focus up, sear, baste, pass. Sear, baste, pass. And never forget to shut the fuck up. That is key. Around nine, Chef comes over and asks if I’ve been seasoning the scallops with salt and pepper. “Just salt, chef.”
“Why the fuck are you not using pepper on the scallop? I told you to fucking pepper the scallop, Gretchen. So why is that not happening?”
“Oui,” I reply, not really intent on starting anything. Fuck pepper. Salt makes food taste amplified. Pepper makes food taste like fucking pepper. It makes no fucking sense to season everything with salt and pepper. Why not season everything with salt and cinnamon? It’s the same level of crazy. Fuck pepper. I kind of consider myself constantly in active rebellion against pepper. I could practically argue against adding it to anything other than steak au poivre, just because it’s gotten to me that bad. Chef leaves me alone, but I still can’t bring myself to season the scallops with pepper. It makes them look stupid and taste stupid. Around ten, Chef comes back and throws a scallop on my station.
“Pepper! Where is the fucking pepper?” By now, I’m too tired to give a shit.
“Black pepper as a seasoning goes against my moral belief system, Chef.”
“Oh, is that so?”
“I mean, yeah…it’s a spice…so…”
“Well you know what goes against my moral belief system? Employing cooks who don’t do what the fuck I tell them to fucking do. Yeah? Do you want your job? I could find thousands of cooks looking to fill your spot right now who would do whatever I told them to do.”
“Chef, I want my job. I just…”
“I’m going to tell you to use pepper, and then you’re going to shut the fuck up and say ‘oui,’ or you can get the fuck out right now. And you’re going to use it—not just say you will. The door is that way. Your choice, but we’re getting in the fucking shits waiting for your food. Let’s fucking go.”
“Oui.” If I didn’t have bills to pay, I probably would have walked out right at that moment, but I need the money. Pepper it is. Fucking A.
On my way out of work later, I pass Chef in his office.
“Gretchen, you better watch your attitude, you hear?”
“Do it again, and I’ll kick your ass out.”
“Oui. But Chef, I’m the only girl. Don’t you think that would look suspicious? I mean, I noted my gender on my papers when I started working here, and I believe that was an optional move in case we needed to file a claim anytime down the road, so…”
“Gretchen…watch it,” Chef is slightly amused by my fake threat.
“I’m not trying to start anything, but what ever happened to the two brown guys that used to work here? I’m just sayin’.”
“Gretchen! Wait…are you going for drinks?” Andre pops up out of nowhere. Goddamnit. I wasn’t going to go, but if everyone is going, it could be fun. Fucking Andre always has to ruin shit.
“I don’t know, man. I haven’t been feeling really well lately, and I’m kinda hungover.”
“I noticed you’re off one of the days I’m off this week. Tuesday, I think it is. Want to grab a drink with me that night? We can hit that bar you were talking about.”
“Um…thanks…but I don’t think that will be your scene. I’m not really sure, but thanks. I’ve been trying to do a lot of stuff in my free time, so I don’t have a ton of time for going out.” Lie.
“I’ve been going to a lot of museums and shit.” Also untrue.
“Oh, well we should go to the MoMA together. I’ve been wanting to check out this one exhibit lately.”
“This will never happen. Ever. OK? You’re a nice dude, but half of that statement disqualifies you from dating me. And it’s not the nice half.”
He acts natural, as he likes to do. “I just meant as friends. God, Gretchen.” Right. Friends.
“Have you ever seen “When Harry Met Sally?””
“Well get with the fucking program and watch that shit. I gotta go. Bye!” I walk out the door into the frigid January night. What a wanker.