The Process

Tag: chef

Kitchen Trails and Industry Fails

 

When looking for work, restaurant employees, especially cooks and chefs, are normally expected to trail in the restaurant for a day to see the inner workings of the place and to give the employer an idea of their work habits and skills.  Trails are a simultaneously smart and tragically stupid way to interview candidates for a job.  For a first job, a trail makes sense in the same way the SAT is used to measure learning aptitude.

Does the person take naturally to the work or stand there like an awkward scarecrow?  If they are enrolled in or have graduated from a culinary school, do they have anything to show for it, or are they dumb as rocks and have no idea how using a knife in school translates to using one in real life?  Do they know how to use salt to their advantage, or do they not even realize its importance in cooking?  To verify a new cook’s capability, a trail makes total sense.  For those more experienced, however, a trail can be an awkward, backwards, aggravating, and/ or laughable experience.  For someone with a proven record of experience, in my opinion, a general trail is a waste of time when an interview and tasting or cooking practical would be more than sufficient.

Beginning the search for a job with a trail often has the “starting from scratch” feeling.  None of the cooks are usually informed about the qualifications of the candidate and sometimes don’t know what position he or she is trailing for.  In some cases, that’s because it’s for one of the jobs held by the cooks or chefs present.  Often, the chef who beholds the information about the candidate is too busy and/or too introverted and/or too socially anxious and/or too hungover and/or has forgotten they scheduled a trail today and/or pretty much anything to brief the staff on the person’s background or goals.  And, so, The Trail (as the staff commonly refers to this human who has already introduced their actual name–something I’ve been both guilty and victim of) is guilty of idiocy and ineptitude until proven innocent.  And so often, the real trial–line cooking– doesn’t start until after a couple hours of prep work patronization.

In general, you can’t blame the staff for over-explaining the steps of work to The Trail.  After all, this alien in the kitchen is going to be responsible for some of the food preparation for the restaurant, and it has to be right to serve.  To best prevent any mass destruction, that means that usually the cooks will either play hot potato with The Trail and try not to let it help them by saying things like, “I’m good, do you need it?”  I’ve had the distinct honor of being on a trail the same day as someone looking for a culinary school internship and being pawned off to another cook as in, “Are you using both of them right now, or can I have one?

“No, do you need one of them?”  No names, of course.  The minute things get named, relationships get complicated, after all.

Otherwise, the cooks will give the trail the golden opportunity to chop herbs or go gather all the shit they keep forgetting in their ADHD cooking brains: “Here’s a list of all the things I still need for service, which started five minutes ago.  Can you grab them?”  And so, after a couple hours, the only discernible qualities this human has is whether they can not cut themselves with their own knife on the first task and whether they are able bodied enough to see shit and carry it in their hands.  Having been in the position of both cook and chef administering many trails, I have seen plenty of dumb or green potentials that make a solid argument for the way trails are conducted currently: they cannot be trusted with anything more than the bare minimum.

I’ve seen a guy cook meat on a grill for kebabs and put it on a stick after it was cooked!  I’ve seen a girl label a container of zested citrus as “juice meat” instead of “juice me.”  I’ve had to tell a guy that salads should be dressed with salt, acid, and oil as opposed to just black pepper and oil.  I’ve had a girl triumphantly spilling over with excitement that she knew about the word umami.  That same girl slapped my ass when she left her trail even though I was the one who was deciding whether or not to hire her.  I’ve seen a man go into the bathroom with gloves on and come out wearing them.  For these people, a trail is a kind buffer between them, the potential employer, and their respective and mutual fates.

For people that have years of experience in cooking, though, the time spent dicking around and standing there with a thumb up their asses while waiting for direction (or even watching the cook who owns them for the day do a terrible job and refuse help or advice) is not the most productive way to convince the chef or coworkers of their ability.  It’s quite like if instead of taking the SAT to get into college, you had to take a basic addition test where the first section was finding pencils and proving that you knew how to count to ten and no one was really sure if you’d ever made it past the first grade anyway.

Lately, in my own hunt for a job, I’ve been subject to some interesting moments in kitchens around the city.  Being young hasn’t done me any good in commanding immediate credence in each new kitchen team.  Looking even younger than I am has done me less good.  And say what you will about it, being a female has probably done me even less good.  I get it.  I look more or less like a cherub out of a Michelangelo swathed in chef garb.  My looks don’t give off the same aura of strength and badassery as that possessed by tall, lanky men covered in tattoos, often ones who have chosen to grow a beard to suggest wisdom.  And no matter the growing quantity of damn amazing female chefs out there, the industry is still dude obsessed.

I’m small.  I can’t grow a beard at all.  Automatically, nothing much is expected of me, especially physically, and I’m not established enough in the industry to have a reputation that precedes me.  Staying at the same acclaimed restaurant and climbing through the ranks is a good answer for that, but I don’t like staying somewhere for four years.  So I go back into the culinary playpen every so often.  Here is a list of some times I had to reach deep inside myself and not let myself stick my hand in a flame or chop off a digit to get out of the trail or even first days of a new job early:

  1. When I dropped a microplane on the floor and a cook told me I had to wash it before using it again
  2. The time no one, not even the chef on duty, was informed that I was trailing for a sous chef position and I was therefore lumped in with the culinary school extern hopefuls.  The cook in charge of The Trails was new to cooking and taught us very badly how to make a beurre blanc sauce, wasting expensive cheesecloth as she made her bouquet and including her own variations that she followed based allegedly on her mood any  given day (something very scary to hear from a line level employee charged only with keeping up the consistency of the chef’s recipes).  Luckily, this was also the time I got pawned off on another cook
    1. The time that same girl told me it was best to put hot used pots and pans in a separate bus tub from dirty plastic containers.  Mind blown.
    2. When the other cook I was pawned off on asked me if this was my first restaurant but then said he could tell it wasn’t because I did a good job of slicing bread.
    3. When one cook told the other not to throw away extra jus, because it’s expensive, and she replied, “we don’t buy the jus; we make it in house!”
    4. At the end of the night when the chef on duty, after paying me no attention during my trail, asked me if I was still in culinary school and whether I was looking for a cooking job there
  3. The time a cook on the meat roast station at a well known restaurant told me that he only put the garlic and thyme in the roasted mushrooms when he had time.  He wasn’t busy all night and only did it right on one pick up.  Another very worrisome moment for consistency in New York City
  4. The time a sous chef, whose job I was previously offered, told me that leaving a sauce on a burner without stirring it would result in scorching
    1. When that same sous burnt a batch of crackers and threw them all away except for the amount needed for the night’s service instead of making new ones in the ample time left in the day.
  5. The time a cook asked me if I had heated up the sauce I was spooning over a hot fish entree

It takes a lot of effort on the chef’s end of things to coordinate trails and find suitable employees; the kitchen is such a rotating door of staff members, and a lot of times, potential candidates have a lot of trails lined up and will of course only be choosing one place.  So it does seem a little bit to ask of chefs to plan better for trails or interviews with people who are barely invested in taking the job as much as they are just curious about behind the scenes and tasting some fancy food for free.  However, it seems to me that with a little extra research into the candidate (calling their references, etc.,) and some kind of premeditated cooking practical, a chef would be able to make a much better informed decision about a new hire and waste less of the The Trail’s time and anguish as they do pairing them with some half baked newbie line cook for Picking Parsley and Getting Salt and Squeeze Bottles of Oil and Water.

 

 

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The Usual Crises and Boring Shit

In a room of talking bodies–I am one of them–I’m looking at the
rest, each glance sounding off a little wish in my head.  I wish I were…
that lazy looking, low-belted bro, the girl that subsists on just coke, the now-long-sober dude, the girl in the either ironic or stupid-sincere t-shirt: I wish I were anyone.  Even as I’ve come to suspect A Body Can Only Know Anyone Besides Itself, I’m bound by the perception that everyone here defies that notion, wrapped up in their enigmatic but clear designs, and the bindings tighten around my regret for my choice of pants.  If I could tell anyone about myself beyond the basic physical and occupational facts, I could hardly think of anything more than a list of things I am not.  And because people these days have eyes, half my potential parlor conversation is obsolete.  I Am A Cooking Person rarely makes the cut unless you’re talking to someone incredibly narcissistic.  Where do you work?  What kind of food do you cook?  What’s your specialty (the worst question)?  It is difficult to steer a conversation less than by saying “I don’t currently work, the only major cuisines I don’t cook much at all are Japanese and Ethiopian, and I don’t really have a specialty unless fried bologna sandwiches counts.”  Out of context, I guess I sound like a real winner.  But context is just that, and long ago I lost a spark for the type of varied inflection that captures an audience as well as anything to say that might call for such melody.  A joke on myself, I might make, and then make a joke on that one.  Something like, A Real Winner I Am, See?  And then something like, Well, What, Haven’t You Ever Had A Fried Bologna, Jim?, Tough Crowd, Jesus.  And just flat like that, unyielding, boring music.  Like a song you turn off when something fun comes on TV.  It’s the sound in my head, too: when I see, read, hear such things…flat footnotes loom up in each pause in whatever medium, mad at the similes I used to like, bored at almost any poetics, mostly Romantics, like “Oh, but was it as vague as etchings on glass (one I understood and nearly liked–sorry Patti Smith, who I adore–I also mocked)?”  It happens with most work: by writers, chefs, artists, politicians– I gnaw it all away and rarely find a strong bone beneath all the rotting flesh attached: their respective masturbatory description (somehow always full-hearted and VERDANT), cabbage shoulders and onion crumbles, obtuse color blocks, jargon and lies–and I make myself out of what I won’t be compared to what exists, and I don’t have attributes but I can sure say what qualities cancel out those in anyone else right back down to rot.  But often there are bones enough to hold them together, and that point thinks at/on/in me enough to want some flesh on mine.  Sardonic skeleton, depart.  Let me codify as and name myself as anything, maybe a series of 1’s and 0’s rather than “not 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9,” maybe a seer of true flesh over an exposer of the rotten.

The Lost Kids

THIRTEEN

I wake up to the blinding brightness of day coming through the living room window and fumble for my phone to check the time.  I feel more out of it than usual; maybe I’m still a little high, but it’s unclear.  I stay still for a few minutes and float, which is something I like to do when I wake up hungover.  When I feel like my head is drifting through the universe, if I stay still, I feel my body going with it, and I’m weightless.  It can be a little nauseating, though, so after a few minutes, I sit up and become one with my tired body.  My feet hurt, as usual.  My spine aches at the top, where my shoulders connect, and I wonder, briefly, if I could ever maybe swap it out with a new body.  That would be ideal.

To re-orient myself with life’s tangibility and the oppressive gravity, I drag myself into my leather chair.  It is always comforting to have a thing surround your body with so much familiarity.  As I sit, dazed, staring at our faded blue carpet, I muddle through the events of last night in my mind.  The memory of arguing with Olivia makes me giggle.  What a strange girl.  Or am I strange?  Either way, I’m glad I didn’t end up finding out what the night had in store for her and her bruiser friend.  If Hem had met her, we would have run our fingers through our hair in true chola style.

Well fuck…I start to wonder about Jed.  Does he really think we’re going to Canada?  Is it even safe to travel with a drug-addled dude I barely know?  Should I actually just go back to work?  The idea of passing chef’s black pepper challenge makes me nauseous.  Fuck that…Maybe I should go to Canada pending Jed’s current state.  My stomach starts yelling at me, and I realize I haven’t eaten in a while.  I don’t think I have any food, but I shuffle to the fridge and open it anyway.  As I stare at its contents, I blank out and fall into a daze.  The sadness of Jed’s story creeps back up in my chest, and I lose focus, seeing only the dish of pills he had pulled out last night and hearing his tired voice say, “they were gone-gone…they were gone-gone…they were gone-gone…”

“Gretchen!”  I’m startled by Vanessa’s energetic voice, and I come out of my trance fast, overtaken by the sudden urge to poop.

“Uh…hey, V…What’s up…”

“Ermagerd…you look exhausted!  What is wrong?  Have you slept this week?  Have you been hanging out with Hannah again?”

“Uh…no…I just didn’t sleep well, and I’m kind of hungry.”

“Gretch, like, why were you sleeping on the couch, though?”

“I dropped off my laundry yesterday and haven’t gotten my sheets back yet,” I bluff.

“Don’t you have another set to change them out?”

“No…”

“Do you want a smoothie?  I’m about to try this new recipe I found online.  Oprah recommends it as a great energy booster for when you’re trying to lose weight.  I mean, not that you need to lose weight or anything…I do…I still need to drop that pound and a half I gained over the holidays…I’m so jealous you can stay as small as you are and be a chef and all that.  It’s totally not fair.  Do you have thyroid problems?  Because if I had thyroid problems, I would definitely not do anything about it if it was working in my favor.  I know it’s not healthy, but let’s be serious.  Some comedian once said that if AIDS was curable, women would get it on purpose to lose weight, and I’m not gonna lie…I totally agree with that.  Well…maybe.  So do you want a smoothie?”

I am not prepared for this burst of energy, but I oblige out of fatigue and ambivalence: “Yeah…sure…does it have kale, though?  I don’t want a leaves smoothie.”

“No, but it has spirulina powder.  It’s algae.  Is that OK?”

“Sure.”  As Vanessa starts pontificating on the benefits of consuming algae, I wander to the bathroom.  My guts feel disoriented and weird.  As I sit, mentally discombobulated, on the toilet, I wonder if I should have declined the smoothie.  A bagel sounds much better than algae at the moment.  I take a picture of my dropped pants and send Hem a Snapchat captioned “pooping.”  Oh…fuck…I sent it to my mom by mistake…Well, these things happen.   She may not even know how to open a Snapchat.

“Smoothies are ready!  It’s so good!”  I hear Vanessa yell.

“Coming…”  I walk out, and Vanessa is holding out a tall glass of blue-brown puree.  It looks gross, but I really don’t have the mental capacity to decline.  I take a sip, and it’s odd, but the cold feels good.  “Is there carob in here?”

“Yes.”

“Is there cayenne in here?”

“Ermagerd…only a little!  You’re good!”  I cough at the spiciness and try to ignore the fact that the smoothie tastes a little like cold barbecue.

“Thanks, V.”  Just as I prepare myself for the second sip, there’s a knock on the door.  “You have friends coming over?”

“No.  Do you?”  My phone buzzes as I head to the door.  It’s a text from my mom that says, “why are you so disgusting!?”  Oops.  There’s another knock, so I put my phone in my pocket and open the door.

“Buenos dias, Gretchen!”  It’s Jed.  Vanessa looks confused.

“Vanessa, this is Jed.  Jed, this is my roommate, Vanessa.”  A door opens behind me, and Eddie emerges from his room.  He looks up at all of us, surprised to be greeted by a group, and nods while ducking into the bathroom in an effort to expediently hide his morning boner.  “That’s Eddie.”

“Gretchen and I are going to Canada today,” Jed announces, looking excited and more energetic than he was last night.  It actually looks like he showered, but his hair still looks a little gross.  Maybe he just changed clothes.

“You didn’t tell me you were going away!” Vanessa exclaims, looking hurt to be left out but also excited.

“Um…yeah, well, it was a little last minute.”

“How do you two know each other?”

“Jed actually lives next door.”

“Wait, you’re the guy who gets all the tiny packages in the mail all the time?”

“Yes.  I collect Pokemon merch.”  Vanessa is starting to look judge-y, so I take her into my room to talk.

“Vanessa is gonna help me pack real quick, Jed.  Sit down for a minute, I’ll be right back.  Here!  Have this smoothie.”  I’m glad to be able to pawn off the beverage now that I’ve decided it’s not palatable in my current state.

“Gretchen, when did you meet this Jed guy?”

“Last night.”

“You can’t go to Canada with him!”

“Yes I can.”

“What about work?”

“I left Downton yesterday.”

“What?”

“I’ll find a new job when I get back.  I have enough money for next month’s rent.  Don’t worry.”

“I don’t care about that…I mean, I do…but isn’t it kind of stupid to be going on a trip with this stranger?  He looks kind of grimy…”

“He doesn’t have anyone, V.  I feel like this would be good for him.  I’m not stupid…I’ll be careful.  But I think he’s really harmless.  And he’s sweet.  I get him.”

“OK.”  I grab up a couple outfits and stuff them in my backpack.  I don’t really know how long we’ll be away, but I’m sure I’ll be able to make it work.

“Jed, how are we getting there?”

“I’m using Bobo’s car.”

“Who the fuck is Bobo?”

“My boy from the grocery.”

“The drug dealer?  Are we gonna get followed by the cops?”

“No.  Chill out.  It’s fine.  I booked a hotel in Montreal through Wednesday.”

“OK.”  I realize that Jed has artfully dumped the smoothie and washed out the glass.  Lucky me.  I guess I’m not going back to Downton, so I text Chef, “I’m not coming back.  Sorry.”  And put my phone in my pocket.  “Bye, V.  I’ll see you on Thursday, then.

“OK…Have fun and be safe.  Text me when you get to the border.  And then when you get to your hotel.  Will you call me later?”

“Sure.”  I walk out the door, and Jed closes it behind me.  “I can’t believe we’re actually doing this!”

“Trust the adventure, right?”

“I fucking guess so.  Have you ever been to Canada?”

“No.”

“Me neither.  Can we go get a bagel before we leave?”

“Sure.  Let’s go to Bean Bros.”  We walk in, and José is at the counter.

“Hey, José.  How are you?”  He looks right past me to Jed.

“Jed, brother, what’s up?  Ishan!  Jed stopped by!”  What the fuck…Ishan emerges from the back.

“Jed!  What’s good?”  Lots of fist pounding takes place, and suddenly I feel like the outsider in my own bagel shop.  Without even taking our order, the boys put together a medium coffee with milk, a cappuccino, an untoasted poppy bagel, and a toasted everything bagel with bacon-scallion cream cheese.  No charge.  Jed and I thank them, and then we head toward the door.

“Sit down or hit the road?”  Jed asks.

“Let’s hit the road.  Doesn’t it take forever to get there?”

“I guess we’ll see.”

“So, how do you know them so well?”

“Ishan is a customer, you know.  And sometimes I give José a bunch of money to do hand-offs to my customers at the bagel shop.”:

“The bagel shop traffics drugs?”

“Well…sometimes.”

“Jeez.”

“We all benefit.  And you know, there are no real cops in Queens.”

“Just garden gnomes that ticket cars!”

“Exactly.”  He hits the unlock button on his keys when we near a dark blue van.

“We’re taking a kidnapping van to Canada?”

“It’s a good car.”

“We’re gonna look like Bonnie and Clyde meets the ice cream man.”

“I like the sound of that, though.  Don’t you?”

“Sounds like a good premise for a band, anyway.  Alright.  Let’s do this.”  I dump my belongings in the back and climb into the passenger seat.  It’s a tall car for me to get into, but riding high up always makes me feel powerful.  After I settle into my seat, I text back my mom, “whoops, wrong Snapchat.”  C’est la vie.  “Oh, by the way, Jed, I can’t drive, so I hope you got all the coffee you need.”

“Even if you could, Bobo made me swear not to let anyone drive his car, so it’s all good.  Why can’t you drive?”

“DUI.”

“Ah.  You shouldn’t leave Queens!  There are cops out there.”

“Speaking of leaving Queens.”

“Yes ma’am.”  Jed puts the key in the ignition, starts the van, and pulls out of the spot as he takes an overzealous bite of his bagel.  Cream cheese oozes out and falls onto the seatbelt.  “Ah, fuck,” he licks it off.

“Ew!”

“What?  It’s delicious cream cheese!  I’m not letting it go to waste.  I’m trying to forget what that smoothie tasted like!”

“True.  I’m sorry I tried to give it to you.”

“You’re forgiven.  Put on some music.  Your choice.”  I turn on the radio, and Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Rocket Queen” comes on.  “Did you know Axl Rose brought a girl into the studio and fucked her for the sex noises in the background of that bridge?”

“What if I told you that was me?”

“Right.  And how old are you again?  Eighteen?”

“Twenty-four.  OK, it wasn’t me.  But it’s still cool.”  I rip off a piece of my bagel, spilling poppy seeds all over the floor of the car.  I would feel bad, but there’s still cream cheese on his seatbelt, so fuck it.  I rest my head against the window and listen to the music as we drive off, as Axl Rose sings, Here I am, and you’re a rocket queen…I might be a little young, but honey, I ain’t naive…

The Lost Kids

FIVE

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.

“Sí.”

“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.

“Hola, biatch.”

“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.  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.”

“Oui.”

“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.”

“Oui, chivalry.”

“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?”

“Sorry, Chef.”

“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’.”

“Go home.”

“Oui.”

“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.

“Like what?”

“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.”

“Andre?”

“Yeah?”

“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?””

“No…wh—“

“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.

The Fault in Our Michelin Stars

Anonymous (right?)

I wanted to be a chef in the
times when that meant cooking

for people

I grew up making pancakes
for my brother and his friend
Sebastian.  They said thank you but
they did not give me a

gold star.

Wasn’t that the kid
in school that cried
when the teacher took away his

gold star.

It wasn’t the tough guy.  Stars
mean asses in chairs, too.  I
comprehend the business but there
are people who go to eat at places

just because there’s good food.

I can’t afford to eat the stars.  Stars
are shiny like maybe they forgot who
their friends are. I want a

goddamn plate of food.

What is chef?  Hello?  Are you a

chef

Where is my

chef

chef

chef

chef

Flew away on a shooting star

chef.