Adventures in Cooking: part 11

There are days that everyone dreads. Up there on the list of crappy days that you don’t want to go to work for are; holidays, Christmas shopping season, short staff days, and the dreaded health inspection. Nobody wants to be there, from the dishwasher to the manager this is a trip from on high looking down on those who have not followed the rules and any infraction can result in thousands of dollars in fines or being closed. A word of advice to the managers out there, tell your staff that it’s happening. Don’t schedule your biggest fuck ups, and don’t walk around like you’re trying to hide Jews from Nazis.
I didn’t know who the guy was walking around with Meagan that day. She looked scared and they kept talking in private. I wondered if it was corporate and she was looking at losing her job. Had we been making her job that hard on her? I went about my shift as I always did not thinking about it. Communication around the kitchen had flatlined and the staff walked around oblivious to what was happening. It was the health inspection.
I sharpened all the fillet knives and waited for the gyro meat to turn a golden brown. I was going to make sure we started off the shift right with some thin cut meat. I ran some bread through the roller and piled them up to be cooked on the grill. Then came the meat.
I sharpened the blade one last time; the metal had a ring to it that made the hairs on my arms stand up. I took a damp rag and wiped the blade off. The edge was so sharp it sliced through eight layers of washcloth and into my index finger. I didn’t notice at first, it wasn’t until the sharp stinging pain like a bug bite hit me that I pulled the blade back and saw the blood rushing from the side of my finger. I pressed the cloth against the cut and turned around to see Meagan and the health inspector looking at me. Her mouth was hanging down by her shoes, eye wide like the moment a deer realizes it’s going to that big feeding field in the sky a split second before the semitruck smacks into it. The health inspector kept that bland unimpressed look on his face as he said to her “did he just cut himself?”
I walked into the kitchen and into the back room where I found the first aid kit. The band aid wrappers were brown, aged through the passing of time. I cleaned off the blood and pressed the cloth band aid on hoping to stop the bleeding. A few minutes later blood was running down my fingers dripping off the tips. It didn’t matter what I did it would not stop. I went upstairs and found Meagan at her desk. The health inspector had left.
“I cut myself and it won’t stop bleeding,” Meagan looked at it and when I pulled the band aid off the cut started to gush all over again.
“Oh Jesus. Go to the hospital.”
I went downstairs and told the rest of the crew I had to leave.
“Good job motherfucker, now we’re short staffed the rest of the day.” I could see that Nate Dawg cared.
I went to the local emergency room and was checked in. the place wasn’t busy, and I was placed in a room surrounded by curtains. The nurse checked the cut and then the doctor came in. he pried the wound open and watched the blood come rushing out again.
“Oh, that’s bad,” the doctor said continuing to open the cut further.
This was the first time I had ever been in an ER and I didn’t think it would be like this. I wondered if they played with people’s wounds to encourage them not to come back in the future. My finger was left to soak in iodine and when it was done the doctor looked at the cut again.
“it doesn’t need stitches, but it needs to be sealed up.” He took out a tube of superglue, it had a medical name for it, but it was superglue, and applied the quick drying substance to my skin. I would be out of work for three days. At this point I was happy for the break.
I had no idea at the time that the room I was in would end up being the future spot where I would spend the next 14 years of my life. The ER would become my home, my purgatory for half of my life. To this day I don’t know why I stayed for so long, looking bad I wish I had left so much sooner than I did. That is all another story and we will come back to that later.
Injuries were common in the kitchen. People cut themselves, slipped and fell, burned, and battered themselves all the time. It was rare for someone to go to the ER; most would cover the wound and go about their business until the end of the shift. There was nothing a good toke break couldn’t handle. The fry cook would have blisters on his forearms from the oil spattering up. The dish bitch would have cuts on his hands from broken glasses and knives put in the trays in the worst possible spots. When things were stressful in the kitchen, punches would be thrown into shoulders, wet rags flicked into faces and in the heat of the moment knives pulled but never used. Working in a kitchen is already hard on the body. Long hours on your feet. All the important heavy stuff you need is stored under the counter where you are constantly bending down to retrieve something or worse finding that you ran out of god knows what and you have to run to the back cooler dodging servers, cooks, and dish washers who have their heads up their asses.
If you have been reading this blog and you find yourself saying “I think I want to work in a kitchen” seek professional help. Already have a counselor, check the medication drawer and see if you are taking your pills regularly. You have no mental illness and have no need for prescriptions, then you must be a masochist. I don’t know why you don’t like yourself and it’s not for me to judge. There are worse things in life to be into, like heroin. So maybe, the life of a cook is a better choice. Still not convinced that you should reconsider being a cook, fine. Here are some things to think about.
How old are you? If you are in your teens or twenties, sure give it a shot. Why not? You’re young, your body is still in one piece, and you have time to make mistakes in your life.do it now if you aren’t going to listen. If you are in your thirties or older find something else to do. This life is like the UFC the good years are before the 30 mark and there are few, the rare few people who can handle working in a kitchen past that age. You might be the Randy Couture of the kitchen world, but odds are you aren’t, plus there in the possibility of jail time when you find yourself surrounded by immature assholes who don’t respect you and shit on you any chance they get. When you are older you will have less patience for their shit and its not a good place for you or them.
So, you are young, what kind of kitchen do you want to work in? there are the places that serve the same thing everyday with nothing new on the menu and they are loved for it. Can you make the same shit everyday with nothing new to challenge you? If not stay away. It might be a good place to start and get the swing of things but leave after a year or so. Tuck it away on your resume and move on. If you like a challenge and always doing new things, find a place that constantly changes their menu. There are a few local examples I can point out. Rustica is a fine dining restaurant that hasn’t changed their menu in years. They have always had the roasted bone marrow, bouillabaisse, and grilled duck breast. People love this place, but it doesn’t have much to offer in diversity. Then there is Fuse a place that experiments with new dishes every week and uses outlets like Instagram to feature the new menu and was they have to offer.
There are of course other options. Bakery, chain restaurants, and diners can be a start. There is something appealing about those dives that leave you questioning the cleanliness of the place, but the food is so good you come back for more. At the local Ray Ray’s, I was shocked to see the owner/ cook working the grill with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. But I tell you he makes some of the best damn burgers in town. There are times that I have been there, and Rodger is smoking at the grill, cops come in to order their lunch and nobody says a damn thing. Meanwhile my friend and I are sitting at a table with two beers bought at the neighboring quickie mart. That is the power of being a good cook. When your food is something special, that which nobody else offers or doesn’t come close to matching you earn certain privileges others don’t enjoy. When you make the right friends through food, and your menu offers things people can’t refuse, there isn’t much you can’t accomplish.
You could go to a cooking school but why the hell would you do that? The local library I work at has three aisles of cookbooks available for the pickings. I have read about people spending a year going through the Julia Child cookbook. There is a man who is working his way through Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halle cookbook for the one-year anniversary of his death. There are other places to learn how to cook and not go into massive amounts of debt that can not be repaid on this salary. If you are planning on working for someone else do not go to culinary school. You will be buried in student loan debt and not make enough to survive and pay back the debt, something you can not claim when filing for bankruptcy. If you are planning to open your own place do not go to culinary school. You will be buried in student loan debt and then the debt of starting your own place. In the end, learn how to cook on your own, or work at some shitty fast paced restaurant that is nothing special and get the hands-on experience that is the most valuable part of working in a kitchen. Who cares if you can make a great filet mignon? What matters is if you can make 16 of the damn things at the same time for a large group and not lose your mind under the stress, then do it all over again twenty minutes later because another group came in. this is the reality of working in a kitchen. The job is never done except when the open sign is shut off and the last customer is out the door. That is when you can sit back relax and enjoy that drink or joint or whatever it is that you are into, but only when everything is out away and the grill is cleaned, and the floors are mopped, and the stock is rotated in the walk in cooler, and the left overs are dated, and the last dishes are run through the machine, then maybe you can relax.
Did I mention the dreams in the middle of the night about taking an endless stream of tickets off the machine? That happens. Or the ones where you are standing naked at the grill, but you have too many orders to go find some clothes. That one happens too.
My point is this life isn’t for everyone. It wasn’t for me. That is why I am writing about it but not still doing it. The last time I went to the Olga’s I worked at I saw Junior. He didn’t recognize me and even if I said something to him, he probably wouldn’t remember who I was. With the turn around the odds are he has worked with a few hundred people in the last twenty years. I was a small check on the list of people that have come and gone. Junior will likely be working there until the day he dies. If he enjoys it then there are few things better one could hope for. I know too many people that worked shit jobs they hated only to die before retirement and never had the chance to enjoy what they loved. If you don’t love cooking, stay out of the kitchen because you will receive no love in return.
To be continued…

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