Ever Wonder Who's Cooking Your Food?
Posted 15 November 2011 - 08:42 PM
To give you an idea of my ineptitude: Having been vegetarian/vegan and a ridiculously picky eater from a young age, I didn't know what animals common cuts of meat came from. (Do buffalo wings come from buffalo?) I had never even seen, let alone tasted, half of the seafood I cooked. Never had lobster, scallops, or swordfish. Didn't know what drawn butter was. Thought salting cooking water was a myth. Had never even had mustard or mayonnaise. My pasta recipe in college? Dump a can of diced tomatoes on some pasta, heat in the microwave, add way too much salt, and some turmeric (?!) for seasoning. And that's when I wasn't eating raw tofu, or a plain can of garbanzo beans. You can imagine the tempeh dishes. Not only was I a terrible cook, but for the most part, I come from a line of bad cooks. "Mom's cooking" meant boiled frozen raviolis. Grandma dressed her ceasar salad hours and hours ahead of time. I don't exactly have fuzzy memories of picking fresh fruit off the tree and pressing olive oil to serve with the spring lamb we just slaughtered. Even our iced-tea growing up came from an artificial powder, as if real iced tea is too cumbersome to make.
And yet I was left alone and unsupervised in the restaurant kitchen on the regular cook's nights off, to cook upwards of 50-60 dinners per shift while also washing the dishes. For $8 an hour, vs. the $30-40 I often made per hour during my waitressing shifts there. I was given a bit of instruction, which went something like "get the pan hot. Add some oil. If you're not sure if something's cooked, cut it and check. Use the dead lobsters first. Always have a lemon ready." And this is far from Denny's that I'm talking about. Think $120 for two, with appetizer, drinks, and tip.
The strangest part of it all was that the restaurant owner was an extreme control freak who, ironically, refused to walk into her own restaurant during operating hours because even the thought of going into her restaurant gave her panic attacks. She couldn't even come in to train me on my first day because she was on the floor of the emergency room hyperventilating! Throughout the season, I tried pleading with her to get a different relief cook, telling her I was not skilled enough for the job, that the job stressed me horribly and I absolutely hated it because I worried about serving people subpar food (I am a perfectionist to the bone), she told me I had to keep working my shifts because if she had to come in to cook while looking for my replacement, she would have panic attacks! So the chef (who had never actually worked in a restaurant) told me, an absolute novice, that I needed to get my stress under control and perform the job, but she herself can't handle even the thought of doing the job herself? Crazy stuff!
Luckily for me, the regular cook was a great guy, and we became good mates. When I was waitressing and he was in the weeds, I'd always wash dishes, plate food, pour him drinks, whatever helped out. In return, he stopped by on most of his nights off to help me when I got really swamped in the kitchen. I almost made it to the end of the season, basically through throwing pans around, a constant stream of swearing, and cocktails, before walking out one night during a waitressing shift after having finally taken enough crap from the senior waiter there. (Ah what a great moment!) Oddly enough, I walked out of the restaurant to find my boss sitting in a car across the street in the dark! She was sending her partner into the restaurant to drop off much-needed napkins, while hiding , hoping no one would see her so she wouldn't have to come into the restaurant and see the absolute circus it was, which would land her in the ER.
In retrospect though, after being thrust unexpectedly into the pro cooking world, I got an awesome line-cooking job, and I now want to work professionally as a cook and have since learned heaps about cooking and can whip up some pretty good meals. (At least, my husband is very happy with them, which was the point.) So in the end, I guess it was one of the best things that happened to me, although my blood pressure/liver will also never be the same!
Posted 15 November 2011 - 09:17 PM
Posted 15 November 2011 - 09:24 PM
I think a lot of people would be surprised at how many restaurant 'chefs' are actually high school students working part time and don't even know enough to let the fryer heat up after they turn it on before putting stuff in it.
That explains some of the meals I've eaten at cafes/restaurants/etc!
Posted 17 November 2011 - 05:39 AM
In our small town, we carefully keep track of "Chef's night off," as local restaurants have the best versions of some dishes on certain nights. I think fresh food delivery schedules play into it as well. For instance, my birthday dinner request last year started like this: I'd like Friday night bhindi from the Indian restaurant... and so on.
Posted 17 November 2011 - 06:34 AM
... to cook upwards of 50-60 dinners per shift while also washing the dishes. For $8 an hour... Think $120 for two, with appetizer, drinks, and tip...
The strangest part of it all was that the restaurant owner... refused to walk into her own restaurant during operating hours because even the thought of going into her restaurant gave her panic attacks. She couldn't even come in to train me on my first day because she was on the floor of the emergency room hyperventilating! ... she told me I had to keep working my shifts because if she had to come in to cook while looking for my replacement, she would have panic attacks...
Like me at that age, you were a very soft negotiator.
Posted 20 November 2011 - 11:54 PM
The main cook, who had probably 10+ years of experience was only getting $10 an hour, so as you can imagine, it was hard to negotiate when my cooking experience consisted of microwaving convenience food, and as the owner said, "if you're not handling the job well at $8 an hour, why should I pay you more?"
But yes, I agree totally! But when you have no experience in restaurants at all, it's hard to play hard ball.
Posted 21 November 2011 - 12:17 AM
I remember similar scenes from my teenage restaurant days. Except for the completely unhelpful owner, that's truly weird.
Yep, you summed it up right there: truly weird.
Then again, it was a truly weird small town once you got to know it beneath the tourist experience. Long cold dark Maine winters do weird things to people!
Posted 21 November 2011 - 06:26 AM
Posted 22 November 2011 - 06:23 AM