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ScoopKW

A Day in the Life of a Las Vegas casino cook's helper

87 posts in this topic

Great stuff , Scoop! I'd love to know the pre-story. How'd you train, what were you up to before the casino?

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Scoop, Sorry to sidetrack your excellent thread with my Navy story. Slackers have no place in a busy operation. In our case there were 4-5 of us breaking down stuff to feed thousands. No time for the Junior types.

Did your move up from helper come from the audition you wrote about on another thread? The one where the Chef was timing you with a stop watch?

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Did your move up from helper come from the audition you wrote about on another thread? The one where the Chef was timing you with a stop watch?

No, unfortunately I didn't get that gig. It was at the "fine-dining" restaurant on-site. Naturally, I'd prefer the fine dining environment. But my concern is that if the celebrity chef dies, what happens then? Then I have to go back to the casino and start building up seniority again. That's what.


Edited by ScoopKW (log)

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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Great stuff , Scoop! I'd love to know the pre-story. How'd you train, what were you up to before the casino?

I thought this was all common knowledge from my other posts.

Prior to being a cook, I was a brewer. Mostly in brewpubs. I was at a local brewery, but that blew up in my face. So it goes. So while I have a decade of restaurant experience, none of it was on a kitchen line, and therefore not applicable to what I do now. Hence, starting at the bottom.

My entire life, I have loved to cook. I cooked semi-professionally in college. The school didn't offer a weekend lunch. I made lo-mein noodles and sold them illegally out of my dorm in order to buy beer. And since I've basically been in restaurants for a third of my adult life, I can't really cut it in the real world. I'm used to telling people what I think. For instance, if a chef asks my opinion about a dish, and I think it's under seasoned, that's what I'm going to say. I'm not going to say what I think he or she wants to hear. If the Chef wanted a yes-man, he or she wouldn't be a chef in the first place. We may even disagree, but the chef wants (and deserves) an honest answer.

Second, kitchen co-workers are the BEST co-workers. (Well, they can be the worst, too. But those guys never last long.) My co-workers wouldn't just help me move. They'd help me move the bodies. (OK, exaggeration. But not by much. I'll cover for a co-worker who's hung over, or having a bad day, or sick out of his mind but can't take the day off because he needs the shift. And they'll do the same for me. There aren't a lot of careers where you can say that.)

That sort of thing is important to me. Also, at the end of the day, I did something I find professionally fulfilling. I didn't shuffle papers around, or move numbers on a spreadsheet. I cooked someone's food. I hardly ever see the people I'm cooking for. (Unless I'm out at an event, as "eye-candy.") But it doesn't matter. I cook as if I'm preparing food for the President, the Dalai Lama and Stephen Hawking -- every guest, every time.

As for training, we have a very good culinary school at the local community college in Las Vegas. So, I've been going there for three years now. It's inexpensive, and the education is on par with some of the best schools in the world.


Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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As for training, we have a very good culinary school at the local community college in Las Vegas. So, I've been going there for three years now. It's inexpensive, and the education is on par with some of the best schools in the world.

Thanks for the shout-out to your community college culinary program. I suspect that lots of people, even those into fine dining, don't realize how good CC programs can be. Our CC here in Grand Rapids also runs a first-class program (and a terrific restaurant). Schoolcraft College, in suburban Detroit, also is top notch.

P.S. Like everyone else here, I'm enjoying your forum immensely. An old acquaintance of mine was a CIA grad and worked at Caesar's in LV. He had lots of stories to tell about both places.


Edited by Alex (log)

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and their readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

 

"A vasectomy might cost as much as a year’s worth of ice cream, but that doesn’t mean it’s equally enjoyable." -Ezra Dyer, NY Times

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Sounds like good times. total focus on the job, and no carry over to home (except extra shifts).


"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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Just woke up (5 p.m. PST), after a week of grueling graveyard shifts. I'll have an update about THAT tomorrow.


Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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Great read, Scoop. Could you describe the different uniforms worn by various people in the kitchen hierarchy for us outsiders? Are they pretty much universal or vary from place to place? Maybe I'll take up cook-spotting.


It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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Well, I WAS going to post something lengthy today, but the phone rang and I picked up a writing assignment. I don't get very many of those, so I took the job.

Chefs wear black pants and embroidered white jackets. The more embroidery, the higher up the chef. Most chefs don't wear hats. Although a few of the more traditional chefs do put on a toque every day. I think they all should. Chef hair in food is JUST as nasty as cook hair in food.

Cooks, master cooks and helpers all wear the same thing -- rather plain white jacket and check pants. Some casinos embroider the casino name, and sometimes the kitchen. But not all of them. Cooks wear baseball caps, or skull caps. I prefer the skullcap. The better ones have ventilated tops which breathes better.

And everyone -- chefs and cooks -- wear black leather kitchen shoes. Black. Not orange Crocs. Not sneakers.

Black leather kitchen shoes. Good thing Birkenstock makes a pair. I won't wear any other shoe.


Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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Finally... some time to write.

As you can guess from my on-again, off-again posts, my schedule kicks my butt. I work five nights, sleep most of the day, and then get up and have just a few hours to get ready to do it again.

The promotion kicked in recently, so there won't be many bake shop or garde manger shifts in my future. This past week, I was in the main kitchen on a swing shift -- my least favorite shift. And main kitchen has turned out to be my least favorite kitchen.

Main kitchen "cooks" all the food for the buffet and the EDR. And I'm using quotation marks because when I say "cook" I mean "reheat." We take industrial processed food out of aluminum tins, slap it into hotel pans, wrap it and steam it. That's it. It's hardly cooking at all.

My first opinion of the chef I was working under turned out to be dead wrong. At first, I thought he was a jerk.

"Cover these speed racks with bags and write the contents on the bag with a marker," chef said. He added, "Do you know how to spell?"

He also asked me a couple minutes later if I completed high school.

Really?

I answered his questions honestly, and without attitude. If he wanted to, chef could make my life miserable. We don't want that.

Later on, after he saw that he wasn't getting to me, and that I work quickly, he apologized.

"I hope you don't mind what I said before. It's just that a lot of guys come through here, and not all of them can spell."

I told him it was OK -- it's a kitchen, not a popularity contest.

After that, we worked great together -- went to break together, talked a lot about the business. He even consoled me when I burned myself this week.

I know I've mentioned the sauce bagging machine that will someday take someone's finger off. There's one in the banquet kitchen, and another one in main kitchen. Well, I burned myself but good with hot marinara a few days back. The bag ripped, and scalding-hot sauce ran down my pant leg and into my shoe. I was able to keep my pants away from my legs. But my heel got burnt. I was hopping around, holding my pants and trying to remove my kitchen shoes -- which DID NOT WANT TO BUDGE. Agonizing.

But, it turned out to be a minor first-degree burn. Chef immediately sent me on break, and I cleaned up and smeared Neosporin on the burn. By the end of the night, it didn't even bother me. I have a blister the size of a baseball card on my heel even now. But I don't feel any pain. So it's all good.

So the consolation from chef? "I did the same thing to myself once, but I burnt my dick." Ow.

Because main kitchen is attached to the buffet, I spent some time there last week, too. And I saw one of the grossest things ever. We all know that sneeze guards are basically useless -- little kids cough and sneeze on the food just fine, and I see them reaching for food with their grubby hands, instead of using tongs. Whenever I see that, I throw the entire pan of food away, and replace it with a fresh pan.

But now the tongs are suspect as well. The other day, I saw a guest eating on line. That really ticks me off. They shove food into their fat faces, touching their lips with their fingers. And then they grab the tongs and pile more food on their plates. I'm not allowed to "tut-tut" them. I just quietly replace the tongs and go about my business. But the other day, I saw someone doing that, and she had a big, nasty cold sore on her lip. Oh, great. Now we have herpes tongs. I changed out the tongs, and then took off my gloves and then washed my hands, soaked them in the sanitizer bucket, and put on new gloves. What a frikkin' pig.

So my advice for buffet goers? Wash your hands often. Use the hand sanitizer stations, often. If you see a pig eating on line and touching their nasty herpes-infected lips, give them hell about it before they can grab the tongs. I'm not allowed to say it. But since you're the guest, you can raise hell. And you should.

--------------------

There's a lot of things they simply don't teach in culinary school. How to properly sharpen a knife. Most shortcuts. And the little things that make all the difference. I noticed when I started a lot of the older guys wore light cotton gloves under their latex gloves. I wondered why, until the burning incident. I probably wouldn't have burned myself if I had the extra gloves. A little goes a long way. (I'd use my welding gloves, but they're too clumsy for a lot of the work I do.)

So, I ordered 24 pairs of cotton work gloves.

Another thing I've learned is that I'm always in need of a utility knife for opening boxes, cutting plastic bags and such. Most cooks use a box cutter. But I don't like that solution -- they're not heavy-duty enough for a lot of the tasks I face. I used to just carry a rather dull Wusthof paring knife in my apron. But it's only a matter of time before I trip and impale myself.

So I wanted a folder. And it's gotta be a one-handed opening operation. (I usually have something in my other hand when I need my knife. I'd buy a switchblade, but that's a felony in this state. (What a dumb law.) So I found a spring-action "not at all a switchblade, but functionally identical" knife made by Benchmade. I only bought it last week, and it easily gets more use than all the rest of my knives combined. It's as sharp as any of my knives, deploys in less than a second, and I can immerse the knife in sanitizer before I cut cryovac chickens and similar.

So -- welding gloves, cotton gloves, and a switchblade. That's my equipment advice for this week.

Tomorrow, I'm actually cooking -- and I'm cooking in the most fun kitchen on property.

And you perverts that keep asking for sex stories, remind me to tell you about Julietta. We caught her and another cook in the walk in last week.


Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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Because main kitchen is attached to the buffet, I spent some time there last week, too. And I saw one of the grossest things ever.

At my community college culinary academy (I was in breads and desserts), the sanitation instructor would NEVER eat at our buffet - she called it the "Barf-ay." People can be so clueless. I've seen people pick up and put down four or five devilled eggs before choosing just the right one. Yech! :wacko: I'm quite sure these folks don't wash their hands before they join the buffet line.

Actually, that training pretty much ruined my enjoyment of just about any restaurant experience, sad to say. I see too much now.

I sure am enjoying your posts, ScoopKW.

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In the freakin' WALK-IN? Oh, Lawd. That'd take me out of the mood, fo' sho'.


Don't ask. Eat it.

www.kayatthekeyboard.wordpress.com

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Hi Scoop! I have been reading this with great interest. I'd never been to Vegas so I found your description fascinating.

But some last minute business travel has brought me to the Mirage this week! So now all of your fascinating intel suddenly has much more context for me. The scale here is absolutely amazing. The Mirage has probably 8(?) restaurants, some casual and some fine dining. Because I'm here for a conference I haven't had much time to visit anywhere else, though I had dinner last night at a local tapas place called Firefly.

I did have breakfast at the buffet this morning (my excuse is that I was running late!). It made me think of several questions I wanted to ask. Is there a difference between the staff that works in the main kitchen vs the buffet or restaurant kitchens? I saw some kitchen staff doing things behind the scenes in the buffet and I wondered if this was considered being on show and therefor regarded differently than regular kitchen duty.

I know you said that the fine dining is different and somewhat separate from the main staff. How separate? Does the main kitchen ever support them or is it held as a completely separate enterprise?

Quite a few of these mega hotel resorts seem to be owned by the same company. Are they each run as completely separate, or is there motion between the staff when hotels have the same parent company?

Thank you so much for this topic! So much fun.

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Hi Scoop! I have been reading this with great interest. I'd never been to Vegas so I found your description fascinating.

But some last minute business travel has brought me to the Mirage this week! So now all of your fascinating intel suddenly has much more context for me. The scale here is absolutely amazing. The Mirage has probably 8(?) restaurants, some casual and some fine dining. Because I'm here for a conference I haven't had much time to visit anywhere else, though I had dinner last night at a local tapas place called Firefly.

I did have breakfast at the buffet this morning (my excuse is that I was running late!). It made me think of several questions I wanted to ask. Is there a difference between the staff that works in the main kitchen vs the buffet or restaurant kitchens? I saw some kitchen staff doing things behind the scenes in the buffet and I wondered if this was considered being on show and therefor regarded differently than regular kitchen duty.

I know you said that the fine dining is different and somewhat separate from the main staff. How separate? Does the main kitchen ever support them or is it held as a completely separate enterprise?

Quite a few of these mega hotel resorts seem to be owned by the same company. Are they each run as completely separate, or is there motion between the staff when hotels have the same parent company?

Thank you so much for this topic! So much fun.

There are more kitchens than you see. The Mirage has a bakeshop, a banquets kitchen, the "main" kitchen (which "cooks" the food for the buffet), an EDR kitchen, and probably others.

Fine dining is usually completely separate. Some of the fine-dining venues are part of the resort, and staffed by people like me. But there is no celebrity chef in charge of those places. They're just more upscale versions of regular casino restaurants. Usually they're staffed by master cooks.

Others -- particularly the ones with a "celebrity" name attached to it are as separate from the resort as Vatican City is from Italy. The fine dining workers must adhere to the resort's rules, but they're paid by Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, etc., and NOT by the resort. They do not want regular casino cooks in their kitchens. It's not even an option. But, casino cooks have first crack at any job openings, before the job is posted on monster.com and similar.


Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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Awesome work-logue, Scoop! You bring as much enjoyment to your readers as I'm sure you do to your diners. Keep it coming, please!

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Scoop - as a former resident of Vegas - I'm loving this!

Great writing, and love the insight into the casino food biz.

When living there I was friends with the managing chef (proper title??) of one of the 'nice' casinos. Every couple of months he'd invite a few friends for breakfast in a private room where he'd cook just for us. I took one tour of a few of the kitchens (buffet, staff kitchen, etc) and was monstrously impressed with the scale at which they produced food - astonishing, really. We were really impressed the week that the 'W' family spent wining/dining him trying to hire him for the (then new) property being built.

Keep it up, loving it! This would make a great book some day. (and I get a cut of the royalties for the suggestion, right?) ;)


PastaMeshugana

"The roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd."

"What's hunger got to do with anything?" - My Father

My eG Food Blog (2011)

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Please, when you can find some time...


Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

 

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I haven't abandoned this project -- just that things are VERY slow for the next couple weeks. I haven't been working very much. And when I am working, it's nothing anyone would want to read about. Funny/interesting/insightful only seems to happen when we're slammed.

I've been using this down time to finish up a bunch of woodworking projects. Just built an acoustic guitar, and I'm almost done with an electric guitar. I don't know how to play, but I plan on buying Rocksmith when that comes out for the PC and using that to teach myself. (I could buy the XBox version today, but that would require buying an XBox.)

I did have a nice shift with Jackie, "Could you find me a broom," on New Years Eve. We plated a couple thousand high-dollar entrees for the party. Then I drove him home so he didn't have to take the bus. And I even made it home in time to watch the fireworks from my balcony.

What I really want to write about is the sort of people who work with me at the casino -- the engineers, stewards, pit bosses, cocktail waitresses and housekeepers. But that's off topic, so I have to wait until interesting things happen in the kitchen. And lately, it's been awfully dull.


Edited by ScoopKW (log)

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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I think you should write about them! And im so insanely happy you turned me on to rocksmith. Obviously there are a lot of us who want to hear more.

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So, for the first time in my career, I cooked for a celebrity. Who? Doesn't matter. A gentleman doesn't tell.

But, since I'm no tease -- the celebrity in question came from the sports world. And every sports fan in America knows and respects this person. The dish? A very nice salad. I was working the cold line yesterday -- luck of the draw.

But other than that, it's been another boring week. I really need a banquet for 5,000 to get the blood pumping....


Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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I helped made Mariah Carey's 40 clove of roasted garlic chicken a few years ago.

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I don't know where people like Junior end up. But they aren't working in Las Vegas casinos. Not for more than one shift, at least.

They probably end up somewhere in the place I work for, ha.

Your stories are very amusing, particularly since it seems like where I work is a bit similar down to the EDR (never thought to call it that though), different dedicated kitchens and the "easy money"... They just call the birdbaths "the bowl" over here (even if it's the big square one on wheels for fruit washing and such) I'm in the bakery pk at the moment though. Ours is split; morning shift does cakes, pies, cookies, some pastry. At night we do the breads and danish.

edit; how did they get that picture on my icon...?


Edited by B trei (log)

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