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


ScoopKW
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  • 1 year later...
  • 2 years later...
On 9/26/2011 at 11:42 AM, ScoopKW said:

Roughly 30% of them have an advanced degree -- one that isn't conducive to employment. Like philosophy. "I thought I could teach philosophy," they'll tell you. "Didn't work out. Here I am."

Other cooks are quite wealthy, and cook anyway. There's one guy in the main kitchen who rents his 30-something houses to coworkers. "I only rent to coworkers," he told me. "If they get fired, they get evicted. If they [censor] up my place, I'll find them and beat the [censored] out of them."

 

Epilogue: 10 years later

 

So, the underlined text turned out to be the most important part of this story -- for me at least.

"Jackie," who is a real person with a real PhD (in a subject that is hard to convert into employment), really does own a lot of rental properties. Last time I saw him, prior to the pandemic, he was up to above 60 rentals. And was still working in a Las Vegas casino kitchen, bouncing around from kitchen to kitchen. With the average price of a house in Las Vegas, he's worth north of $20 million -- and still making food for tourists. At least he was a few years ago.

One evening, standing around in the EDR on a very, very slow night, Jackie and I got to talking about his real estate empire. He told me how he got started; how things snowballed; and potential problems.

"I've explained this at least 100 times. Nobody has ever picked up the baton and run with it."

I started doing the same thing, but on a much smaller scale. The reason I dropped offline entirely was to concentrate on building my own little rental empire. That worked out quite well. But it's a boring subject. Back to the casinos.

After accepting a position in a kitchen run by a celebrity chef who everyone knows, I got my ass handed to me, but good, five and six days a week, 10 hours a day. (And still I woke up in the morning and dealt with loan officers at banks and similar.) We pumped out 500 fine-dining covers on an average night. And 800 on a crazy night.

Unlike the casino proper, the fine dining establishments don't care about overtime. They're selling $5,000 bottles of wine to retired athletes. My overtime wasn't so much as a blip on the radar. A whale could make a reservation two hours after we closed. And half of us would have to stand there, waiting for this whale to show up. Because who knows how much expensive alcohol this whale might buy. I saw guest checks which ran into the six-figures -- big party with lots of pricey wine. Magnums of vintage champagne add up fast in Las Vegas.

I worked this kitchen for two years. And then, suddenly, it ceased to be fun. The head chef left and started his own off-Strip restaurant. (Two years after that, he had a heart attack on the pass line at his place and died in his own kitchen. He was 10 years younger than me. But he looked 10 years older.) The new exec and I didn't get along. And I was "married" to a coworker on my line who was incompetent. So I was doing two jobs all night. I finally left that kitchen to go open a new kitchen for another celebrity chef. I lasted all of 15 minutes after that place opened. (An exaggeration, but barely.) That chef was crazy. The kind of chef who throws things.

Since by then I was a known quantity, I took a job at yet another well-known Strip restaurant. This time, they kept me on long enough to send every other cook and chef on vacation. And then let me go. Apparently this is something they did every year. Frankly, I didn't mind. Because when I left, I knew all their recipes. And that was the goal from the start.

Finally, I went to yet another resort and ended up right back where I started -- a cook's helper. It turns out that bouncing around from kitchen to kitchen like a pinball is better than staying in one kitchen. There is always some level of bull [excrement] to deal with -- whether it be an annoying co-worker, or a crazy chef, or a kitchen that was set up by an architect who never spent a minute in a kitchen. At least I was never in any one place for more than a week or so.

Meanwhile, I kept working Jackie's real estate plan.

In 2018, during the big Kilauea eruption on Hawaii, I flew to Kailua-Kona and purchased a coffee farm. For a couple years, I was back-and-forth between Las Vegas and Hawaii, cooking less and less, and farming more and more. I'm here full-time now, I'm more a lumberjack than cook these days. My wife, who is still under contract with another Las Vegas company, has a few more months before she can flip them the bird and join me. I'll fly to Las Vegas for the very last time; pack our things into a shipping container; and leave Las Vegas for good. Soon, I plan on offering cooking classes on the Big Island of Hawaii -- how to cook local dishes.

So, in retrospect:

1) For the right sort of person, cooking at a big resort can be a rewarding, fairly lucrative career. I never had any money problems when I worked there. I ate at least one free meal per day at work. Our household costs were low. Our combined income was decent. We spent next to nothing and just worked our financial plan. Many, many couples do this -- and then save up enough to open their own place. Some make four or five goes at it before finding something which works.

2) For the wrong sort of person, Las Vegas is a pit of addiction. I knew a bunch of people who blew almost the entirety of their pay on gambling habits, substance habits, or buying toys which don't last. For instance, "Sure I spent the down payment on a tattoo. But this tattoo will be with me for life!" Half the casino kitchens have that one guy who is working way, way, way past retirement age. He keeps working because he has no other options -- the sad result of a life, squandered. Many of those are still chasing that "big, big score" at the tables, or a Football parlay or similar.

3) Celebrity chefs -- they are nothing like their persona on TV. Except for Hubert Keller, who is PRECISELY the way he appears. The grouchy, swearing chefs are teddy bears in their own kitchen. And the mild-mannered ones are/were tyrants. (Lookin' straight at you, Mario Batali.) I stopped caring about celebrity chefs because more than anything, they got lucky. There are loads of better chefs who don't get the public adoration because they aren't telegenic. They're sending better food across the pass line -- that's all that matters.



I'll keep an eye on this thread and answer any questions. But I'm a couple years out of the business now. I will post about my coffee farm in the coffee forum. This farm is my last big project.


 

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Great story especially if it's all true!

 

Congrats. And yeah on Batali.

 

FWIW, I was watching a piece on a comic who had a gambling addiction - worse than almost any other, and yet here we are, legalized gambling on your phones!

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Scoop! Great to hear from you again. Glad things have progressed well for you. Your stories are much appreciated. Good luck with the coffee (who do you sell your berries to?) and the teaching gig. There's always room for more teachers.

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Great stuff. I've wondered where you went. I'm really looking forward to updates from Hawaii. 

 

Of course I'd love to hear which famous chefs are shits. Just initials perhaps?

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11 minutes ago, gfweb said:

Of course I'd love to hear which famous chefs are shits. Just initials perhaps?


Can't do it. Thankfully, I don't have to. The ones who aren't even 1/10th of the person they portray on TV tend to run afoul of the law -- things like stealing tips from employees, sexual harassment, assault and similar.

For instance, I worked for a crazy chef who threw things. He also couldn't expedite to save his life. He screwed up when he fired half a dozen tickets, thinking he had fired seven but only fired six. So he was waiting for an entire table of entrees that nobody was working on. And when he realized nobody was working on the entrees, he grabbed a plate and threw it at a cook.

This cook was a nationally-ranked frisbee golf player. He caught the plate and threw it back at the chef -- direct hit. The chef was knocked out. The plate shattered against the pass line after clocking chef in the head -- ruining two complete stations full of mise and every bit of garnish on the pass line.

The entire kitchen had to be shut down, while we threw away absolutely everything which could have been contaminated by flying shards of porcelain. The chef finally came to, and started screaming for police, terminations, lawsuits and similar. Too bad his little tantrum was recorded on camera. He was encouraged to take a position at another restaurant.

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Thanks so much for this!  I really enjoyed reading about this. Once the farm is stable and running, ever consider writing a book of your memoirs?  You've got a great writing style.

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On 6/15/2022 at 4:04 PM, ScoopKona said:

3) Celebrity chefs -- they are nothing like their persona on TV. Except for Hubert Keller, who is PRECISELY the way he appears. The grouchy, swearing chefs are teddy bears in their own kitchen. And the mild-mannered ones are/were tyrants. (Lookin' straight at you, Mario Batali.) I stopped caring about celebrity chefs because more than anything, they got lucky. There are loads of better chefs who don't get the public adoration because they aren't telegenic. They're sending better food across the pass line -- that's all that matters.


 

 

I hope I am reading you correctly on this.  I have watched him on TV a lot and I always thought he was a very down-to-earth person. I enjoyed his shows and travels - and I loved that he rides a Harley

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On 6/22/2022 at 11:26 AM, dans said:

 

I hope I am reading you correctly on this.  I have watched him on TV a lot and I always thought he was a very down-to-earth person. I enjoyed his shows and travels - and I loved that he rides a Harley

 

I never worked in one of his kitchens. But I worked next door and saw him CONSTANTLY. The casino kitchens do quite a bit of borrowing from each other. "We're out of foie -- see if Fleur can spare a lobe."

Hubert bounces back and forth between his California and Nevada restaurants. Out of all the celebrity chefs, a diner is more likely to have Hubert overseeing the kitchen than anyone other place -- because he's going to be in ONE of his places almost every night.

The first thing he does is go to each station and shake everyone's hand, thanking them for working -- starting with the dish pit. I've seen him expo. He's good at it. There are a great many chefs who really, really suck at expediting.

The celebrity chef I worked for was almost NEVER around. Maybe once a year. And even then, he was an enormous ass. I couldn't wait for him to leave. I worked at that place for a few years and he never knew my name. Hubert had a warm greeting for me down in the bowels of the casino -- even though I never worked for the guy.

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