Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Kitchen Therapy - I Finally Get a Job

I believe the Universe rewarded Cat and me for refusing to work for someone like Big Jim or the scary woman in the small, brick house, because not a week later we both got jobs. I have tried and tried to remember what Cat's job was. I can't remember with any certainty, but I think she may have worked in a skate shop or a bike shop possibly. I could be wrong, but it really doesn't matter. She got a job. I got a job.

Throughout all of this destitution and agony over finding a job, I also had a sort of boyfriend and a sort of break up. I don't write about him because we're still friends now, so I'm going to leave him out of this story as much as possible. He and I were having serious eighteen year old relationship drama at the time. I was essentially on my own, however, one weekend his parents came up to visit and his mom had a friend who lived in Atlanta. Though we were not really very together at the time, for some reason and I can't remember why, he took me with his parents to go see his mom's friend. She worked in a big, fancy hotel in the catering department, but had an administrative position. As I devoured her cheese and cracker plate, between mouthfuls, I told her how I wanted to cook and she promised to get me an entry-level position in the hotel's kitchen. This was on a Sunday.

The next day, that Monday morning, someone from the hotel's HR department called me for an interview. I took the bus to the hotel, had a brief interview in which I managed not to say anything idiotic, then filled out volumes of paperwork. The day after that they called to tell me I was hired and needed to go for a drug test and if I passed that I could come in for new hire orientation the next week and then start work. I would be making an entire $6.50 an hour. Six dollars and fifty entire cents an hour. I was going to be rich. Crazy rich. I got out a calculator and started determining how much my future paychecks would be and what I would buy with them.

Naturally, I passed my drug test, but not without much stress and anxiety over it. I believed that because my roommates smoked so much pot that it had somehow soaked into my skin and contaminated my hair and blood sort of like a contact high. I decided that if I drank a lot of water before the test that it would dilute any possible roommate, contact, drug exposure.

Then I had to go for an all day, eight hour, agonizing, worse than school, new hire orientation. It was torture. We had to do role playing exercises about sexual harassment. Then we had to fill out even more paperwork and then we had to learn about all the opulent, beautiful public places in the hotel where we were not allowed to be seen by guests. And then, because the hotel had a large number of Japanese business men as guests, we had to learn several Japanese customs and words in case we should ever encounter any of them. This made no sense to me because they had just finished telling us about how guests shouldn't see us. I think after that they gave us some sandwiches and then we filled out more paperwork. Finally, it ended and I was fitted for my uniform. I would start work the following Tuesday.

And then they showed me my schedule and I almost wished I had taken the job strutting across Big Jim's mirrored stage to Travis Tritt. I had to be at work at 7am. I worked 7 to 3. 7am in the morning!!! That was pretty close to when I usually rolled into bed and now I had to be at work. That meant I had to be up way earlier than that because I had to catch the bus and then the train and then another bus to get to the hotel. After that I had to get my uniform and go to the employee locker room to get dressed. Then I had to clock in and out before 7am with a little credit card thing they had given me. This was going to suck, I thought, but at least they were paying me $6.50 an hour to do it.

I ended up having to get up at 5:30 to catch the 5:45 bus up to the train station. The train ride was pleasant and not crowded at that hour and the bus at the other end was always on time. At least I never had to worry about clothes because my uniforms were ready for me at work each morning. At the end of my shift I just had to turn in my dirty clothes, they'd wash and press them for me and I'd pick them up the next day. That part was really easy and I liked my chef's outfit. It made me feel important. I liked my mandarin collar and my checkered pants. Since I already wore a sturdy and broken in pair of Doc Martens, I had the perfect kitchen footwear.

The hat was an issue though. The hat.

Everyone who worked in the kitchen was required to wear a ridiculous looking paper hat. The hat looked like a tall souffle dish. It was the stupidest looking and most impractical thing I had ever seen. The hats were all too big for my small head, so they would constantly slide down over my ears and into my eyes. I hated the hats. I knew I looked like an idiot wearing them. It was so bad that the Executive Chef, an old, towering Austrian man, sort of giggled when he saw me in the hat. He took my hat into his office and stapled it to make it smaller, but it was still stupid. On my first day, as I fumbled and stumbled through the kitchen trying to learn where and what everything was, I kept running into things that knocked the hat off my head. I had a hard time navigating the extra foot in height that it gave me.

I would be working at first as a prep cook in the hotel's restaurant/ room service kitchen and I would be the only girl. I was, by far, the youngest employee with the least amount of experience. My first day was spent trying to remember the names of herbs and equipment. It was like being in a foreign country where you don't speak the language.

The first word I learned was gazpacho.

The hotel's Sous Chef was in charge of the restaurant/ room service kitchen where I worked. His name was Dave and he was really nice and understanding of my overwhelming ignorance. This man's patience with me was an extraordinary act of divine grace.

"No, not chevre. This is chervil," he would say.

The first thing he taught me to make was gazpacho.

"There''s no cooking involved. It's just a lot of blending," he said.

Together we made five gallons of gazpacho and he even let me try it! I didn't think I would like something that was essentially, to me, pureed salsa, but wow. It was so much more than pureed salsa. Chef Dave even let me eat an entire bowl of it for lunch and it was then that I realized, maybe this was the job for me. There was free food. There was even a huge tray of bacon which sat under a heat lamp and whenever I wanted, Dave told me I could sneak a piece if I was hungry. I worked at a place where I could have free bacon. God loved me. We even had an employee cafeteria that had a constant stock of baked potatoes, so if I wanted a break, I could just go and have free baked potatoes whenever I wanted and I could put whatever I wanted on them. I had two on my first day, along with the bacon and gazpacho.

After Chef Dave and I finished the gazpacho and I wrote down the recipe so that I could make it on my own, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. I had made five gallons of cold tomato soup. I covered the container with plastic wrap and stood on a step stool to store it on the top shelf of the walk-in. I was already throwing around kitchen-y sounding words like walk-in.

The next thing Chef Dave wanted me to do was to pit a can of kalamata olives. But this was a tremendous can that contained at least 5,385 tiny, salty, oily, nasty purpley looking olives.

"Go into the walk-in, get the can from where it's chilling on the shelf, bring it out here and I'll show you how to pit these olives," Chef Dave said.

The walk-in was unpleasantly cold. I wondered why the olives needed to be in there in the first place. They were on the second shelf down from the top, so I had to get out the stool again and of course the gigantic can of olives was pushed all the way back almost to the wall and of course there were seventy five other things in front of them, which necessitated my having to rearrange and pull and haul and put in a ridiculous effort to get this stupid can of stupid olives off the stupid shelf. It hadn't been easy for me to lift the five gallons of gazpacho to the top shelf. It had required a small and generous act of God for me to get the gazpacho up there and somewhere in my frustration, I had decided to just half ass it and not really center the gazpacho on the top shelf or to make sure that it was steady. The jostling and shoving that I committed trying to get the olives off of the lower shelf had added to the already precarious instability of the gazpacho above me, so when I finally gave the last heave to the can of olives, I set the entire shelf a-wobble, setting off one of the largest workplace catastrophes in history.

The entire five gallon container of not-very-well-plastic-wrapped gazpacho tipped over, unleashing a deluge of spicy, cold tomato soup directly on top of my head and everything else in the walk-in. I was completely covered. It was like a vegan version of the famous scene in "Carrie" when they pour the pig blood on her. No part of my body was free of gazpacho. My entire, crisply laundered chef's uniform was red-orange. Soup soaked under the tongue and laces of my boots and squelched between my toes. The walk-in looked like a tomato terrorist had detonated a vegetable bomb.

There just isn't a word to describe how mortified I was. I knew I was getting fired, but I couldn't hide in the walk-in forever. I had to go out and face my fate and tell Chef Dave what had happened.

He looked at me and covered his mouth with his hand. He was quiet for a moment. I was crying, but you couldn't tell because the tears were obscured by soup. Chef Dave blinked a few times and continued to stand there. The other chefs came to see what had happened and all of them burst out laughing. The dishwashers rushed to me with towels for my face and hands, but that did little.

Chef Dave didn't fire me, but he made me shower and change into a fresh outfit. Then I had to clean the walk-in, which was cold and miserable. I had to take every single thing out, wipe down every surface, mop and scrub. It took hours. Three 'o' clock came and went and I was nowhere near going home. Once I had it spotless I thought I could go home, but Chef Dave informed me that he still needed the olives pitted and that I would have to make a new vat of gazpacho. I made it home after eight pm. On my first day I had worked thirteen hours and had eaten probably an equal number of bacon slices.

And I had to be there to do it all over again at 7 the next morning.



EvaMaRie said...

Will you post the gazpacho recipe?

MtnMama said...

No, I still think that was much better than dancing for Big Jim! ;)

gcbron said...

Congratulations on landing a job!

Great story, very funny. I love the part about free bacon.

dee said...

i'm glad they had a sense of humor about it all. you had me at free bacon. bacon = love.

(i hope this comment only shows up once, instead of the 10 times i just messed it up.)

BoB said...

it's like a baptism by anti-fire

Jean_Phx said...

Boy, you could feel the gazpacho coming down on you! I hate to laugh but having worked in kitchens - I bet they were crying also ;-)

Albany Jane said...

Yikes, what a first day! The chefs here sound really nice though.

I am imagining gazpacho-y doc martens for a while tho, no?

Anonymous said...

Thats just a precious story.
Lil skraps

Anonymous said...

The worst kitchen mess I ever made:

The last restaurant I worked at had a dry stock room and in this stock room there were giant boxes of wine. One red, one white. Imagine the box of Franzia you buy and multiply it by about a million and this is the giant box of wine. I went to open a new box, having never done so before, and instead of simply opening the little spout, I removed it and five gallons of red wine came shooting out all over me, my crisp white chef's jacket, into my shoes, all over my face and hair, all over the floor and walls and into a container filled with rice. I learned that day that red wine will stain blonde hair.

Sadi said...

I love the way you tell a story. I worked in a hotel office years ago, and part of my job was doing inventory with the chef once a month.

Those walk ins ARE cold! We had a walk in freezer located outside the back of the kitchen, and once we had to do inventory in 30 below weather (I live in WI). We closed the freezer door to keep warm. BRRR!!

I loved the free bacon too!

booda baby said...

I LOVE a story when I'm actually FEELING your pain (and laughing, too.)

Laurie said...

What a life you have! And I totally agree about the bacon. I work in a kitchen too, and we have a walk in fridge and a walk in freezer. I'm always afraid one of us is going to get stuck in the freezer (the door closes behind you when you're in there if you don't prop it) and end up like Lucy Ricardo. At least that never happened to you....or has it?? Nothing would surprise me. Can't wait for more of this story!

Ordinary Housewife said...

That's hilarious. You're hilarious.

mcgrimus said...

Could have been worse. You could have worked for Big Jim cleaning up guyzpacho, if you know what I mean.

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