Friday, March 04, 2005

Our Drunken Chef

At my restaurant, we have a chef (this is part of being a worth-your-salt restaurant, having a chef kinda makes things seem more official), and my chef turns out to be an older lady, something around 60+ years old. When I asked her where she went to culinary school, the answer was "I'm self-taught."

Now, this lady is talented; she makes some damn good food, and her recipes are hella good; otherwise, the restaurant would have crashed and burned, rather than turned into the gleaming beacon of good, eclectic food that it is now.

Anyway, one thing that she's not talented at is keeping herself off the fucking cooking line. Another thing she's not good at is staying away from the goddamn night crew. There's two shifts at the restauraunt; lunch, when she works in the back from 8am-2pm, and a day crew makes the lunch food to order, then there's the night crew that's been doing their thing for 5 years now without her supervision, but with the supervision of one of the owners. Anyway, every once in a while, she'll decide to stay past 2pm and harass us cooks and sous-chef's while we're trying to make food.

Add to this her post-work drinking. This lady orders extra boxes of wine (BOXES!! Woman, get some taste!) that she claims she's going to use for some sort of steak sauce or stew or god knows what. Anyway, about two boxes of the stuff comes in every week, and sure enough, they're used, but definitely not on restaurant business, and the next week we get the same two boxes.

So she'll have a few glasses right after work, when the restaurant closes after the lunch shift (2pm) then she'll keep steady until I show up for work (3pm), she'll sit at the bar and gripe to whoever's there for a while, then once the tickets start flowing in steadily, she'll launch her campaign.

With one hand grasping her wine glass, which given it's size is really a punch bowl attached to a glass stem, she'll stumble back to the kitchen and start griping.

"You call that thinly sliced??"
"Are you sure that's mid-rare!?"
"NO! Don't do it that way!"

The harassment will roll on for an hour, then another hour, and we'll all sweat under her glare and complaints, then we'll get angry, at her, and start taking it out on the food, meticulously spending ten minutes on a single salad so she can see the effects of her inspection on the overall quality of service in the restaurant.

Then she'll complain that nobody loves her, because it's true, we all hate your fucking guts when you get in our way.

Then she'll go up to the bar and drink and drink and drink, because nobody loves her.

Then she'll start griping to customers, and that's really where we'd like to stop it, because it's fucked up that customers have to deal with drunk employees...but whoops, you really can't throw a chef out of her own restaurant.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Jackass Cooks

So line cooks have to work together, and we often have cramped conditions - the space I work in is basically a hallway lined on one side with stoves, burners, ovens, friers, a pizza oven, and on the other side of the hall way (also known as the cooking line) are a series of small refrigerators (reachins) and prep tables, which are basically tables with containers for food lining the surface, a cutting area, and all this is on top of a reachin that keeps everything cold. We also have soup-warmers, microwaves, stuff like that lining the prep side of the cooking line, and of course, like every restaraunt, we have a window through which we pass food to the servers.

With this background, you should know that there's a space of maybe 2 1/2 feet between one side of the line and the other side - it's pretty cramped. Saturday night, it's a rush, and I'm working as hard as I can. For one of the dishes I had to prepare, I needed a saute pan and a single good burner; our kitchen has two rows of 4 burners, and the burner closest to my station creates a tiny flame. Anyway, I pop a saute pan onto a good burner, throw some sesame oil in it and let it heat up.

Then this cook (we'll call her T) turns on the crappy burner, moves my pan to that burner, and puts an empty pan on my old flame. Ok, rude, but I can be rude back. I move her empty pan back to the back of the stove and plop my pan back down, and throw some food in the hot oil. I run to the back while my food is cooking, and come back to discover an empty pan on my burner and my burner sitting on top of an oven.

Now when you need a burner, that's one thing, but when you don't, it's another thing. It's payback time.

T runs to the back for a few minutes - to prep something, touch herself, who knows what. It's an opportunity.

First I get a can of spray-grease; it's a mix of oil and margarine that you spray on broiler pans so things don't stick to them. Then out of the maybe 15 pairs of tongs in the kitchen, I collect 13 and hide them. I grease the last two and leave them for T.

I open her ovens and sort her food around, switching all the raw food into the cold spots of the oven, then move the ready-to-serve food to the hot spots. What needs to go out now is burning, and what needs to cook quickly is sitting in a lukewarm pool of air in the corner of the oven.

T opens the oven, stares at her disorganized muddle of broiler pans and burning food. She grabs the tongs, they jump out of her hands. She searches around, grabs the second pair of tongs. They jump too. I lean up against an oven and offer a pair of small tongs and wink at her.

Fuck with me, and I'll fuck with you're job bitch.

Friday, February 25, 2005

A Day In The Life...

Every once in a while, someone asks me what I actually do, as if I stand around and jerk off all day long. It's like that interview in the movie Office Space; what do you actually DO??

I figured I'd drop a list of things that I do in a given day, in rough chronological order at the restaraunt. Remember that what I do is dependant on the tickets I get once the restaraunt opens, for the most part.

1. I show up three hours before opening. Some days my boss buys us lunch and we stand around (getting paid) for half an hour or so, then I actually get to work.
2. I look at the reservations book, then at all the product (food, we call unprepared food "product "so that we feel more important), then I make a determination of how much food I need to "prep", or prepare. Some stuck up cooks call this "mise en place" or some shit like that, I've never heard anyone use the phrase though.
3. I prepare most of this food; some of it is making a dressing and filling a squeeze bottle with some of it for use on the line (cooking line). Some is just slicing vegetables, some is cooking up a sauce or something like that.
4. Towards the end of the prep shift, before the restaraunt opens, I'll cook time-sensitive things; if it has to be kept hot, I'll prep it up last, as a general rule of thumb. Bread, for example, is baked in advance, then heated up again before the shift starts.
5. I handle orders, take care of prepping something if it runs out, cooking things as quickly as possible.
6. The shitty part of the night starts about 1 1/2 hours before we close; I sweep and mop the deck, clean all appliances, sometimes I change the oil (if I didn't at the start of the shift) in any fryer we haven't changed in a bit, wipe, wipe, wipe, wrap food that can be used the next day, and turn off all the ovens and whatnot.

That's a day at the restaraunt. It's easy to pack a 9 hour shift into that little space of time, but to actually work for those hours is a little mind-numbing, and depending on how busy it is, it can be pretty stressful or tiring.

Questions? Comments? Go ahead, rip it apart.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Outback Steakhouse

People say I badmouth Outback Steakhouse a lot.

I do.

Probably because I got fired from Outback Steakhouse; I have to admit, it was one of my funnier experiences in life, getting fired. My friend K and I worked at OBS together as cooks; he saute'd and I grilled, and we were a wicked pair. When I was promoted to grillcook, a certain manager by the name of D was opposed to it for the reason that I was a smartass. He'd find reasons to yell at me, bitch me out, or have me do mundane tasks for his own personal amusement. One of his favorites was to have me work as a dishwasher for a shift a week. I always wondered what they achieved by paying me $10.50 to wash dishes from 3pm to 2am. Whatever.

Anyway, K would always peek his head over D's shoulder while I was getting yelled at and make a funny face, one you just can't not laugh at - so while I was getting chewed out, I'd bust out a smirk, a tight-lipped smile, then a grin, then I'd double over like a fucking chucklehead while I got chewed out for "not taking things seriously, like right now goddamnit, stop laughing!"

One day I tried it on K when he was getting chewed out, I popped my head over D's shoulder, opened my mouth, stuck my thumbs in my ears, and waggled my fingers. Irresistable. K doubles up and laughs.

D turns around and says "Did you just make a fucking face?"
I grin and smirk at K. Payback in a friendly way, eh?
D twists around to look at K: "Lie to me and I'll fire you right now, did he make a goddamn face?"
D didn't even wait for a second before turning to me and saying "That's it, you're done with Outback Steakhouse, go home right this second."

That being said, I walked into my current restaraunt the next day, talked to the Chef, and went to work the following monday. Why'd they hire me?

I told them the honest to god truth about getting fired from Outback, and they decided that honesty was a virtue solid enough to use as a basis to hire me. And here I am now.

That being said, Outback Steakhouse produces some good tasting food and has massive portions. I'd say 4 times out of 5, nothing objectionable (to most people, who knows, I'd eat dirt off the ground myself) has happened to your food.

On the shitty side, the quality of service at Outback sucks and it's basically a dark, loud fast food restaraunt where the cashier comes to your table. I'm not allowed back because the last time I went back, K used his employee discount to get me a 50% off meal -a considerable slap in the face to his bosses - and I stole 9 rolls of silverware.

New Cooks

I've gotten a few emails from new cooks - they're asking what to do, because they're new.

Let's be honest; I've got more than a few beers in me; the only reason I can type straight is my roommate and three years of computer science in college.

Anyway, one tip I'd like to extend to new line cooks is this; figure out the situation with 'rags' at your new restaraunt. I worked at Quiznos for a year; they bleach their rags once an hour. 5 rags per shift, they deal pretty well (unless you eat there; oops. I still prefer the turkey-bacon-guacamole). Anyway, Outback gives you roughly four rags a night, for 9 hours of having a full grill - let's understate and say "under-provided". My current job gives me whatever I want, more like 10 a night - they're awesome. Anyway, four rags gives me time to wipe my station once every two hours, so let's hope your customer-ass was there at the right time, or just didn't order prime rib.

My tip to new cooks is this: go to your mgnt or head cook and say "hey can I get the keys to the (insert name to rag closet here)" and go snag 2x however many rags you need.

Anyway, Outback will give you the dirtiest rags to work with, so don't even try, but another restaraunt will be impressed by you cleaning the dirtiest piece of equipmient anwyay.

Friday, February 18, 2005

The Floor & Your Food

When I tell people "I work as a cook", the first question out of their mouths is usually something to the order of "Have you ever dropped food on the floor, then put it on a plate?"

Sadly enough, the answer is yes.

In my days at Outback Steakhouse, there was a point where I was training on the grill station, the highest station you can work on the 'cooking line'. Grill is where all the steak, lobster, and burgers are cooked. It's tough - you can have more than a hundred steaks, from rare to well done, starting at different times, all on the grill at once. The hardest part is sending a steak out and making sure that it's "seared on the outside, pink on the border, red in the middle, and cool at the center." That's mid-rare for Outback. How you're supposed to figure that out, who knows, but practice works pretty well.

In my first week training, I remember calling my manager over, picking up a steak with the tongs, holding it up to him and saying "Does this look mid-rare to you?" and then dropping it on the ground (accidentally, obviously.)

We both stared at the steak lying on the floor - a $19 filet, 9 ounces.

I reached for my standby fridge to get a new one.

My manager reached for the steak.

He grabbed it with his hands, threw it on the grill, flipped it after three seconds - at most - and then whipped it onto a plate and out to the servers.

Have I ever served food off the floor? I guess the answer would have to be yes then.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Waitresses

The restaraunt I work at now, for some obscure reason, does not hire male waiters. Hence, all our wait staff, including hostesses (who double as busgirls, because they walk back and forth so much) are female. It never suprises me how much drama occurs on the waitstaff and how much backstabbing goes on. It's not a problem when it stays in the FOH (Front of the House), but when waitresses bring it to the back of the house and start griping at us cooks, it's done for.

There's very few things a waitress can do to shaft their tips in the long term worse than arguing with a cook. Think of the last bad restaraunt experience someone told you about. It probably starts with "And it took us x minutes to get our drinks, then another y minutes to get our food!".

The other day a bartender came back to the kitchen, looks over the window at myself and two other cooks and says in a loud, bossy voice:
"Does anyone back there ever read the tickets goddamnit?"
then continued:
"I put in an order and made a note: 'light cheese' and there was extra cheese, I put another order in, 'extra soba noodles' and there were barely any in the salad! I write these things for a REASON!"

Darling, it wasn't a busy night. We weren't rushing. I made your food while my two cohorts watched me, and I put light cheese on your gourmet pizza, then looked at the other two cooks, who both nodded, and then I cooked your fucking pizza. We all agree; it had very little cheese on it. If you really want a bare sprinkling of cheese, come back and tell us, take a second our of your oh-so-busy day at the bar that served less than 40 customers all night and tell us what the deal it.

And as for your noodles, we put extra noodles in, that food was for an employee anyway, and she probably didn't pay for it.

Now that I've justified myself as being right, which the cook is (almost always), I'd like to apologize for dropping your desserts on the floor so that I had to remake them and double the time it took for them to get out.

I'd like to apologize for losing several of your tickets, especially the ones for rush food; sometimes they just fall behind the oven and it's just so hard to tell how they got there.

Those tickets that got through to me though, I kept them all together in a special place, at the end of the line.

The next time you feel like griping, you can go fuck yourself unless you have good reason to gripe, and if you want your orders truly special, deliver them yourself instead of foisting them off onto the busgirl loaded with dishes coming back to the kitchen.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Corporate vs. Private

The restaraunt I work in now is a private restaraunt, a one-of-a-kind enterprise. There's no chain associated with it, there's no company holding this one down along with two or three other specialty restaraunts. This one is owned by a family and run fairly well. The last restaraunt I worked in was a chain (Outback Steakhouse). Before Outback, I'd worked in a multitude of restaraunts, fast food, private, and otherwise, and in the last five years I've pulled together a series of comparisons between corporate line cooks and private ones.

1. Corporate cooks show up ten minutes early for work, or more, and start work immediately, because they know the corporation is too cheap to pay for enough cooks to do the work in the time allotted. Private cooks show up and have enough time.

2. Corporate cooks have little or no motivation to help their teammates. Private cooks realize that business can actually suffer from poor ticket times and low quality food can actually drive customers away.

3. I've never worked at a corporate restaraunt where everyone was fluent in english; I've never worked at a private one where the line cooks couldn't find a way to communicate properly. Go figure.

4. Private cooks enjoy their work more, corporate cooks are constantly griping about how their jobs suck. Probably because I get free drinks at the end of my shift and they don't. Or I get time off when I want or need it. Or my owners will give me a interest-free loan if I need it. And let me pay it back on my own schedule. Corporate cooks might make a buck an hour more, but it's not worth it.

5. Private cooks can suggest something be done and it can be integrated into the main plan - at a corporate restaraunt, there's always some policy out there to shaft you.

Let's get blogging!

Allright, let's get it straight - I do read Waiter Rant, and I do believe it's probably one of the best blogs out there for a bunch of reasons. Firstly, it stays on topic, and secondly, when he does write, it's damn good writing.

I'm basing my blog off what The Waiter has written, except that this time, it comes from the other side of the kitchen. I work in a classy, but not exclusive restaraunt in Norfolk, VA. We have a chef and a menu that's rather eclectic, and the food is damn good as well as the service. I just figured the world might want a little insight from the real powerhouse in any restaraunt.