Chapter 6 - First Big Catering
My right hand grips the hand rail while my twisted body leans over the banister, one foot balancing on the stairs and one flung in air. " Fuck you, you mother fucker, never come back here you piece of shit." The sound bouncing through the stairwell, through the kitchen and out to the dinning hall. My point made. Moments before, the rush of the service, the pressure of getting it right and a disappearing act when all hands were needed. I'm leading the banquet, my first as head chef and so far it's a miserable failure. That morning, food that should have arrived didn't, servers that should have showed up didn't. So, at 7am I started cooking. Cutting the potatoes and placing them in water as I was washing the cutlery, getting them ready for polishing and in the mean time, moving the chairs and tables around. The butterflies were doing a good job of making me feel nauseous, the half pack of cigarettes I smoked before 12pm were the only things that were keeping me sane, the only joy I was having this day. I got trapped in showing the dishwasher how to fold napkins that I forgot about the potatoes that I was blanching and soon the potatoes that should have been only slightly cooked were ready for a mash, even though they were supposed to be roasted. So back to the beginning as the clock flip passed 1pm. The 7pm deadline frozen in my mind and though I know that some relief was coming, I thought I was behind. Late. Failure. I believed that my boss was going to realize that I'm a failure and not worth the trouble.
Sweat breaking through the paper hat, I rip the hat off and throw it in the garbage as I walk towards the walk-in-fridge. There was a problem with the salad mix, so I was told and now I'm off to investigate, wondering what could possible be wrong. The boxes of mixed baby greens had just arrived the previous day and now all that was needed was a gentle wash and an even more gentle dry. But the problem. I arrived as the cook stood with several boxes ripped open and staring at the contents. I follow his eyes and see, almost liquefied greens. I had checked a few boxes of produce when the truck had came yesterday but as he told me, he was running late and knowing that there had never been a problem so I let him go and had the dishwasher put the produce away. And now seemingly routine decisions coming back to haunt me, the voice of my Chef bouncing through the emptiness of my head, "Always check the produce, each box and if the driver gives you shit, send something back just to fuck with him". But I hadn't. Now what? The cook staring at me, waiting for a answer to what he should do....the thought that I might as well go home and crawl in bed, smoke a bowl and fall asleep and try again tomorrow entered my mind. But I had worked to hard, sacrificed too much. I reached into my pant pockets and gave him a hundred dollars and told him to go to the nearest grocery store and buy as many greens as he could.
I go back through the kitchen and check on the servers in the hall. The Banquet manager, was sick and made the decision that he didn't need to be there. So, when I came to the front of the house all the servers were sitting down talking, drinking coffee. The previously washed silverware sitting there with spots and half folded napkins spread around. In an almost pleasant tone, I ask them "What the holy fuck, are they doing?" They shrug as I get them back on track. I go back to the kitchen and we start getting the food back on track. Only to be reminded that the seafood that should have arrived this morning didn't. I go the phone and call the cook that was at the grocery store and tell him to buy some seafood as well and promise to pay him back when he gets back. 4pm. I finish the first pack of cigarettes and catch my breath. Three hours and we are back on track. Feeling pretty good, I head back into the kitchen. The dishwasher comes out of the dish pit and announces that the dish-washing machine is broken. Of course it is, I laugh as I question my sanity. I check on the machine and see that the soap bucket is empty. I ask when was the last time they checked the bucket. The stare at me, blank. I soon think that maybe today I am speaking a completely different language then anyone else. I get the dishwasher to change the bucket and soon enough the dishwasher is back on and working. Easy enough fix. Easy enough that it should have been automatic.
I meet with the servers and go though the menu and their sections. 6pm. One hour. I tell the cooks that all food must be ready for 6:30 and at that time we put the food out and expect the first guests to arrive around then. So off they go. Another smoke before the big moment. As I round the corner into the kitchen I see the tray of roasted veggies fall to the ground. Stunned silence fills the entire kitchen. The cook that dropped them, puts the tray on the counter and stares at me. I think, what does he expect me to say. So I simply tell him that he's an idiot and that he should be running to the fridge to get more veggies. I get the dishwasher to sweep up the roasted, ruined veggies and toss them in the compost bin. But thankfully everything else was going along perfectly. I go to hall and check in on the servers. They are doing good, the bartenders had arrived with the booze and things were looking nice. I told them to grab some food and take a small 15min break. Arriving back in the kitchen, I see 3 busy but controlled cooks, quickly and quietly putting the finishing touches on the dishes. But there should be 4 cooks. I ask, the nearest cook, where cook #4 was? He tells me, that he was getting some food with the servers. I look at his station, hoping I was wrong but not surprised I wasn't, some veggies were cut but most weren't.
I run to the veggies, cut, peel, toss and throw into the oven. I turn the temperature up and storm off looking for cook #4. I enter the break room, he has a plastic cup in his hand, laughing with some of the servers, he has his jacket on and looks like he is about to go out for a smoke. He jumps to his feet when he sees me. I grab his plastic glass of what I hope was just soda and toss it against the wall. I yell at him that he can take off his uniform and get out of my kitchen. As he walks through the kitchen to go to the change room, he throws a bowl of salad on the floor. My brain breaks. I start to run towards him, my 100 kg frame getting ready to plant my fist into his face, he storms off and I chase him to the stairs and begin to scream. "Fuck you, you mother fucker, never come back here you piece of shit."
I go back to the kitchen, as a sever comes to let me know that some guests have arrived. I apologize. Another cook had grabbed the salad and was giving it a wash, he smiled at me and told me that she will take care of it. The rest of the night goes okay. The guests were ultimately happy, thanked me and my team at the end of service. We closed the kitchen down, everyone cleaning while I went and grabbed some beer. We toasted and laughed at the night. And soon, I sent them all home.
I sat for a while in the kitchen, reflecting on the day and enjoying the peace of the kitchen. There may be no better sound then that of a quiet kitchen at the end of a long and successful day. After a moment, I get up, my legs screaming for some rest. I grab a six pack of beer from the liquor store as I drive back to my apartment. I sit down in my favorite chair and turn on the television. Soon, I'm drifting off to sleep as Letterman's jokes become a distant sound. Still conscious enough, I smile and think, I can't wait to see what happens tomorrow.