Chapter 3


i had the best Saturday so far at my new job at a small upscale Italian bistro, just five minits walk from my house. at any given time we might sell foie gras, lobster, lamb, rabbit, tuna, skate, ‘organic’ cow meat with demi, lardo, imported truffles, house-made gianciale, fresh porcinis, what have you. my boss told me the limit was the sky, regarding the ingredients of my specials. we simply priced accordingly. this way i could knock out the guests who were foodies at heart, keep them coming back, and meanwhile satisfy their parties with our (more) affordable New York style pizza.

id been there two months. Friday and Saturday nights had been a challenge as we were short-staffed. the cook i replaced had been manager for years. he was masterful at each station of the kitchen, but enrolled at a cooking school to better learn the business aspect. a second guy was fixed to leave right after the summer, to do the same. thirdly, there was a pantry cook who got hired about the time i did, but got canned for hygiene.

for example, one night about an hour into dinner service, the guy used the womans restroom, located just outside the kitchen. i saw him go in. which was pretty puzzling. when he came out i asked him why on earth he did that.

his rhetorical reply: “why should i walk all the way to the back of the restaurant just to use the mens room?”

days later he grabbed a hot pan without using a potholder. a rookie move, it burned his hand good. i stood in awe as he went to the ice bin—the place where servers got the ice for peoples drinks! the guy put his fucking blister-burned paw inside the ice bin, and held it there, right on the ice like that. 

he heaved a big sigh of relief.

‘just great,’ i thot, beyond a sigh.

i emptied the bin.

i put in all new ice from the basement.

to top it off, the guy had a hacking cough. not so good for an open kitchen. he would cough, he would pick something off of the floor, hed come inside after smoking a cig, and id have to tell him over and again, to wash his hands.

“its not like ive got a lot of experience!” hed whine.

“how should i know ive gotta wash my hands?” hed whinny.

my boss made it easy for me and did the firing.

since then applicants for cooking positions had been numerous and disappointing. lets say 80 resumes came in. of them maybe 10 looked good enough to call back for an interview. of the 10 called back, 3 would actually arrive at the appointment, and of these exactly none would land or take the job. meanwhile, there were at least a dozen teenage boys employed as dishwashers or bussers. some of them displayed an aptitude and desire to move up the ranks.

the lowrearchy of most restaurants goes all the way up from dishwasheràbusser and hostàpantryà line cook and serverà managers back and frontàthe executive chef and GMßall functioning below the actual owner.

in my case the executive chef was the owner, as was his wife—both of them were owner and chef. which is just the kind of place i like to work for. it means the job is bound to be cook-friendly. the two made a masterful team. they had been cooking together for years when they took each others dare; opened their own restaurant. when they met i believe he was working under her. (it may be crass to wonder how long it took him to make certain things work on top of her). some years after opening their restaurant they got married.

i liked the couple a lot. they were compatible with each other, and i felt from the start i was a strong mixture of the sum of their parts. lifer cooks are mutable metal. after a long enough time in the force they liken to one another. usually sturdy, vain, and with that kind of Cleveland mix of underdogs who having met rock and roll for the first time are good and hooked, for lifer cooks whether they are at work or play, it is hard and fast. the three of us were decidedly lifers. plus my sun sign was her sun sign and his the same as my husbands.

as their kitchen manager my quest was putting my foot on the gas to generate new business. part of that had meant building a strong, enthusiastic staff. when old hacking cough was fired i spent a few stressful weeks doing just that.

i began training two of the young boys in the pantry. i had to do my job and theirs. it took me giving myself a good pep talk, before any weekend shift. finally, a Saturday night with one of the newbies in the pantry went smashingly. i was triumphant as the hero in an epic poem. i felt better than the taste of beer.

“fuck it, im getting out of here, try and enjoy the rest of my night,” i told the cooks with a huge smile.

normally i cleaned most of the kitchen myself. i got the guys out and off the clock, saved labor cost. closing was not an aspect of the job id so far focused my training on. but i gave them detailed instructions. i asked the front of the house manager to see that things got done and right. i made sure to clean my own station, then i penciled in the next weeks schedule for the boys, clocked the hell out and called Brian.

my phone had one blinking bar for battery so i talked fast, “hey babe wehadagreatnight finally itreallyrocked.”

“thats great. where are you?” Brian asked me.

“im in the parking lot, just got out.”

i lit a smoke.

“were you busy?”

“it had to be the busiest Saturday so far. 12 lexans or 90 pizzas, we also killed on entrees and specials. the servers made a shit-ton of money. you should have seen the amount of glass!”

we saved our wine and beer bottles to recycle at the end of the night. usually they fit inside one enormous box—an emptied case of pizza cheese. that night we had filled two cheese boxes and littered the surrounding floor.

“thats cool,” Brian started, “we got hit pretty good too.”

as i walked i eyed the picnic table in the empty dog park. it looked like a good place to sit, just take in the cool night air. i was tempted to do just that—sit and talk and finish my smoke but my phone was beeping on empty.

“well, call me in a half hour or forty,” i told Brian, loudly, “my phone is totally about to die.”

“love you,” Brian managed to get out before it did.

i put the dead phone in my purse.


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