I don’t know who to blame, but somewhere between the Frugal Gourmet being a nerd in a studio kitchen, and Anthony Bourdain glorifying the gritty back-of-the-house, and Gordon Ramsey turning cooking into a competition, my blue-collar industry became one horribly misinterpreted as one of glamour and romance. Twenty years ago the people I interviewed for line cook positions were, well, line cooks. They slept until 1 pm, worked on their feet for ten hours in a kitchen that topped 120 degrees and left with salt stains on their shirts to drink until the wee hours, collapse and get up at 1 again the next day. Now I interview people who’ve never set foot in a restaurant kitchen who’ve gone to a thirty or forty thousand dollar cooking school, only to discover that they’re deeply in debt, they hate the work and they thought they’d be tasting sauces and deciding how to present their lamb chops, but instead they’re wrapping snow peas around shrimp for five hours at a go.
I’m grateful that I got into restaurants by mistake, as I had no preconceived notion given to me by television. When I started in the hashslinging biz, it was understood that the floor mopping, the garbage toting, and the grease trap scooping were as integral to my position as any cooking I might do during the evening. Today is a day like that. the most glamourous part of my job today has been the cheer that went up in the kitchen when the new water heater was connected and fired up, and I have to say, it was better than any sauce tasting or lamb chop plating. I’m ultimately a line cook; I just needed to learn that people don’t go out to eat solely for the food- they want a nice dining room, top-notch service, and to be recognized and appreciated for their half of the agreement we all make when they come trade their hard-earned money for the food and drink we’ve imbued with our own hard work.
Oh, that water heater. There are actually two of them, and they’re tankless. They’re pristine, and one feeds into the other, giving us piping hot water he second we ask for it with the turn of a tap handle- ANY tap handle in the restaurant- and the line cook in me is rolling around in it like the dogs my friends bring over to roll around on the patch of grass in the back yard: with euphoric exultation and reckless abandon.
No longer will be boil water to do our dishes. We’ll live like Roman emperors, or pro basketball players, or fictional characters.
And we’ll be back on task. The water heater replacement feels amazing today, but within days, it will be like getting new tires, or a new roof- something we spent more than we wanted on because we knew we were in desperate need, but in the end, it fades into the background and we feel the belated financial pinch when the credit card bill comes due, and all we have to show for it is the thing we take for granted ninety percent of the time anyway.
What, you ask, is back on task? Why, it’s preparation- the Passover food for this weekend (sorry, the order cutoff was yesterday, but you can call in a couple of days to see what we’ve overprepped. I do promise matzo ball soup regardless what’s been ordered. It’s also preparation of the Easter menu
and the wine tastings we have coming up this weekend, one on Saturday
and one on Sunday ( I also promise to have the heating instructions for the food pairings done tomorrow if not today)
and prepping for our upcoming benefit event for Child & Family Resources, over which I’m quietly salivating in the office, half over the wines and half over the food
and lining up speakers for all of it. There’s also squaring away the logistics for our upcoming donation run to the Primavera Men’s Shelter
and one after that to the staff at Banner’s Crisis Response Center, a donated meal run we’re doing in conjunction with the Tucson Covid Healthcare Heroes Meal Drive, who’s doing pretty much what we’ve been doing throughout the pandemic, but with dozens, if not scores, of local restaurants for local front line healthcare workers. I’ll post more about that one as the details are worked out, but here’s what they do:
And the new menu- if you ever thought the restaurant business was all sauce-tasting and lambchop-plating, you’ve obviously never felt the stress of coming up with eight or ten new menu items at the last possible minute every month for 19-plus years. And we’re off.