In the spirit of Chef, food connoisseur, and celebrated author of ‘Kitchen Confidential’ Anthony Bourdain, I have decided to dedicate todays blog post to my most recent ‘Kitchen Nightmare’. The stories are REAL, the people are REAL…..the emotional scarring is FINAL!
Get your knives out Mother Fuckers…..shit is heating up!
Firstly, most Australians are familiar with the job site seek.com…. and for me, this is essentially where all the madness I am about to unfold began. I honestly feel I should take civil action against seek.com for the gross misrepresentation contained in its filthy pages of so called ‘dream jobs’. Lies I tell you, all lies!
For anyone who has ever worked in the food services industry, wording such as ‘Great team’, ‘No Weekends’, ‘No Nights’ is extremely alluring. Unfortunately, as is often the case with so many things in life, the reality is much different! What these terms ACTUALLY mean is ‘Shit team’, ‘No Breaks’ and ‘Fuck all sleep’! And whilst deep down I wanted to believe that there was actually a job out there which offered this ‘pot of gold’ situation….the closest I ever came to the end of the rainbow, was being fucked in the arse by an Italian leprechaun! Fiddly dee potatoes Giuseppe!
Whilst I make no claim that my cooking skills are worthy of adoration, during my working career I have had the opportunity to work with some fantatsic chefs, and be part of some wonderful food. I have worked alongside Chefs who have have cooked for the Queen, Marco Pierre White, Bono…..run Restaurants for Maggie Beer and Simon Bryant….well you get the Idea. And again, whilst I make no false claim regarding my AVERAGE cooking abilities, I have had the opportunity to be part of some very nice food, working with VERY inspiring people….and if you have ever worked in a kitchen, you will know this quality lifts your performance immensely!
During my own culinary journey, I have had the fortune to do some pretty cool shit! I have been part of backstage catering for U2 and Kanye, Tool, Big Day Out, AC/DC …..Ive worked at Mafia weddings, helped run corporate boxes at Tennis Championships and Motor Racing events, i’ve done remote mine site catering, 3 course dinners for 5 to 1000 people….all in all, not too bad for someone who has turned down 3 cooking apprenticeships!
So bearing my previous experience in mind, I guess I automatically assumed I ‘had what it takes’ to make sandwiches…..but we all know what they say about assumptions right? Idiot!
(Beetroot Salmon Gravlax – a great cold entree for dinner parties- and it tastes fucking amazing!! Just one dish we did for a 1000 person dinner, drizzled with a lemon oil dressing and a frisee citrus salad – stick that up your sandwich bar!)
‘Enter the Café’
I knew as soon as I met the proprietor of the Café in question, Giuseppe, that this was potentially going to be a fucking nightmare! His ‘Rock Star’ attitude and over priced Bagels should have been an indication as to what kind of madness I was getting myself into…..but to be honest, the whole time he was talking, all I kept saying in my head was “A-Pepe, go for the face-a”
Now, when “A-Pepe, go for the face-a” didn’t call me back regarding the job, I have to say I was secretly relieved! After all, was this the sort of thing my ‘career’ actually needed right now? Plus, even when I met him to discuss the position, there was another guy ‘trialing’ already…..which immediately made my spider senses tingle…
I am not sure what it is with fucking Italians, but they love the ‘trial shift’. When I was a youngster, I worked for an Italian….and for the weeks worth of ‘Trialing’ I did, he ‘paid’ me 2 pizza bases and a bottle of Chinotto! Cheap fucker! I show you how- you-a scum!
trialing – present participle of tri·al (Verb)
Days passed and “A-Pepe, go for the face-a” still hadn’t called, so I assumed he had found a more suitable candidate for the position….and then I received a message. The message was direct, asking if I was still looking for work – there was no name on the message (like I should have just known who it was due to his level of importance)….This was also at 6:24 am on a Monday morning, asking if I could start tomorrow – For a ‘trial shift’. And because I’m a fucking idiot, I “went for the face-a!”
However, being the diligent employee I am, I arrived 20 minutes early to get a ‘vibe’ for the place and show that I was keen to make a go of things. My keenness and willingness to please lasted approximately 12 minutes – precisely the amount of time it took for me a be schooled in the art of tomato placement!
“Don’t put so much tomato on there – are you trying to send us broke?” the crazy woman yelled….
Yes. Yes, I was! If there is one thing I have learnt in all of my years of catering, it is that nothing, and I mean NOTHING sends family run business’s down the slippery slope of financial decline faster that putting 3 slices of tomato on a fucking sandwich!
‘Ok, ok….you had me at hello” I replied. Fuck! It was at this point I knew it was going to be a LONG day……
After that, I pretty much stopped trying….and I mean, I was operating at about 30%. If you wanna play this game I thought, I’ll play my own. When you work in kitchens, you develop gears – and when the shit hits the fan, you always find another gear; unless you switch off the motor (which is exactly what I did!)
The technical term for this is called ‘taking the piss’. “A-Pepe, go for the face-a!”
So the sandwiches continued, and I just puttered along contemplating what I had done to deserve ending up here. Had I wronged someone in a previous life? As far as I’m concerned I’m not THAT bad of a guy….Iv’e even made a citizens arrest of a guy who robbed a blind woman….I’m like BATMAN for fucks sake, how the hell did I end up in this asylum? And before I knew it, it was time to move onto peeling fruit….Uh Oh!
It truly is a test of character to be berated for performing a task the way it is supposed to be done. I have honestly lost count of how many fruit platters I have made in my time, but let me just say – this aint my first rodeo! But hey, there I was being told how it should be done….and then I showed her my way/ the correct way….and she starting ranting like a fucking lunatic! She was literally shaking with rage as she belittled me for not having, as she put it – ‘Italian motor skills’. As soon as she said that, I absolutely LOST MY SHIT! It was honestly one of the funniest things I had ever heard, and I laughed sooo hard in her face that I swear she could have smelt the gingivitis around my incisors!!
Now, I am almost certain that no one that has ever worked with this woman has ever done this to her. She is the typical Italian dictator – runs her environment with an iron fist and motivates her staff with fear! So I decided to put this bitch back in her box!
“What a crock of shit! Take it easy Mussolini – I really don’t give a fuck you know -I’ll do it your way if you want. Fucking hell, I can see why you guys joined the Germans during the war…Fascist” I yelled at her.
(Above – Benito Mussolini – A top Bloke!)
Things went a little quiet in the kitchen after that, but I think I got my point across. That public speaking course really paid off after all!
“I’d like to thank baby Jesus,my parents, all the members of the academy….”
Things continued along in this manner for the rest of the shift; too much lettuce, not enough lettuce etc… and when Hitler left the room, I casually said to the other girl I worked with – “Wow! Iv’e worked for megalomaniacs before, but this is off the hook!”
“What’s that?” she replied timidly, all doe eyed and looking on the verge of tears.
“Never mind” I responded, instead choosing to focus on taking deep breaths and slowing down my work pace as I whistled the Godfather theme song. “And may your first child be a masculine child” I said aloud before bursting into laughter…..this chick thought I was fucking crazy!
So, I guess part of me died that day (the part of me where I kept my dignity), and believe it or not; I turned up to work the next day to do it all again! What a fucking masochist I can hear you say! Yes, well there is probably a little truth in that. I honestly felt like I could identify with how prostitutes must feel after a ‘day at the office’…..except I didn’t have the lingering taste of dick in my mouth…..yet!
On day 2, I witnessed the women’s’ liberation movement go backwards 60 years when “A-Pepe, go for the face-a!” realized he was overstaffed and business was a little quieter than usual…The following is a verbatim account of how to deal with Café overstaffing in 1948 – oh and did I mention ‘No Coloureds – No Irish’
“I don’t care which one of these fucking sluts you send home, but one of these fucking sluts has gotta go! Get rid of one of them or I’ll fire the lot of you cunts! Fucking Bitches!” = PRICELESS!!!
In fact, here are some of my favourite quotes from my Café Days:
(Me) “Ive worked with misogynists before, but this is some next level shit!” – (worker) “Is that a real word?” = Yes dear.
(Boss lady) “If you wanna move in the fast lane, you better know how to drive!” – Apparently, sandwiches = fast lane
(“A-Pepe, go for the face-a!”) ” So Stavros, your Greek, and those guys across the road are Greek….are you here to fucking spy on us or what?” – (Me) – “Yes, I am here to learn all of your sandwich making secrets and then replicate them for my Cypriote brothers across the road” = WOW!!!
(Me) “So what do you put in your spice blend that you use to marinate the chicken?” (Boss Lady) – “We don’t tell anyone because the last French Guy we told stole the recipe from us. French bastard” – If I was to hazard a guess, this secret herbs and spice mix contains: chilli flakes, Moroccan seasoning, sweet paprika, cayenne pepper and Garlic salt= A matter of the highest national security!
(Boss lady) “What star sign are you” – (Me) -“Taurus. Why is that?” (Boss lady) – “Ahhh….see? I never would have hired you….A bloody Greek Taurus…no wonder you know everything” = Possibly the most sensible thing I heard in 3 weeks (But clearly, the bar isn’t set very high)
(Boss lady) “You mark my words, you will be the last Greek we will ever hire! All you Greeks wanna do is sit around playing cards! None of you want to work. You send the women off to work so you can stay home and paint the fence! Scemo!” = Another racist Italian Cafe owner
(“A-Pepe, go for the face-a!”) “Hey, you-a live a-here? I’m gunna build you-a new-a fence!” = Italian hobby farming at it’s best!
Everyone in the business, was referred to as a scemo…..even the delivery drivers received barrages of abuse when they entered the building! All in all, I have never met a more infallible bunch of wops!
1 agg stupid, foolish, silly
2 sm/f idiot, fool
In an attempt to retain my sanity during what was at times, a difficult work environment (because I was surrounded by FREAKS), I would often entertain myself by making up random information about my work history. In the 3 weeks I worked there, I had the following occupations:
1) Discount Persian rug salesman
2) Plus size model (mainly of capes and gloves)
3) Sweat shop owner (My factory was in Bangalore India and specialised in Nike knock-offs)
4) Paint wholesaler
5) Fisherman (Crabs and squid off the Peruvian coast)
6) Strip club barman (True)
7) Children’s author (Never published, but I have written a few short stories, yes)
8) Artistic director of QTAC ( I actually wrote a couple of songs whilst on the job, including ‘The Sandwich Song’, and ‘I’m not a triple threat; I’m a double shot!’ – Plus I began writing my first play – ‘Who you calling White Bread?’)
9) Hip Hop Producer – (this is actually in the pipeline – look out for the soon to be hit single by ‘Chubby Digits’ – ‘Where da white women at?’)
10) Goat herder – (Because every Greek owns goats right?- Nigga Please!)
And do you know what the strangest thing is? I actually think I’m going to miss the place! Funnily enough, despite my lackadaisical approach to the work, complete disrespect for authority, and blatant disregard for anyone else’s feelings….I think they actually liked me?
When Boss lady started yelling at me – for no good fucking reason…..I would snap back! The day I advised them I was leaving, I said the following:
“Right! That’s fucking it! This is not 1940 and we are not in FUCKING SICILY ANYMORE!!! I wouldn’t speak to my FUCKING DOG like that! So I guess this is as good a time as any, but I’m leaving! I’m too old for this shit!”
Now I know this sounds very dramatic, but when you are dealing with these ‘hot blooded Italians’, it’s the only way to get through sometimes….and besides, I’m a Greek Taurean…..I shouldn’t even be working….I should be playing cards or painting the fence!
I am lucky I decided to leave when I did – as I honestly feel I was developing Stockholm syndrome! I had started to sympathize with and develop feelings for my captors! Oh well, another chapter in my life closes…..onto the next adventure and potentially abusive workplace then eh?
I hate my life….but remember….when God hands you lemons…..YOU FIND A NEW GOD!!!!