Dishin' That: Kitchen education doesn't come easily

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A friend’s son is in the eye of the hurricane in his first restaurant job.

He loves his kitchen position and is excelling at a crash course in preparing quick-turnover, fine-dining entrees. He’s also learning the ropes as a sous chef-in-training, running the line solo at breakfast, and, of course, being the head dish dog when the official guy doesn’t show up.

His back-to-back weeks of five double shifts and running so shorthanded that he’s literally working by himself are common. Yet, tales from the trenches continue to be a summer train wreck we can’t look away from.

My friend, who was a server long before the newbie chef was born, shakes her head at the events he shares with her.

“It’s unbelievable what goes on at that place,” she told me. “Last week, he was working breakfast by himself and they were packed. Someone had called in sick or something. He did the best he could, but the manager told him he was the worst cook ever and if he didn’t like his schedule, he could leave. Then, a server came in and complained about the way an egg was cooked.

“My son is a very mellow, level-headed kid,” she continued, “But he snapped and told the waitress to the get the F out of his kitchen. While this was going on, the manager got into an argument with a different server (apparently, the F-bomb was dropped again) and she quit. She walked out and left her tables sitting there, either waiting to order, or (waiting) for their food.”

On the upside of those mid-summer restaurant shenanigans, my friend acknowledged her son is getting a great education, and more.

“They’re letting him do everything,” she said. “He’s learning how to handle knives, creating specials, and getting compliments from customers. One dinner guest who owns an upscale place outside of New York city asked that he come out of the kitchen so he could tell him face-to-face how fantastic his meal was. And, he met a girl.

“He’s my son and I may be biased,” she said. “But, he’s a good looking kid. He’s dated, but I’ve never heard him talk about a girl like he is this one. She’ll be going back to college, and he hopes to work over the winter at a different restaurant, but man, is he smitten.”

Telling her I thrive on what makes the human-interest side of hospitality so special, I wasn’t surprised at the ending (at least thus far).

“So, after the breakfast rush his girlfriend, who wasn’t working, came into the kitchen and gave him a hug. It was only 10 in the morning, but the manager, who was right behind her, told my son he was ‘having a bad day,’ and sort of apologized. The general manager magically appeared and told him he was doing a great job. Yeah, it was crazy.

“Oh yes,” she added as an afterthought. “Then, the manager reminded him he was scheduled for five doubles again next week, and walked out of the kitchen.”

The Down Low

My daughter just celebrated her birthday at one of our all time favorite Old Port restaurants. Orchestrating the event as if it were a summit to solve world peace, she made the reservation, called Uber, and along with her friends, looked like a movie star.

Naturally, I gave her the “Two or More” lecture.

“Be sure to tell everyone to everyone to bring cash because they’ll present one check,” I said. “It’ll ruin my meal if you guys toss six or seven debit cards at the server.”

Looking at me as if I had crawled out from under a rock, she impatiently explained “everyone” has a smartphone app that enables them to electronically transfer money to each other. Wondering when my baby got even smarter, I did a little research on the subject, as well as the different options.

It’s estimated that in the U.S., peer-to-peer mobile payment volume could reach $86 billion annually by 2018, and from the hospitality perspective, it’s genius.

While Carlykardasihan and her posse prefer Square Cash to Venmo, there’s help for the rest of us at policygenius.com. If that blog is too confusing, seek out a Generation Z kid for further clarification and advice.

Oh, and, the next time you see a bunch of them on their phones at the end of a meal, curb the judgment. It could be something more mature than Pokemon Go.

Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to nladd@theforecaster.net, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @Nhladd.

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