Poached

poaching an egg

Not the act of cooking something in a hot liquid – but rather, the act of stealing someone away from another restaurant with the offer of better things.  I had read about the act of poaching crew members away from restaurants in a few of my Bourdain books.  Apparently it happens a lot.

*  The names of restaurants have been omitted to protect the scheming *

  My general manager brought up the idea of me becoming a kitchen manager about a month ago.  I wasn’t so keen on the idea because I knew what it entailed.  There’s a lot of delegation and a lot less of the hands-on activities that us grunts come to expect in a restaurant.  Sure there is better pay but I have come to love the feeling of satisfaction at the end of a physically strenuous day.  I really love working with food – not telling other people to work with food.

  After a few weeks of coaxing I finally relented, but I was completely honest with my intentions.  If my house sold I would be moving to a different apartment and going back to school.  My GM consented and my kitchen manager training started immediately.  I started to learn how to take inventories, prepare truck orders and deploy crew members.  I’m learned how to keep the walk-in well stocked until our next shipments come in and how to arrange the kitchen so that it is neat, clean and effective – pretty much all of the things you would expect in a KM position.  Soon after it was decided that instead of my training taking 4-6 months, they would try to rush me through in 2 months.  It is a lofty expectation and not one that I was particularly fond of.

  After a week or so my 22-year-old GM pulls me into the office to tell me he has received an offer to be a consultant at several up-and-coming restaurants and bars located at the inner harbor.  Some of them were ultra-modern cuisine, some were comfort food – but all were very nice and located in a prime tourist area.  They are all owned by the same family and they basically wanted to steal him away.  He gave them a ridiculously high number that he said would be necessary for him to quit his job.  It was a salary that was double what I was payed even at my best job.  Though I admired his guts, I laughed at his asking price.  Then he surprised me with a question.

“Would you like to go with me if I left?”

“Are you serious?” I asked.

“The pay would be better and you would be working in a bigger and better environment.”

“We’ll see.” I rationalized, “They haven’t even responded to your pay request.”

  Apparently my GM mentioned me in negotiations and the restaurant owner had been secretly spying on me as I worked.  I felt flattered, but was pretty sure his deal would never materialize.

  Then, on the same day, two unthinkable things happened.

  They approved his salary and we sold our house.

  At this point I started rethinking my plan.  Should I put school off and work a job where my connections and friendships with an expanding company will provide me with solid connections, or should I go to culinary school while working part-time on the side in hopes that it will be worth it.  I haven’t found the proper ratio of “who you know” to “what you know.”  Either way, I couldn’t stay where I was.

  Skip ahead to present day.  After a 2 weeks notice, a few interviews and a lot of sad goodbyes later, this week is my first week at the new restaurant.  Already I see many changes that are going to have to happen to bring everything up to snuff.  It’s going to be a lot of hard work.  My schedule includes three days of working until 3 AM, the drive is 40 minutes one way on a good day and the parking is $2 an hour, but hopefully it will all be worth it.

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Sandy Beaches

Anyone else notice how Maryland suddenly looks like a man bent over on his hands and knees getting ready to take a giant storm straight up his ass?

Less than four hours left before Hurricane Sandy is set to make landfall and the effects are already being felt.

Windows are howling and rattling and the lights are flickering.  Because we live in such an old city, everyone is pretty confident that the power is going out tonight.  Predictions have said that up to 60 million will lose power and it might be out for weeks.  Schools and businesses are closed today.  Grocery store shelves are empty.  Our restaurant even ran out of food because food shipments have been delayed.  Emergency services are suggesting we fill our bathtubs full of water in case the water supply becomes contaminated by the predicted flooding.  They are giving out sandbags and waterbags for free.  12 inches of rain and snowstorms of 2 feet or more are expected.  Many areas have mandatory evacuations.

In other words, all hell is breaking loose.

So what could possibly get us to go outside to brave the strong winds, falling trees and sideways-falling rain – potentially putting our lives at risk in the process?  Could it be for food? Water?  Cigarettes?

Nope.  Feminine hygiene products.  We went out in the middle of a fucking windstorm for a box of tampons.  I am convinced the female body has a tendency to base its cycle around the most inopportune moments.  Birthdays, Valentine’s Day, cross-country road trips, family get-togethers, vacations – and, apparently now, potential national disasters.  Mind you, I’m a man and this is just a theory –  but I say theory because I’ve seen enough proof to get the idea past the hypothesis phase.

  Only after we drove by a grocery store did we consider that maybe, just maybe we should pick up some canned food and jugs of water.

  Needless to say, we made it back safely and are now properly stocked.

The Hunger Blames

 If you watch Food Network for any length of time you’ll see those commercials for feeding starving children.  You know the ones.  A child actor with puppydog-eyes and a brown smudge of makeup carefully painted on his cheek stares longingly into the camera.  A celebrity voice questions while a tear rolls down the little boy’s cheek.

“Where will he find his next meal?”

  How can you watch and not feel guilty?  I usually have to look away in shame, disgusted that I overindulged in food earlier that night.  It’s almost as heartbreaking as watching those tear-jerking ASPCA commercials. (I still can’t watch those without bawling like a little baby.)

  Restaurants have a lot of leftover food at the end of the day.  I mean A LOT.  Luckily at work, we donate to an organization that distributes food to hungry people.  It’s a pain-in-the-ass prepping and getting the food from point A to B but it’s all for a good cause.

  The food has to be cooked.  This makes plenty of sense.  The last thing a charity worker wants to worry about while driving from restaurant to restaurant on a hot day is a case full of raw meat spoiling in the back of his van… not to mention the smell that could arise.  The food can’t be too old either.  A day or two is ok.  Nothing is wrong with the food.  It’s just not super fresh.  I’ve seen food thrown out that I easily would have hung on to for a few more days in my home fridge, but it’s good to see such strict standards.  It must also be weighed and logged.  Paperwork is a must here in case the source needs to be determined and so all of the food is accounted for, distributed equally and so on.  Proper storage is important as well.  Everything must be stored in containers, (usually our deep metal pans that we already don’t have enough of) securely wrapped and stored in our walk-in fridge.  An entire section of our walk-in is set aside for this purpose.  Real estate is at a premium in the walk-in since we don’t freeze anything but, in this case, the end definitely justifies the means.  I mean, we could be saving lives here!  It makes me feel good that less food is wasted.

  I noticed the next day that the food was still safely and efficiently stored, soon to have a new home in a starving belly.

and it was there the day after that

and the day after that

A week passed and it was well beyond the point of donation.  I walked into the kitchen as my manager was cursing and emptying the containers into a huge trash bin.

“What happened?” I asked.

“The fuckers never showed.”

That’s right.  The only thing that kept the food from getting to starving bellies was that the organization simply never came – the same organization that brags about how they are fighting hunger by collecting food from area restaurants.  I watched as organic beans, rice, hormone-free beef, chicken and pork were dumped into the trash – roughly 100 lbs worth.  Multiply this by the fact that there are 7 other locations of my restaurant within 10 miles of us.  Multiply again by the fact that our chain is not the only one that the charity collects from.  What is this charitable organization?  I won’t say – but it is a HUGE one… and nationwide.

  They are supposed to pick up food twice a week.  Turns out, they come about once every two weeks.  Whenever they do show it takes all I have not to spit on them.

  I’m sure there are organizations that do what they are supposed to do but I can only speak of my experiences.

  Now, when I see the commercials with the child actor with a trust fund wearing clothes that were carefully scuffed with sandpaper and pretending to be hungry I still feel disgust.

  It’s just not with myself anymore.