What Shall We Downsize – Kitchen Fiction

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It was the middle of the morning and the prep chefs  were  all chopping, mixing and making the general things ready for the night. She had her clipboard in hand as she went over her order for the day. The produce was due in and she needed to get her fish order settled. Sue and Riley were working on short crust dough. She shook her head as  she watched the young man go too heavy on mixing things with his hands causing a cascade of flour to poof out over the counter. She nearly laughed when Sue sighed loudly.

“Breathe, Sue,” she interjected as she walked by coffee cup in hand.  She heard Sue make a rude remark at her back and Riley apologizing profusely as he was prone to do.

“You’re doing fine, Riley,” she called behind her as she headed to the other side of the prep area to hunt down someone to enlist to help her. The order could wait an hour. She needed to do something that felt like she was accomplishing something.

She spied someone who was wiping down his station. Perfect. She nearly purred in satisfaction.

“Carlos!” she barked. The man looked up with a jerk. “What are you doing?”

He looked like a deer in the headlights. Even better.

“Uh, I was gonna start —”

“Nope. You’re gonna help me. You’ve just been promoted to help me organize the walk in!” she singsonged as she caught the sleeve of his chef’s jacket as he tried to slip past her.

Around her the snickers were audible enough for her to arch a brow at the various owners of the sounds. “Be careful, boys. One of you will end up next in line to help me.”

The complete silence was deafening. She turned back towards the first walkin pulling Carlos behind her. “Come along. It won’t take too long.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he sighed and followed her.

She pulled out her phone and tuned to her current favorite Pandora station. Dolly Parton singing about someone walking back into her life. It was her new anthem to listen to when she felt lost in the shuffle. Into a 9-pan went the phone to echo out in tinny fashion, the upbeat 70s tune.

She started pulling Cambros off the shelf, things half empty or out dated, handing them to Carlos to put on the prep table outside the refridgerated box. She made faces at things that went bad, gingerly handed off non labeled deli quarts and pints, sloshing containers.

“Out out out!” she was rolling her eyes at a 15 qt. Cambro that had about two quarts in the bottom of it. “Who keeps leaving Cambros mostly empty in here?” she yelled out the door knowing full well none of the people out there would answer. She was guilty of it a few times when in a hurry, but this was getting out of hand.

By the time she had just the containers out, half the walk-in was already done. She shook her head as she grabbed a painters tape roll and started rewriting labels to the newly downsized smaller cambros that Carlos was putting things into. Army, their new dishwasher was busy spraying down the empties and stacking them to go into the industrial dishwasher that was humming away.

New tape went onto the smaller containers with the updated date, she had Carlos load them back in the walk-in while she figured out what prep needed to be done now that amounts were diminished.

“Now what?” Carlos questioned as the door closed with a sucking airtight sound. 

“You. Bucket. Sani water. Scrub.” She grinned as he made a face. “Hey, I’m now on to downsizing the produce. You’ll live.”

She began by grabbing her clipboard, then began a systematic approach to the disorder of the fruits and vegetables. Sue and her were belting out a Crystal Gayle song as the guys in the kitchen rolled their eyes at the two women.  Root vegetables into like bins, she trimmed up carrots that were getting mouldy, apples with spots were put into a bin to be made into sauce.  The herbs were tidied, the citrus sorted and downsized. By the time she was done with the produce, she knew what she needed to order and Carlos had the walk-in walls and floor sparkling bright and smelling clean. 

“Much better. Now, onward to the meats and dairy,” she directed to the next walk-in. Carlos’s shoulders had a slightly defeated look, but she just ignored him. “Give me a quick count on the fish and what seafood we have while I make the produce order. Then we’ll tackle the rest of it together.”

She walked off, pulling out her phone  as Carlos headed towards meats. She grinned at the text from Micha asking how the day was going. She shot back a thumbs up and a couple pictures of the organized walk-in. She was dialing the produce number when she overheard one of the line cooks mocking Carlos being girl whipped. 

She paused and looked up to see George leaning in to another line cook, Kyle. “You two have just volunteered yourselves to go organize and clean all the dry storage. I want it all labeled and the shelves clean within the next hour.”

When they didn’t move she arched a brow. “Did I stutter?”

“No,” came the group answer.  

“Good, then hustle.”

Her quick text with a thumbs down and a frowny face went off to Micha. So close. She was so close to not getting so much pushback from the boys. Well, there would be other days. At least she could delight in a cleaner kitchen. Good days, take the good days.

She pushed the dial button and got ready to send off her order. Hopefully Carlos would count the fish right…..

 

Another scene into fictional kitchen. I’ve been the one cleaning the walkin lately. Downsizing and organizing on Sundays. The other day Jersey Boy told everyone to keep busy. Suddenly all the guys but Golden Oldie (dishwasher… name could change) were nowhere to be found. Shock. I can’t remember the last time I saw Will Turner clean something other than the line at the end of closing. Scrub the walkin? Right….

So anyways, the walk-in was organized on Sunday. Downsized. Emptied. Gads, it was empty. There will need to be a fair amount of prep done this week. I actually like it, and my proverbial ‘She/Her’ in this story likes it too. Still working on a name for her. I have a couple options but I haven’t decided yet. Oh and for those wondering, the Juice Newton Radio on Pandora is the bomb. So classic 70s and 80s country and light rock. So Dolly Parton and more. Try it out.

Kate

Sunday Night Flow

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The open sign is down. The dining hall is still full of people and orders are coming in, but most of it is limited to me and desserts in back. The boys have started cleaning and Mixologist Man has started doing his form of a last call, though he’s still pouring beers and whatnot. Soon the scrubbing will begin.

In the kitchen, our dishwasher is tackling as much as he can get done before we are all piling everything into the pit. (I haven’t come up with a nom de plume for him yet…) I start taking back wood paddles and anything that I know I won’t need the rest of the night. If I’ve been lucky enough to have had a relatively quiet Sunday, I may have already flipped all of my mise en place and washed out my refrigerated station. Those are good days. But today, instead, I focused on the walk-in. Downsizing cambros and clearing out the old. Tossing weird things with no label or date. Definitely tossing that goat cheese sauce from a month ago with fuzzy little black blobs across the surface. Yeah, that ain’t penicillin.

The walk-in is a general source of aggravation for me these days. No one downsizes anything. And I do mean no one. Some people might think they are, but most of the time they are just moving containers around or redesigning what they think the walk-in should look like to them. Please don’t. It’s been set up with what works for a year now. I know how it works, people know how to find things that way. Do not, in your small mind, think that you are helping people by changing everything.

The walk-in has been my baby since day one when first Chef tasked me to put away the entire produce and dairy order. And this was before we were allowed to put things in bins. I might not have had it perfect, but I slowly learned to play Tetras with containers. Most cambros stack on each other quite well and there is a method to fitting them so they work. Coffeeman was pretty excellent in downsizing the walk-in too. The one time I downsized it right after he did made for an interesting next day when he couldn’t find anything…. Poor guy. Over-zealous does have it’s disadvantages.

A clean station, nearly filled mise en place. Practically perfect.

So this Sunday, walk-in was fixed. I’m sure I will have to do it again this week, but at least I feel like I got somewhere. So instead of flipping and cleaning my station, it waited till the end. Out comes the bucket of sani water, piping hot and ready to scald even the toughest hands, rags, and new 9th and 6th pans. Flip, bang, reverse. Empty container, new one off to the side with mise waiting in it. All 19 pans are flipped excluding the ones that got filled that day with new ingredients and new pans. Wash out the entire top station and bits of debris. The underneath refrigerator gets organized and wiped down. Pans are wrapped. Dated, labeled and set up for the new week.

The entire area gets swept down, like it does every night, but a few extra areas like under the wood where the dirt drops down. The wall is wiped down where the flour has sifted through the week. Tomatoes are taken off the ledge. Oil bottles wiped off. Everything gets straightened. Sometimes I might sip a glass of beer while I clean, provided all the guests are gone. Tonight, they are not, so I drink cold water. A lot of it. Because no matter how much I drink, it’s never enough to stay hydrated.

In the back, the dish pit is a pile of so much that there is another guy playing ‘catch’ when the dishes come out of the automated dishwasher, Betsy. Other stations have been wrapped and put away. Other stations have been washed down. The grates over the stove area are scrubbed, or have been throughout the day. Garbage bags are combined and taken out. It’s not really anything that we don’t do throughout the week. In fact, it’s pretty much the same thing with only some extra added scrubbing in certain areas.

The fish is iced, things are wiped down a tad better than the rest of the week. This is the night the floors get sprayed down with hot water. If they are really grimy, maybe some Orange Force or degreaser. Out in front Mixologist Man is offering up a jar of celery for anyone to munch on. Why? It’s tradition. It might not last through the weekend and it just is what we do. I usually have several pieces because I feel like I haven’t had my greens throughout the week. Besides, it keeps me from indulging in a soda. Okay, so the giant pancake with the side of syrup was just as bad, but work with me, I’m tired. I need sugar.

This week the music is subdued. Kind of 80s, but most of the time we put on Ke$ha or something super bouncy. Belting it out as the volume is turned up a tad more. The lights go on full blast out in the hall because most of the servers sweeping like to see. This week, I turn them up so I can see all the areas I might have missed in my station.

This week I am out by 9pm. That’s actually pretty good. I stayed a little longer to organize the cambros and dough bins that have gotten mixed up again. I could have been out by 8:30, but I need some organization. It’s only after I head upstairs to put away a pan that I find out I am out of dough for the week. Groan. Why didn’t anyone tell me they pulled the last bin?! Fortunately I have enough dough rolled to start off my week, provided Astro D can make dough at the start of the week.

Seriously, I need a drink now. Okay, no, I really don’t NEED a drink. I just want one to relax with and wind down. It’s been a long pain in the behind week. People have been rude, on my nerves and I’m just really tired. Mixologist Man and I leave the two behind to finish out the kitchen, dishwasher and prep person. We make our way across a completely dead street in a nearly completely dead town. It’s Sunday night, just after nine and only the one brewery/pub is left open. One quick round and I’m off to head home. Wash away the grime, slip out of kitchen smelly clothes and call it a day.

See you next week…

It’s only two days away, but well, such are weekends.

Baseball, Romance, and Jazz

Photo by Autumn Mott Rodeheaver on Unsplash

The World Series is on while I wash the lunch dishes at nearly dinnertime. A load of whites is agitating around in the washing machine, in the room on the back deck, as the evening goes from periwinkles and lemon ice to lavender, mauve, pale rose, hints of coral and cerulean. I’m playing old school jazz as I watch the score change on my cell phone just tuned to the headline scores. I wish I could listen to a game on the radio like my great-grandfather used to, as I really don’t have the time to watch the nationals eek out a better baseball score.

Never mind, I’m turning on the game. I have to see if these points wracking up quickly make for a good game….. they do. It was worth my time to turn on the game and get immersed in the plays. Yelling at a completely ridiculous call by what must be a biased umpire. That play was totally legit! Where were his eyes?! I am yelling at the television, my father and I, neither one of us sports watchers, totally involved with the call coming in from the head of the NBL umpires association.

There’s nothing more American than a baseball game. I picture Steve Rogers listening to the Dodgers on his front porch as Peggy mixes up cookie dough in an old and well loved mixing bowl of Pyrex glass. I just have finished watching the final Avengers film and Steve and Peggy dancing in their craftsman style home, with the windows open and the radio playing… Now when I say I want that, you can’t imagine how much of a dream that is. “Kiss me once and kiss me twice, then kiss me once again, it’s been a long, long time….”

It’s nearly November and all the leaves have escaped the hold each mother tree had on them. Now stark and bare, practically indecent, it’s just spread branches and trunks. Somebody get them a coat! I’m reminded of the Barney Miller line, “We caught a flasher.” “In THIS weather?!” for who wants to have an ounce of flesh exposed to the dry ice air? The wind pulls any moisture right out of every living cell and leaves behind a cracked and parched shell.

Photo by Thomas Park on Unsplash

The Washington Nationals have won the series after seven games. A historic game, just like the Cubs winning two years ago. Sports has been fun. And a week has gone by. The air is now balmy in the day. Nearly seventy and warm enough to dry laundry on the line. From freezing to balmy. Mountain life is lovely like that. The time change throws us all off, rushing around to find it is only 4pm with the sun gone. Thank goodness we are attempting to reorganize our schedules so we are up sooner in the day. It’s amazing what can get done when one is up before midday. A novel thought.

I’m sitting outside at this moment, it’s just after 5pm. Evening has come….

A rosy twilight settled in, pink hued glow over every building and tree, the sky pastel shades of pink, coral, baby boy blue. The oaks in their brown coats turned a shade more burnt sienna and bittersweet red, like the crayons in every child’s box of coloring supplies. It was a “La vie en rose” moment as if a pair of rose colored glasses had slipped over the world and people walked hand in hand up the sidewalks and past lit storefronts and cozy eateries. The scent in the air of damp leaves and wood smoke, fragrant from incense cedar and pine, alder and oak. The wood that burns in the wood stoves and fireplaces in the mountains is so much more fragrant than any other place. Everything smells so much better.

Right now the coffee I drink tastes like I was at my grandparent’s cabin in the Sierra Nevadas, in mid August or September, when the cabin gets a bit chilly in the afternoon because the wood stove isn’t burning and the sun is shifting behind the trees towards it’s western route. Miles Davis is playing “When I Fall In Love”. The trumpets just get to me and make me tear up. I was listening to a lot of Miles Davis as I slowly lost Rugburn a year and a half ago. Miles Davis and his jazz era has been hard for me to listen too in the last year because of that. I miss him a little too much these days.

The days are short, and time is sweet. Let me dream of baseball, and good romance and the sweet sounds of the best jazz music that makes your heart clench and cling.

Kate

Flattery Might Get You Somewhere

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Are you the Executive Chef?” comes the question from the dignified gentleman over the protective glass barrier.

“No,” I reply, “but I am the pizza chef and pastry chef.”  Days later I wish I would have said ‘yet’ instead of ‘no’.  Do I think I will ever be the executive chef? No. Do I have aspirations for that? Um, maybe a little, but not really. I mean, to say I am an actual Chef might be nice, but not my goal in life.

The gentleman spent the next few minutes asking questions about my training (two years of this restaurant are my only training) which surprised him at how incredible the food he ordered was. He rated my basque cheesecake as second only to his wife’s first place title.  Asked about what I was making saying he’d have to come back the next night for it (he did. In fact, their entire order the next night, from appetizer to dessert, came from me) and complimented me on how far I had moved up. It was a flattering and delightful conversation as he was a very nice older man.

Later that night I was offered a hand in marriage. Granted, the guy that asked was a tad on the tipsy side of things, but it was cute. I was a little too flustered to answer more blithely, but still, I did get out a “I’ll keep it in mind.’  He was cute.

This job is never dull. I can’t imagine a dull moment. From interesting conversations with customers (pardon, guests) to working with the many quirks of my coworkers, it is never boring. I’m glad, actually, when I have down time to clean a different area, or scrub the walk-in, or something like just putting away dishes. That doesn’t happen often.  This week alone I made four cheesecakes. I think. I’ve stopped counting. I’ve made so many cheesecakes that I have the recipe memorized.

“What’s the recipe?” Jersey Boy asks about something else. I tap my head and he doesn’t listen and pulls out the “bible” (our recipe binder) instead. “Is it in here?”

No, it’s in my head. most of my recipes are in my head. Oh sure, I do have them written down or accessible on my  phone… provided you know where to look, but they are mostly done off of memory.  Hence why a week ago I made a 4 egg olive oil cake with 7 eggs…. Ooops.  The cake rose reeeaaaalllly well in the oven… But most things turn out the exact way, each time. Which is good. Consistency is key.

Coffeeman asks me if I have all the new recipes down. I sarcastically giggle via text and say no, because Jersey Boy, well he doesn’t believe in having these things written down. He wings a lot of things. And for someone who says he has recipes…. he doesn’t. He gets them from the internet. Have I gotten recipes from the internet? Sure. Cooks Illustrated, Food 5.2, Bon Appetit, etc. All established cookeries. Jersey Boy… not so much.  Then spends his time bragging about the one spiced cake he makes for a special, that doesn’t sell well at all.  Ah yes, that was a fun week. “I made that.” He brags. “Not K, she didn’t make that. I made that.”

We all roll our eyes. “What. An. Idiot.” Says Hermione in reference to Ron Weasely. I so relate, girl. I so relate.

Like I said. Never a dull moment.

I’ve been missing Coffeeman like the devil lately. He’s been on my mind so much that now I’m having dreams again. Not good either. Not bad, but not right. Things that happen that worry me. I do believe in prophetic dreams. I’ve mentioned it before. So I get really nervous when I have one. They don’t happen too often…. Pardon, I’ve already had three this year.  All spot on, one even to the day Wildflower and Lucifer had their baby girl. Trust me, that was a weird one.

I’ve been remembering the good points with Coffeeman, the things that made such a huge difference in my life. One that keeps coming back around, and that I reminded him of was one of those first “A Ha” moments a month or so after he took over. I came into a nearly silent kitchen. In those days it was hard pressed to find a day that didn’t involve prep lists filling up the white board, too many people in the kitchen, not enough surfaces to work, and not enough time. Utter chaos. Lucifer created a ton of chaos; so did Wildflower.

Well, there was this kitchen with every surface clean, and this is three in the afternoon, mind you, when cooking has been going on since eight or nine in the morning and there was a lunch rush and dinner started in two hours. There was only Coffeeman and our morning pizza guy on as Lucifer and Wildflower were on their lunches, and all the prep was done. Like literally, the white board was clean. I looked at Coffeeman and said “What am I supposed to do?”  I think he replied with “we’ll find something” or a “here, let’s try this” and I was learning something new.

I miss days like that when there is not much chaos. Jersey Boy creates a lot. I’ve started taking on the, “No, let’s not start a new project. Let’s finish what has been started and clear off these surfaces and clean them!”

I miss Coffeeman so much these days.  But, without him being gone I might not have had a “Are you the executive chef?” being asked…..

Nor a, “Marry me tonight.”

Kate