Wednesday, September 12, 2012

On Working In A Kitchen

I've heard it said that working in a kitchen is nothing more than a 24/7 dick-measuring competition. I cannot think of anything that could be both more accurate and more wrong, all at the same time. Kitchen work is a survival of the fittest sort of thing. And I mean that in a very literal sense. You very rarely see people who have a similar body type as the customers standing next to the grill all night. And if that does wind up occurring, they either quit or sweat it off pretty quickly. Spending forty plus hours a week in that sort of environment is a challenge that many people are not up to. Forgive me if this gives those of us who can do it, sometimes well, a bit of an ego to match the callouses on our knife and saute hands. There is a continual showing off aspect to the whole thing, a bit of stage show provided, not for the customers, who will never be allowed near the whole lurid spectacle of professional food preparation if management has any idea what is good for them, but for one's co-workers. The basic premise of the enterprise is that, as kitchen work is not an office job, the goal should be to commit some sort of act that would get one fired from any self-respecting office at minimum once per hour. Working through hangovers, or while in the bag or on most any ingestible substance, is the mark of the line cook. If you manage to somehow (Probably through some sort of misunderstanding or trickery) find yourself in a stable relationship, you have committed a minor sin. Not vomiting over the railing of the deck to close the night because you wish to spend time in the company of said other may up the deal to felony level. Why would you want to go home for sex when the waitstaff is in such close proximity? In short, it is all about the Three B's: Booze, bluster and bullshit. And it is wonderful.

 Now, make no mistake, there is no actual dick-measuring competition going on back where your food is prepared. For one thing, there is little use for a ruler in a kitchen, and kitchens tend to get trimmed down to the essentials. This would leave any sort of serious contest woefully imprecise. But more importantly, unless you're running El Bulli, there is likely a limited amount of space in the back of house (If you are running El Bulli, the extra space is probably filled with unpaid interns. Perhaps stacked). To have a dick-measuring competition would likely mean having to wash your cutting board, and given the usual state of affairs in the dish pit, it's almost always best to simply keep it zipped up unless/until the new host walks by. Instead of taking a physical form, this leaves the favored game as verbal abuse.

There are rules to this sort of thing, but they vary from kitchen to kitchen depending on the backgrounds of the crew contained therein. The general policy is that if you think you can say it without getting stabbed, it will be coming out of your mouth. Sometimes even these remarks get uttered if it seems likely that their emittance will remain unpunished. If you ask anyone in a kitchen about this atmosphere, they will tell you they're just busting someone's balls. Nothing more to it than that. But this is incorrect. You see, there is an eventual goal to this eternal show of machismo. What everyone is trying to do back there is to be the one who pushes a fellow employee over the edge, dropping the final insult on some poor bastard who didn't have the intelligence or opportunity to choose a career path better-suited for his particular temperament. This goal remains unacknowledged, as talking with your co-workers about your continual attempts to get them to kill themselves would probably put a damper on the sort of camaraderie needed to get through a busy Saturday night. Yet it still exists. And the undiscussed reward is just as widely known as the contest itself: The winner gets eternal free drinks from the remainder of the staff. To help him forget.

4 comments:

kathy g said...

Wow! Quite impressed with your recent prolificacy, I am! Though, as your mom, a little worried about possible substance abuse yet again...

HOLLA(R) said...

No worries. As long as I don't win I'm fine.

Amy and Fat B said...

I don't like this post. At all.

Amy and Fat B said...

*We. I forgot we have an account together.