The Irony of Cooking

SONY DSCHe walks in, a silver haired woman-very familiar like-at his side, they both wave.  She, my coworker sitting in the booth next to me, asks, “Do you know them?”

…  Yeah, I used to work for them, I say.  He is the head chef and half-proprietor of HK, downtown.

 

Now, I am the cook, the guy at the grill, firing, plating, and making the food presentable.  Edgar won’t be in for at least until after this order is out and almost completely eaten.

 

This is pure irony; the owner of a place I snubbed by not showing, rather calling and quitting, comes into the restaurant I work at presently, to eat the art I create.  Mental overload, I reach for the imaginary Prozac…  And I come back with a glass of water and positive thoughts.

 

I am about to quit this place also if I don’t get my check.  So fulfilling.  The disorganization, the late pay, the harassment, and here I stand.  I am told they love me.

 

No complaints, really though… Such is life-Kelsey says I always complain in writing.

 

I am sweating in the kitchen heat, I am anxious, I am curious.  I want to impress and satiate the guests at present.

 

They waved as though they missed me.  My look, my laugh, my courteous efforts-they were all gone months before, while the snow still dictated the day’s attire.  While freezing hands gripped cold metal handlebars in the early morning twilight, I can hardly get out of bed now.

 

While I thought a co-worker would go on a rampage at the office.  I opted out.  Avoiding crazy.

 

I stood in the back waiting anxiously for the order ticket to arrive.  Something complicated, something that would take substantial skill to make was certainly about to be requested from the kitchen.  They must.  They must!  The order ticket came down on the table in front of my eyes:  “4 GY”, on the bottom it ready 10B.  They just wanted 4 regular Gyros.  Nothing special.  Nothing amazing-an easy make.

 

I thought of being in his kitchen, in the downstairs areas, pitch-black mornings outside in downtown; the enormous space buzzed with refrigerator fans, the stock was up, and people were just walking in.  I was looking for coffee creamer.  We were out of the thick white liquid stuff upstairs in heaven until around 11 AM.   He was always tacit and kind.   I stood in the back of a small kitchen, now, in NE.

 

***

 

A coworker at HK told me while riding the elevator south that he would fool the new employees by telling them he was the dishwasher; his appearance was not of grandeur, he had simple attire and a very modest demeanor.  One would not be surprised if he exclaimed his position as such; however, until after the new employee started fucking around.  Then this so-called dishwasher would reveal himself as the owner and promptly lay down the real law of the land.  True story.

 

***

 

I leaned back on the worn heels of my leather work-shoes.  I thought, I watched the fire burn and I threw the fries in the thick yellow corn oil, I thought too many-but too many is good.  Too little is bad.  The pay off is much better if you have too many; one could eat the extras or load up the customer’s plate, promoting a larger tip for the servers, and generally making everyone happy.  Too little, and you got to make more, and the food has to wait, and get cold, flies buzz-you see?  I am yelling “ORDER!”  Fucking get the food out of my face before they start critiquing my efforts, I don’t have time to relax…

 

Harassment.  I am dead serious now-just an opinion though, so subjective.

 

I ask her, the waitress, if they are waiting.  Are the patrons satisfied?  The head chef of a place that does 10 times what we do is going to be eating from my hand.  I wash them twice, at least, all the way up to the elbows, maybe up to the shoulders, I forget.  I want to impress.  The pita bread cooks on the stovetop-one side, then the other-the meat spins near the flame on a spindle-until the meat starts to pop and ooze fatty juices-the fries bubble and hiss in the oil.  Their scalding metal cage death, the potatoes must suffer.  Focus on what needs to be done.

 

I have five minutes.  My brow is soaked.  I wait.  I am wiping my forehead on the shoulder and sleeve of my white button up shirt.  I lay out the plates, then the foil, I think as I do this (they ordered the staple, so simple, nothing to it), two pieces cut from top to bottom put on the pita, easy.  Not cut like sawing, cut like sliced down the side, as a sword does.  I load the tomatoes, two at a time to each.  I mix the onions and parsley.  I sprinkle the salt and pepper (later I recall I missed the first sandwich with the latter garnish).  I add the cucumber sauce, and done.

 

3 minutes to being off.

 

I throw the plates, all four orders, on the order counter for the waitress to take.  I yell, “ORDER!”  She comes in autonomously, a minute or so later, and gives me a look of slight disgust and asks if there are more fries to go with the orders?  I didn’t make enough.  Fuck…  I turn to make more as she walks out.  Whatever!  I see this and follow her out the swinging doors to the bar.  These will have to do.  Setting one of the orders on the bar, I watch the patrons as they watch me.  I am hot and soaked in sweat, for the kitchen is sweltering-likely.  I drop a fourth of the order on the bar and turn, heading straight into the kitchen.  They made the table-at least.  Now I wait…

 

Hey, what did they think?

I can’t go back out there yet-they just got their order.

 

I wait.  I will stay late-I don’t care anymore.  I am peaked with excitement for good or bad.  I want knowledge.  Will the master chef approve of the grasshopper’s attempt, or will he reach for his napkin and denounce me for all to see, and speak of.  What a spitting-up embarrassment.  The shame.  I have embarrassed.

 

She goes out and comes back, taking her sweet time.

 

What did they think?

They said it was good.

Just good?

Their mouths were full, so that’s about all they could say-good.

 

That was all I needed.  I watched Edgar, the man who would relieve me of my cooking duties, walk in and punch.  I followed close behind with a hello, and I punched and went to the bathroom to change.

 

I think, look in the mirror almost forgetting my pants I check the door after I check the floor, and go.  No notes, never leaving notes again.  The knobs are tight on the sink, as not to leak all over the place.

 

She looks at me while she stands next to the register and swipes their card.  Did they eat it all?

 

Everyone ate everything, and they said it was great.  Only one didn’t…

What?!  Which one?  My heart sinks.  Was this my failing?

 

I think, not Steve, please don’t let it be Steve, anyone but Steve…

 

 

My coworker cuts in, “She was taking the rest home in a box.  She always does, she can never finish her meal.”

 

Whew.

 

That says a lot.  How trivial.

Now, I could care less.  My shift was over I was out.

 

I move toward the exit; my soundtrack Alt-J, iced coffee in hand, I touched at the glass.  My stained shirt, dirty shoes, and headphones greet me as I look down at the floor.  The sun was out right.  I put my shades down and said goodbye.  The irony was all mine.

 

Thank you very much.

 

Goddamn it was hot in the summer heat.  I pushed the door open with a newfound vigor.  I had a smile to share with the world, and the weather.

 

David vs. Goliath, in the end they became friends.

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About Terry Scott Niebeling

Hello, My name is Terry Scott, a human being with flaws. twitter: @sirterryscott Buy my ebooks: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1/191-4788099-1818040?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=terry+scott+niebeling
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