Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Diary of a Mad Chef!

Maybe I should rename this site "Diary of a Mad Chef!" Being a chef is not all glamour and plaudits. Sometimes it's just bloody annoying and frustrating hard work. Yesterday was the Employee Christmas Party at the hotel, and who do you suppose got to prepare the food for the employees to enjoy? Me, of course! Now, this wasn't the first time I've cooked for a staff party at my own workplace, although the best companies I've worked for would host a catered party at a location away from the workplace, but whenever the party was in-house, accomodations were made to ensure that as many of the staff as possible could enjoy the festivities: the restaurant was usually closed for the evening, and the menu was kept simple so as not to burden the kitchen, so that chef, cooks and dishwashers could share the fun.
Yesterday, I bust my ass for 14 hours non-stop, first cooking lunch for the guests, then cranking up the pace to feed 80 or so employees and their guests, starting with hors d'oeuvres at 6:00. The menu was of my choosing, but I was left in no doubt that the owners had certain expectations: 4 appetizers, followed by 2 entrees plus a prime rib carving station, and dessert assortment. We began with Buffalo chicken wings, bbq meatballs, crab-stuffed mushrooms and jalapeno poppers, and, no, I'm not stupid enough to actually make those things from scratch! Then on to Chicken Parmigiana, Carne Asada, Rice Pilaf, Roast Potatoes and a sauteed Vegetable Medley.
Now, I was not alone in having to work my own employee party - the entire management staff was expected to pitch in to decorate the room, set up the bar, bus the tables, run the food and clean up afterwards, including re-setting the room for a lunch for 80 people the next day, an event that came with only 2 days notice! But I can guarantee that nobody else in that hotel worked as hard as I did. Usually I take a certain pride in turning out a good meal in the face of that kind of challenge, but not this time. My new recruit Matt, a recent graduate of a 10 month culinary program, well-intentioned but no real experience, and I cranked it all out without major mishap, but as the evening wore on I grew increasingly irritated at the stinginess of the owners, who were simply too damn cheap to pay somebody else to cater the party, and the wastefulness of the guests who would pile up their plates with food then not eat it. I got to watch that food being scraped into the garbage. Trust me there was nothing wrong with the food!
At one point during the evening I was presented with a Christmas card with a $100 bill inside. I didn't think much about it at first, but as my irritation grew, that $100 began to seem more like an insult and I wound up giving it to Miriam, one of my servers who has worked hard for me for a couple of years and become a respected co-worker, a friend and confidant. Miriam is a single mother with a delightful daughter, Christina, who calls me abuelo (grandpa). She was headed for Vera Cruz the next day to spend a month with her mother. So I said "buy something nice for Christina, tell her it's from her abuelo".
At one point my presence was requested in the party room for some party game or other. I simply told the messenger "Tell them I'm too f***king busy and I'm not having fun!" Miriam took my place for the drawing and pulled out a couple of $20 gift certificates to a restaurant that I actually like, the Poor House Bistro in San Jose (I rarely ever eat out). By the time I left the kitchen about 10:00 p.m. I was as tired as I've ever been after a day's work. And I still had to do some shopping for the event the next day. It was almost 11:00 when I got home and my wife was more incensed than I was! I had to be up again at 6:00 to start all over again on the lunch for 80, and the handful of jalapeno poppers that I had gobbled down in lieu of a decent meal did a number on my insides in the night. Not exactly restful.
It was clear the next morning that nobody who was working that morning really wanted to be there. I certainly wasn't bringing 100% of my attention to the job. At one point during lunch I made a pizza without the sauce - and it didn't dawn on me until about 3 hours later! The guest never said a word. Maybe she liked it! And then I discovered that someone had abandoned their soiled underwear in the mens room and I did the manly thing and disposed of it (in a sanitary way, of course and I did wash my hands extra thoroughly before going back to work).
And, as it happened, after Matt and I scrambled to put together the lunch for the 80 guests (a memorial lunch for a recently deceased friend of the owner's family) only 35 showed up! Leftovers, anyone?
I should run away and join the Circus! Cirque du Soleil is actually coming to town next month and they're looking for someone to cook for the performers for their 3 month stay. Interesting, but they don't pay enough. Can you imagine cooking for the stars of Cirque du Soleil for $12 an hour. That's pitiful. If they paid more I would do it.

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