Monday, January 28, 2008

Life not under, but slightly to one side of the Big Top

I know this blogging business should be an almost daily affair, but I've been so busy with the damn circus, plus preparing our other house for sale after over 2 years of remodelling that it has been virtually impossible to get this done. The following was started several weeks ago. The house is now finished and on the market so from now on I should have much more time to relate my misadventures with the Cirque, and more. And maybe even some more useful stuff about food and cooking which is what we're supposed to be about!

Friday the 25th was day one of my stint with the Circus. All of us temps were asked to gather at the main gate, 7:45 a.m. sharp to meet with Cynda, the kitchen manager. So we duly gathered in the rain. We were on time . Cynda wasn't. No matter, we were officially on the clock and getting paid for milling around. The fortunate thing for me is that I live a mile from the site and I walk to and from work each day. It's hardly a country stroll, with its carwash and run-down machine shops and busy intersections but I do pass a pleasantly grassy city park with handy toilets should the need arise, and, inexplicably wedged in with the baseball diamond and basketball court, 20, yes 20 horseshoe pits! When does this neighborhood ever attract enough dedicated horseshoe tossers to justify 20 horseshoe pits! Perhaps the city of San Jose hosts the World Horseshoe Championships each year and I just don't know about it.

Beyond the park the road bridges the Guadaloupe river, once a pristine salmon river, only now slowly recovering from years of pollution and neglect. In Summer the river is a pleasant meandering silver ribbon cutting through the canopy of green trees. Today it is a roiling brown turgid mess powering its way through banks of improbably green grass, studded with stark tree trunks, plastered with matted brown leaves and trash, witness to the height of the earlier flash flood, which left a quite considerable number of black and white plastic bags fluttering in the stiff January wind.

But the high point of this morning's walk was the view of our Eastern hills, capped with fresh snow, glimmering in the brief morning sunlight, a sight we are treated to only once or twice a year, before the clouds closed in and the rain, once again, began to pour.

The permanent Cirque du Soleil kitchen staff consists of Cynda, Nathan the head Chef, and Luann and Karine the other 2 chefs, none of them over 30 I would guess. Now regardless of the culinary skills and experience of the permanent staff, this influx of unfamiliar temporary kitchen staff in each new city requires 2 qualities above all others: a sense of humor, and the ability to put us all at our ease. If we are comfortable and relaxed in these new surroundings we are more likely to give of our best. Easy enough, right?

The 3 women have these qualities in abundance; Nathan does not. He tends to be humorless and patronising, occasionally downright insulting. The women work primarily the early shift, Nathan the later one. My shift spans the two. Needless to say, I enjoy the earlier part of my day more than the latter.

For the last 4 days we have been feeding only us local temps and the permanent travelling set-up crew, all hard hats and harnesses, about 100 in all. Today at lunch there was a sudden influx of young, athletic and attractive bodies: the artists were arriving. Let the Show begin!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Been gone too long! I joined the Circus

It's been a month since my last post, unfortunately. You may recall that I had scheduled myself to cook for 18 days straight, with 14 of those days cooking breakfast over the holidays after giving 3 of my cooks extra time off. So I worked Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, my birthday (the 29th), New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. That was the last day of my solo flight and my cooks were due to return, but I was still scheduled for 3 more days before I could take a day off. And it was on this day, January 2nd, a day that will live in infamy, that the owner decided to fire me! It was not a great surprise, but it was rather sudden, with no overt warning.

But it wasn't the owner who did the dirty work. It wasn't even the General Manager. Neither of them said a single word to me that day, or thereafter. It was left to Dean, their management consultant, whom I one described as an over-inflated Chuckie doll with better hair, who called me into his office, which was a bit of a clue, and, without preamble, began the conversation by saying "This is about managing the transition" and for a moment I wasn't sure what we were talking about. Then I was offered a "termination by mutual agreement", which would avoid the stain of being "fired" on my record, but still allow me to collect unemployment if I chose to. No substantial reason was ever given for the termination, only that "I was not a good fit". I couldn't agree more! Before I took this job I was warned by both the outgoing chef and the current GM that the owner would be my biggest challenge, that he was a constant presence and inclined to interfere. They didn't tell me that he was also boorish, foul-mouthed, insulting and totally lacking in charm. I thought that I could win him over with my natural charm. I don't think I've ever been more wrong in my life. By the end of the first month I was already looking for another job, hoping to have another position to walk into before I cheerfully announced my departure. They beat me to the punch, but I walked away with a great sense of relief.

Since then I have divided my time between job-hunting, working on our other house which we are preparing to sell, looking at small cafes and sandwich shops with a former boss of mine who now deals in restaurant real estate, with a view to buying my own place, and when I can get away, a bit of fly-fishing.

One of the more interesting postings on Bay Area Craigslist was by Manpower for a Chef to work with Cirque du Soleil for their 2 month stay in San Jose. I figured that the Circus would provide an entertaining diversion while I decided what my next move should be. It turned out that a lot of other chefs had the notion that Cirque du Soleil would look great on their resumes and Manpower was swamped with applications. I survived the first two interviews and the final interview was on Wednesday the 23rd, the final decision on the 24 th, and the first day of work on the 24th, which didn't leave much time for reflection. In the meantime I had interviewed with a German couple who had just bought a somewhat run-down cafe in an affluent neighborhood and had plans to turn it into a European-style cafe. They needed someone to run the kitchen and provide direction for the menu. So this was also an interesting opportunity and I really liked the people, so which way should I jump if both made offers? I knew that the cafe would need extensive renovations which might take a couple of months, so I clued them in to the Cirque du Soleil opportunity, and they said go ahead and we'll get back together when the Circus leaves town. I actually had both parties on different phones at the same time when Manpower called with the good news from the Circus folks. I didn't want to commit to the Circus until I had some sense that the cafe owners would keep me in the frame. But it all played out just the way I was hoping. So with luck I can move effortlessly from one to the other. We shall see! Stay tuned for my adventures with Cirque du Soleil.