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Restaurant Kitchen Stories You Would Never Believe
Let me start by introducing myself, I am Chef Dusky, and I have been in the restaurant industry for over 10 years. Throughout my time in various kitchens I have seen some down right outlandish stuff, and for me it's too interesting to keep to myself. Hence, the blog! Now, I am from a small town in Kentucky where I grew up farming and learning the ways of the land so a lot of my influence comes from my parents and grandparents shoving me out in the garden and working my little ass to death. I have snapped more green beans and shucked more ears of corn than most people will eat in a lifetime! With that setting the example, I have in my later years come to realize the amazing work ethics that have become of those tedious, seemingly never ending days. That is what I attribute parts of my success to present day. So thanks to all you assholes for making me work hard, because now I know the meaning of not only a dollar, but a hard days work as well! Hats off to you!
As for my career I have been in several types of kitchens and experienced many varietals of world cuisines. Currently I am on a new venture with a Spanish Tapas restaurant which is not only challenging for a slew of reasons but fun and eye opening at the same time. I currently reside just outside of Houston, TX which is where my culinary effort thus far have taken me. I will elaborate more details about my self throughout this series of blogs, but for now and the sake of my readers I will get into some juicy stuff to give you some insight into the craziness of my career, life, and the industry!
I would love to start this series with an awakening I had when I first got into the industry. It's truly the beginning of my passion for the industry and also a shocker which could be a turn off to some people. It was an "ah ha" moment for me. I was beginning culinary school and like many students I not only wanted to get my foot in the door but, needed to support myself. I had been in and out of a couple of corporate chain restaurants and was looking for a place where I could get a good foundation, learn to cook some things from scratch, and get an idea of what a real kitchen was like. Only problem, I didn't know how to really go about it other than going kitchen to kitchen filling out applications. No luck. Without anything other than basic experience I found it hard to land a decent place without a seamless foot in the door.
At the local bar one night like most college students at that time, with a hefty buzz going I struck up a conversation with a rather interesting character. Ziggy, was an Executive Chef at one of the local Cajun restaurants in town at the time. He had just started there a few months prior and I convinced him to give me a shot. I began working the following weekend where I soon found just how kitchens get the bad wrap you always hear about. I walked in on my first day, clean crisp culinary school chef coat, my $200 special Japanese forged knife, and my pride. Confidence level higher than ever, I walked up to the back door gave it a knock and when it opened I was shocked at what I had walked into. A filthy, old, dirty, beat down kitchen with shit piled everywhere. A walk-in cooler which had a door that barely worked, stoves with only 2 of the 4 gas burners working properly, and music playing loud music with cooks in the background dancing. To me, in the back of my mind it looked like everyone was having fun! My young culinary conscious is saying what the %@$!. Ziggy, the Chef, was wearing dirty pants with holes in them and ripped off just below the knee to create an uneven white trash version of caprice pants. He toted a sheath wrapped in old linen attached to his belt which was obviously doing no good by sight of the sagging he was pulling off somehow. On top of his head was a blue bandanna folded and tied tight to catch the sweat on his brow. With all this being described there is one more key feature about this guy that had my mind blown. He carried a noticeable cripple in his right hand, which I'm still to this day trying to wrap my brain around. How can someone overcome an obstacle like that and achieve the things he had while lacking the primary use of your main work tools in the industry. Props to him for setting an unforgettable example of work ethic to me that I carry still to this day.
Adapt and Overcome. I use those two words frequently in my line of work now and pull from the mental library I have, often remembering the preceding example, to summon my drive to keep going in the worst times.
Now, the story doesn't nearly end there. After all, it was my first day on the job! Before I make the place seam worse than I have already described, I must convey that this experience in my time there was what sparked my deep driven passion for the rebelliousness in the kitchen and the teamwork
Crazy Chef Designs
To be in a kitchen for the first time and having that be my "foot in the door" christening, it was a confusing battle for me. It was nothing like what I was used to in the small amount I had been exposed to thus far. The school kitchens were as clean as a whistle, and we did it, and even the corporate chains were structured and organized. All of these things were absent in this new place and it was like a whole new world.
Again, as a college student and also being from Kentucky, I had an early introduction to marijuana and it was no stranger. Any use was always at home, and discretely at that. After a couple of days working there it was made aware to me that all of the guys in the kitchen would get together and go take a "cigarette break". I joined them, more or less to fit in being the youngest and greenest in the kitchen. They had started to warm up to me, after all it wasn't that hard, from the get go the dirty jokes were flying and the obscenities seemed to roll off of the tongue like butter. Feeling welcomed I wanted to be apart of the daily routine. It was a small area out back under a shaded tree, and littered with broken crates and 5 gallon buckets. Seats are what we used it all as. On my first inclusion to this "ritual" I thought we were going to have a cigarette break and the broke out a half smoked joint and lit it up. Offered to me and I surprisingly excepted. It caught me off guard but gave me a thrill at the same time. After that we smoked another cigarette, went back to the kitchen and my culinary intuition was born. With lifted spirits and feeling motivated, for me it was as if a volcanic eruption had exploded in my mind as I used the euphoria to fuel my work and creative intuitions. This experience, became more of daily ritual, and opened my eyes to a small window where I could mix work and pleasure. It also gifted me with the ability to look forward to cooking and enjoy myself while I was there. It's a rare thing that one enjoys his/her job and looks forward to going do work based on there driving passion.
In my later years I rarely smoke, but throughout my stories and blog there will be references to it, as it has been a part of my success and saneness in the culinary industry.
Our later smoking "sessions" during my time there became more frequent and on occasion we would actually go to the chef's house before and after work to engage. His house was literally right across the street, so it was convenient nevertheless. It was, as stated before, an exciting outlet and time in my life when I knew that this was the career field for me. Little did I know my first substantial career let down was in the near future.
As, I continued watching, working, learning from Ziggy, he taught me an unimaginable amount of things about the kitchen. The kind of stuff you can't learn in culinary school. An overall grasp on the way things worked, operated, and functioned. Experience I suppose is the best word for it, I carry a lot of the things he showed me to this day. In turn, I pass them along to my employees and sometimes even tell them this story as an example. As a good one and a bad as well.
Here is where the story takes another turn. I noticed a bit of a problem arising at that given time in my career. It was becoming a more frequent occurrence that on the weekends I would show up for work, on time mind you, and the door would be locked. The first couple of instances I nonchalantly waited and occasionally even made a phone call to chef. Obviously he had had a few to many the night prior, but being friendly I just gave him a wake up call and waited for him to run over to the restaurant. Now, like I said, I was patient at first, but after it became more of a regular occurrence it was different for me. It turned from "I'll be right over" to "come over and chill at the house for a bit and then we'll head in later." This proved to be fun until the occasional hang session became in my eyes a persistent act of tardiness which was also affecting my paycheck. What little I was making, was now taking a big hit due to the lack of hours from being late regularly due to the Chef.
One Saturday, I showed up on time as usual, in my crisp white chef coat and ready to work. The door was locked, yet again. The difference this time was when I called, no answer. Frustrated and fed up I waited at the restaurant in hopes that he would show. An hour passed, nothing. No return phone call, no sign of Ziggy. After the hour passed I made a decision to go home, as I was even hung over from the past night. The following day, still with no word from Chef, I returned to work at my usual time to find the same scenario. Locked door and no Chef. Again, I called, waited, and hoped he would show up on his own. I refused to go wake him up, as a young employee I was at the point that I wanted to stand up for myself and prove a point that he was not only doing wrong by me but costing me money. He never showed that day either. Now here's the kicker. Desperate to figure out what was going on. On Monday, after my culinary classes let out, I shot over to the restaurant. Surprised to see Chef chopping away at something as if nothing had happened. Greeted with a nonchalant head bob, when I walked over to him to bring the issue on the offensive, he calmly said "I don't need you to work here anymore, we need people here that show up for work when they're scheduled."
Baffled by his remark, it seemed he was completely confused about the situation. I told him that if he never needed my help just give me a call. I was upset, but not willing to fight over the issue. Disappointing because I felt as if I had lost a friend and good learning opportunity as well. In retrospect, with emotions and feelings aside and now jobless, we parted ways for the best and have not talked since.
This was an extremely valuable learning experience for me in my career. To this day I still carry some of the skill sets acquired from that dinky chef. However they were some of the best things I could have learned and learned from. There have been many more great chef's that I have worked for, and many more stories even juicier than the preceding one. As time allows I will continue to tell stories as much as people will listen. God knows I have plenty.