Assistant Kitchen Manager
Between seven and seven-thirty in the morning, the produce arrives. I have to stop cutting meat, take off my latex gloves, and check the order. The boxes appear, white or brown cardboard with green lettering. I see them in the corner of my eye, stacked neatly like a delivery of office supplies . I always see the boxes first, then greet Jose as he comes in, rolling four or five more boxes on a dolly.
Jose is lean, tatooed, almost twice my age, but he acts nervous around me. I am the assistant kitchen manager, and this his company’s most important account. When I make the order, he works for me.
“Got the avocadoes just a little soft just how you like them.”
I count all the boxes, check every item on the invoice. These people make mistakes, just like everybody else. I have to check everything.
“Where’s the mint?”
Jose leans in, peeks at the invoice and digs into a box of herbs with both hands.
“I swear I had it in here. I saw that you needed it. It should be in here. Hold on.”
He keeps rummaging through the box. I keep moving down the invoice, checking the prices, making sure he brought everything we ordered.
“Shit man. I can’t find that mint. Fuck.”
I feel every single mango. We use eight to ten every day. Jose has brought us hard mango and slightly soft avocado, just like we need. We let the mangoes ripen in the pantry. Avocados go straight into the walk-in refrigerator.
“I’m going to need that mint.”
“Yeah, uhhh…I could come back…when do you need it?”
“We have enough to open. Can you be back by noon?”
“Yeah, man, no problem.”
Jose will come back; he always does. I just never know when. Usually I call the owner of the company at noon and he shows up in twenty-minutes. I like it when they make small mistakes, because when I make a big mistake, and forget to order iceberg or corn or the peppers that we only need once a week, I can always call in a favor, and they are happy to send Jose out on the fly.
Fish comes in later in the morning, usually around 9:15. By this time, I have butchered at least fifty pounds of meat, and my first chef-coat of the day looks like it has been tie-died in blood.
The grade 2+ Ahi must be dark ruby in color and firm. We should order #1 for sushi, but the head kitchen-manager, has realized that no one notices the difference when he just uses 2+ for everything, and he saves 5.99 a pound.
I put each item we order on the scale and check it against the weight listed on the invoice. They never cheat on us on the weight, but I still weigh every item.
The halibut must feel firm to the touch and have no visible discoloration. I poke the skin-side of salmon filet, and if it feels firm and taut, we accept it. If any of this fish smells bad or seems off, we’ll know once we take it out of the bag to portion it. Ali, our fish guy, will take back any fish if we are unhappy with it.
I have no idea whatsoever where any of this fish comes from. I have no idea when Halibut season starts or ends, or if Halibut even has a season. We purchase Scottish salmon. I have had a nagging feeling the fish does not come all the way from Scotland, but I don’t know to whom I should direct that question.
I do know that salmon costs 7.99 a pound. Halibut costs 9.99 a pound. Tuna costs 11.99 a pound. Loup d’Mer means “Wolf of the Sea” and it comes in a bag of twelve for 35.99. We serve it grilled with chopped herbs and Marcona almonds on top. Marcona almonds come in a five-pound bag from the “Marion Nut Company” and have no skins. We place that order on Monday, which is my day off.
The general manager comes in around 9:30. He comes charging in, wearing his white undershirt and carrying his shirt and tie on hangers, slung over his shoulder. He greets all of us at once with a “Hello boys!” and heads straight for the espresso machine. He drinks at least six double espressos everyday. He is high-strung, always walks at full speed and talks at full volume, and I have never spoken to him for more than two-minutes at a time. I do like talking to him about the product-mix though. It is an easy way for me to act like I really care.
“Hey boss, did you see we sold seventy-five backs last night?” (Backs are full racks of baby-back ribs, the most popular entree).
“That’s not bad for a Tuesday.”
“Especially with twenty-two New Yorks and thirty Crab Cakes. That’s how we hit twenty-six mid-week.”
“Twenty-six” means twenty-six thousand in sales. We don’t count covers here. Only sales. On a good Friday or Saturday we do over thirty.
At 10 AM, all the kitchen guys clock out for a thirty minute break to eat. I need to finish cutting all the meat and fish by 10, or I’ll run behind all day. The cooks put together a spicy, greasy, starchy meal using scrap meat, beef ribs, rice, onions, garlic, and eggs. I have been working since 5:45, and I am hungry by this point. Their food always looks good, but never eat more than a few bites, because every morning, before the restaurant opens, I have to taste everything.
During my training, the kitchen-manager made a big fan-fare of “taste plate”. We just have to taste everything before service, but he made it seem like a test for his cooks and prep guys. I prefer to quietly move down the line, cold to hot, with a bowl and a handful of spoons.
I tackle the worst part first: the salad dressings. I stir each container, dip the handle or the back of my spoon, and taste while consuming as little as possible. We have seven different permutations of industrial mayonnaise, dried spices, chopped onions, and herbs. I know what they all should taste like: I look for the bitterness of stale oil or herbs, flatness when the lemon in a Caesar dressing has gotten too old, and I check to see that Blue Cheese dressing has enough chunky Danish Blue Cheese.
I don’t like to think about how much mayonnaise I must have consumed over the course of my employment here. I move my way down the line. I check the salad greens for freshness. I check the broccoli: it must be eighty-percent cooked so that when microwaved on pre-set number three, it won’t come out rubbery and overdone.
I smell all the fish. I throw a hamburger, three ribs that have broken off a full rack, and half an artichoke on the grill. I have to taste these items, and I end up eating most of them as my breakfast or lunch. The salad dressings always ruin my appetite, but I eat now, because once the rush starts, I won’t have another chance to eat anything until four in the afternoon.
I see the general manager and his assistant fussing with a plate of tomatoes. The assistant is taking pictures with a digital camera. Corporate has emailed them, concerned that we are selling “Vine-Ripe Tomatoes” as a side item in April. They want to see the color of the tomatoes. The general manager and his assistant try a few different lighting options. The tomatoes we serve are bright red, and we finish them with torn basil and olive oil. The customers love them. Eventually they take a satisfactory picture and nervously send it off to corporate. The tomatoes can stay.
But I don’t last more than a year . I quit after one year, on the exact day. They mail me a check for the week of vacation that they owe me.