Marlboro Reds and a Handfull of Vicodin?

Intrigued? Good. Now that I Have your attention we can begin. Consider, if you would, an industry that is driven no longer by the lure of fame and notoriety’ clearly a major effort considering the culture in which we –live everyday. Chefdom has begun to reflect the trappings of a Roman orgy of sorts–not so much in the hedonistic sense (the hedonistic side has always been very well represented) but more in the sense of “there’s a party going on and everyone’s invited”.

The problem is, with all the allure and flash of the dining experience from the customer’s perspective, the painful plight behind the scenes is often overlooked– a double-edged sword to say the least. The overall feeling of being part of something perceived as taboo piques the interest of nearly all that venture near the inexplicable gravitational pull of an industry known for wild and unfiltered behavior. It’s understandable to those on the inside. High stress levels, nearly unachievable expectations, a fishbowl professional environment of constant opinions and criticism on ones every move and decision regarding their work. An insufficient pool of talent from which to draw a proper support staff and the availability of every known late night vice imaginable……I can get a pack of Marlboro reds, spicy chicken wings, a hooker, a vile of crack, 6 Vicodin, a circus midget on a unicycle and a pound of foie gras from one guy with just one quick text, if that is, I have the right guy and a good amount of cash. And, for the right price, the circus midget can actually be the hooker and she’ll cook the foie gras! (I will pass the phone number on later.) I mean come on, how does this not set up like a recipe for disaster right?

The time has come for the meat of this story to be revealed. Please, keep in mind that about 90% of what you are about to read was manufactured anger and very much thought out before it happened. That is to say, I planned the whole thing so it would sidetrack and nearly derail. Here is the philosophy, in years to come, these cooks that are training and becoming bolder and stronger in my kitchen are going to, in turn, mentor their own team of recently graduated culinary genius. While in the process of doing so, they will need to have a few choice stories to pass along as rites of passage that they had to go through in order to justify their own less than stellar management skills. I am simply providing a few of those stories. Trust me, I tell my own stories from back in the day of my working for crazy French guys with wine on their breath and rage in their hearts as well. They’re war stories. Ya gotta have them for street cred. As for Sergio, well….. He’s just Sergio. Believe me when I say this, he gives it every bit as good as he gets it. Just not as loud, he’s more of a sneak.  So, that being said, no one was injured (at least physically) in the making of this rant and Restaurant Michael goes merrily, merrily along….. Read on, it’s all for show! I promise. (kind of)  😉

In any other professional industry I would be considered a fucking maniac. I would be called a self indulged, ego driven, narissistic, self- promoting asshole with a foul mouth, short temper and total disregard for any and all around me. Ah, but in the restaurant industry I am “Passionate”, So passionate in fact, that on many occasions (in years past of course) that “passion” has bubbled over and spilled into the dining room in the form of loud, rude, profane and often times disturbing tirades and rants that actually served to silence a room full of people who actually feared for the well-being of the poor soul on the receiving end. Undeniably a curious set of circumstances to fathom. A guest pays a substantial amount of money to come to my restaurant and enjoy an evening out. The evening is then interrupted by the afore-mentioned “situation” and then immediately after the tirade subsides I peer into the room, venture boldly out to each table and am met with not only a sense of approval but an almost morbid feeling that the guests with whom I’m speaking are comforted. Comforted by the fact that I care so much about their experience in my restaurant that I would, in fact, dissect any person, cook, waiter or otherwise to the point of bringing both their Mother and their religion into question!

What a sick bastard I am! I describe the situation to follow not as an attempt to make an amends but rather to illustrate the horrors my staff has to weather and endure in order to navigate the choppy waters of MICHAEL. God bless them all every one!

Now, I can only speak for myself and not for my fellow Chefs. However, I have been around long enough to know one thing for certain. It’s my and many of my peer’s fear that drives us to such childish and shitty behavior. Fear of not delivering on expectations and fear of not being seen in the light in which we desire–Not always looking good but damn sure trying not to look bad. We hosted a wine maker dinner at the restaurant last night and the dark side once again emerged, “The Beast” reared his arrogant, savage head in grand and fevered fashion. I’m both ashamed and proud that the old boy still has some fight left in him to be truthful. I kind of missed ‘The Beast”. For those of you that are unclear about whom I’m speaking, “The Beast” as he has come to be known, is the affectionate moniker I’ve bestowed upon my alter ego. Ego being the key word in that particular sentence by the way. My sick and twisted friend comes out to play when “Michael” has had enough and he needs the staff to fucking focus and walk the line. Clearly that could never be accomplished by simply speaking in a calm and concise manner that conveys the message without all of the fireworks provided by a visit from my furry friend. Last night’s performance was rather poignant since it’s been quite a while since I’ve felt the need or for that matter, the balls, to let this fool loose. When the fat bastard is allowed to roam freely, he does so for the most part, in the dirty end of the field, therefore it’s best that he play alone so I simply step aside. When I say dirty end of the field I mean that there’s a darkness that rolls in with a sense of impending doom that comes over the space I occupy and like a tractor beam, it sucks those unsuspecting naive folks around me in for the kill. “The Beast” was hungry last night and he fed with vigor.

I often times like to throw curve balls to the kitchen staff in order to better judge how comfortable they have become with their station and day-to-day responsibilities. Familiarity breeds contempt in any kitchen and I simply won’t have it. You must stay sharp in the kitchen at all times. If not, like a shark that stops swimming, you die. Inspiration for the kitchen has been a challenge for me over the past eight months or so simply because I’ve been distracted by the administrative side of the business as well as our recent expansion. That’s not to say I’ve allowed a slide in quality or integrity, in fact the key staff in the house have all stepped up to make up for my shift of focus but last night…….well, the focus shifted back with a whiplash type of frenzy that If I were a betting man, I would bet the farm that no one on staff expected. One of the cooks, who will know who he is when he reads this, (sorry brother) made the mistake of showing up 40 minutes late for the shift and then had the audacity to cite the fact that he was in the weeds with the amount of mise en place (preparations) that were heaped upon his station in order to ready himself for the special evening. The time of arrival and amount of one-sided prep on his station was a CURVE BALL! “The Beast” awakens when 30 minutes past the start of the shift have elapsed and he licks his chops with anticipation as our hero has yet to arrive to begin to prepare.

My day, much like any other small business owners day, consists of a ton of running around and organizing of the behind the scenes type of activity that allows service to appear relaxed and effortless. When the service does actually appear as such I realize that all of the hopping back and forth from one foot to the other, on rather arthritic ankles by the way, is very much worth the effort. But alas, my tardy young and soon to be headless cook arrives and immediately begins to falter. My focus now must shift from picking up floral for the week, placing orders for the weekend, containing and directing ding-a-ling contractors (that one is like eating soup with a fork by the way) and all the other bullshit I have to accomplish before the end of the day and beginning of service and I start to twitch.

This twitch serves as a ringing of the dinner bell for “The Beast” annnnnnd……….we’re off!

“Where are the silver pans I asked you to have ready for the Coquilles St. Jacques dish for this evening?” “Coming Chef.” “Coming Chef?!!?

We’re ten minutes away from service, what the fuck do you mean coming Chef?!!?”

“I’m a little behind from all the prep for the wine dinner and regular menu combined Che,f”

“Well I wonder how that could have happened. Do have any clocks in your home? Did you feel that I was a bit off the mark when I asked you to be here at 1pm and not 1:40?”

“No Chef, I mean, Yes Chef, I mean Yes to the clocks and no to the time thing….I mean…..what was the question again Chef?”

“Holy shit, you sir, are a disaster! Move and I will do it myself!” That very last statement of “I’ll do it myself” is a big red flag. The cook should, by now, realize that “The Beast” has indeed arrived and walks amongst us, but sadly, he does not realize this and the craziness ensues. Not only is the cook involved at this point but the entire staff is now in the path of destruction and they are all pissed off at the cook because of it. Poor guy just never knew what hit him. “You are fucked over here, why the hell didn’t you tell me you were this deep in the shit an hour ago?!!?” “Sorry Chef, I was trying to pull myself out of it and…….” “Sorry is right! This is a train wreck! Where the fuck is Sergio?!!?” Sergio is a waiter, he is also a frequent, and I must admit, favorite target of “Beasty” and there is no safe place for him to hide if he’s in the restaurant. You see, Sergio has been with me for 15 years, since he was 14 years old. He is as much of a little brother to me as he is an employee. This sounds warm and fuzzy but don’t kid yourself, remember the familiarity breeds contempt line from earlier? Well, I have a tendency to “Contempt” up and down poor Serg’s goofy ass like it’s a sport in an attempt to defer some of the wrath that I’m dispensing at the time. He’s proven to be a tough little bastard over the years and it seems to roll of his chubby rounded back–at least until he begins to present me with the bills for the therapist or he embarks upon a ritual beating of his family while screaming my name. What can I do? Since his parents did not seem to do enough to properly fuck him up, I feel it my duty to finish the job as his older brother by proxy.

Admirable I know, but also fun at times…(yes, I’m a bit twisted, we covered that already.) As all of this hilarity is unfolding my actual brother happens to pop by after a dinner meeting to pick his wife up some dessert in a feeble attempt, I assume, to soften the blow of coming home at 9pm. As I looked up and saw him I felt fuel being sprayed on the fire as I continued my rant. “Go get fucking Sergio Tommy! “Okay, okay, shut the fuck up” is his response. Tom is no longer even mildly effected, impressed nor motivated by “The Beast” as he has become numb to the sensation. “I’ll go find him, order me a couple of desserts for Cindy.” “SHUT UP AND GO GET HIM!!!” He ventures out to the dining room and soon returns to the kitchen with a shit eating grin on his face and tells me Sergio is pouring the wine for the course that my friend the cook, is currently in the process of fucking up. This does not bode well for Sergio as the longer I wait to see and unload on him the worse the beating will be. Even though he did nothing wrong, the verbal assault will be severe. Serg knows this after 15 years and wisely avoids the kitchen for the rest of the evening. I later come to find, after calling Tommy for my usual, post jagoff behavior apology, that he told Serg to get in the kitchen and Serg’s reply was “No fucking’ way Tom! Did you see his eyes? He’s got the crazy eyes! If I go in there now he will eat me!! I’m thinking of going home before he finds me. I feel bad for the cook but fuck em! I served my time in that role and that guys on his own.” Then he proceeded to bounce his chubby, charming ass back into the dining room to continue looking busy just in case I ventured out to find him myself. Good strategy. He still can’t walk and chew gum at the same time but he damn sure knows when to duck and cover, I’ll give him that. He also happens to have become a great waiter so I will have no choice but to allow him to live.

Now Dan, our Maitre d’ and savior of the dining room staff, walks into the kitchen and in a rather matter of fact way states that the wines are not yet poured for the course that is coming to the pick-up window and we need to slow it down. It the words of “the chief”  from JAWS……”We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”  I spin around with the fresh blood of the recently slaughtered cook dripping from the corners of my mouth only to see Dan smiling unsuspectingly after the statement he just made. Realizing that something bad is happening his smile turns to dread as he also comes to realizes he just became Sergio. I could hear him think, “Why do I talk to this asshole during service?” followed quickly by, “Run you fool!” Too late son, the tide has turned and you are now locked on as the new target. “What did you say?! Say that again, say what you just said again! I want to be sure I heard you right! “Shit” was all he offered as a response.

Dan was only doing what I need him to do but more importantly, he is doing what he should be doing in the room and that is to control service and it’s pace. Reasonable enough right? Well, actually, reasonable only applies to a reasonable and sane situation and person, neither of which could be used to describe what’s going on here with me and my alter ego. In classic Dan form, he ignores my ridiculous behavior and pulls all of the cowering staff to safety as the gale force winds of Chef Idiot blow the ship near wreckage. Finally, and thank God, we near the end of service. I walk into the room to a stunningly happy crowd of wowed participants in the wild ride and take questions as I go from table to table. After about 20 minutes, I returned to the kitchen as if the carnage of the past two hours never happened. There is a confused silence as someone sends the dishwasher out to return the lug nuts that the recently deceased cook removed while on a smoke break, back to my tires. I wish everyone a good evening and thank them for a great effort and depart as the entire staff thinks in tandem……”perhaps lithium or Prozac would be a better choice then Vicodin next time, whada ya think Cheffy?”

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6 thoughts on “Marlboro Reds and a Handfull of Vicodin?

  1. I swear I could hear Sergio’s voice whining about not facing you in the kitchen. Priceless. You’re not half as bad as everyone makes it out to be though. When someone’s 40+ minutes late on a day you’ve got a wine dinner, you’re being merciful by letting them keep their job. Keep up the killer work, Chef.

  2. Good for Sergio!!! He has finally learned to avoid “The Beast” after all these years. I love the “No fucking’ way Tom! Did you see his eyes? He’s got THE crazy eyes!” I have seen those eyes over the years and they are pretty damn scary (or funny depending which side your on)… Keep up the blogging, it makes my day every time I read a new one…

  3. Well BIG brother of mine, this story just re-affirms my decision to NOT change my major & go into business with you! Not that I would have made it this far anyway. LOL My weak backbone would have given out many years ago, when the beast was just forming. My career still has NO benefit to the the family, but I am hundreds of miles away and safe from ‘the beast” Glad I can laugh from a distance and know that I am SAFE! Sergio, you are a smart man! 🙂

  4. Sergio is, of all the waiters I’ve known, my favorite. On the rest of the blog, my guess is that the occasional explosion helps keep the team sharp. But it also explains why I never see you with a “best boss” t-shirt on.

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