It was hotter than usual in the kitchen. I had been left to cover the Sunday lunch and dinner shifts with one insufferable moron who didn’t know where anything was. The stainless steel dungeon with its gas burners, fat fryers, microwaves and hot ass shelves on the pass were all licking me with malevolent heat. I was pissed off before I got to work, and thinking there would be a team of at least four to deal with the rush was the only thing that was keeping me from jumping under a double-decker bus just so that I could get out of the hell of having to do a double on a Sunday… a Sunday! But instead I was left with only Azul, the cretin from the depths of the bottom of the hireable food barrel stumbling around, dropping food and burning the cheese on the Nachos.
“Where’s the rest of the team Azul?”
“None of them are coming in. Alan said we could cover the shift ourselves.”
“That motherfucker has never done a Sunday double in his life and now we’re in here alone having to deal with all the shit.”
“Yes, all of the shit.”
“Has anyone done any of the prep for today?”
“No, no prep done.”
“No roasties, no meat cooked off, nothing?”
“Shame on those useless fucks. So now we have exactly fifteen minutes to get all the prep done for a whole Sunday. Jesus hairy Christ they’ve really fucked us in our asses on this one.”
“Yes. In our asses.”
“Do something useful would you, rather than standing there scratching your ass with a spatula.”
Azul looked down in to his right hand and took a second before he realised he had indeed been trying to carve himself a new hole with a stainless steel spatula.
“Sorry boss,” he said “sometimes I forget.”
“Just get some potatoes roasting my man. Get the Yorkshire Puddings in the oven, start boiling off some veg and get me the meat out of the fridge.”
No prep work meant the day was going to be a frantic rush to get everything out for the roasts, and on top of that there was the a la carte menu to deal with. Not to mention the bistro items and the ever-present burgers, nachos and chips. I needed the mercy of my colleagues to bail me out; I put in a call to Peter, the highly competent Albanian sous chef.
“Peter, my man, you gotta help me out here. That useless bastard Alan has left me alone in the kitchen with Azul to do a double.” I heard laughing down the line.
“This isn’t funny you ass, I need you. I need you now.”
“Sorry man, I’m already shitfaced, it’s my day off man. I’m making the most of it.”
“You’re as much use as an infected testicle.”
“See you tomorrow boss – don’t work too hard.”
“You’ll pay for this motherfucker.” – click.
There were no other kitchen staff I trusted to help me out in this situation, all the other bumbling fools would only make things worse. I turned to see Azul staring at the order screen, mouth open like a lobotomy patient with his hand down the front of his trousers.
“Yes boss.” He whipped his hand out and hid it behind his back.
“What are you? A fucking child?” His hand came from behind his back and slowly starting edging towards his face. He looked at me with a vacant emptiness as the hand passed up by his chest and skirted around his chin before it stopped just under his nose. He was still looking directly into my eyes when he began sniffing his fingers.
“Are you… are you fucking serious? Do you even know what you are doing? Does your brain have any idea what the rest of your body is doing or are you just some automated bullshit robot that was built just to enrage me?”
“I get the potatoes boss.”
“WASH YOUR FUCKING HANDS FIRST!”
“Sure boss. Wash my hands. Wash them right away.”
I slipped my way over slices of tomato to the walk in fridge to get the meat for the day. Huge sides of beef, hundreds of pork chops, dozens of whole chickens all stared back at me from their individual shelves – raw. It was an impossible task to undertake. I decided to make an executive decision and phoned front of house to tell them that Sunday roast would not be on until 3pm. I knew it would get me in a whole dung of trouble, but there was no way any of the meat would be ready in time for the advertised 1pm. Until then the customers would have to deal with the burgers that only took minutes and could be done while the rest of the food was cooking. I got to work prepping the meats, seasoning the sides of beef, stuffing the chickens and tenderising the pork, fired up the giant cavernous ovens and snuck out the back door for a cigarette.
Azul interrupted my cigarette.
“Sylvia wants you on the phone boss.”
“Fuck, can’t a man get one god damned minute.” I stubbed out the smoke and followed Azul back into the kitchen, the bugger still had his hands in his pants but I decided to let it go. There are only so many times you can tell an imbecile to act properly before he turns into a politician, and that was the last thing I wanted from Azul.
“Dan. It’s Silvia. The nachos you just sent up weren’t arranged properly. I understand you have only been in this kitchen for a couple of weeks, but here we believe that presentation is important. And if you send out food that isn’t up to par it makes the company look bad. And if the company looks bad…”
“I didn’t make the nachos. Azul made the nachos. It is the only thing I trust him to do without making a mess out of.”
“Well they looked awful.”
“Like I said. I didn’t make them, but I’ll get a new batch sent up to you straight away.”
“Thankyou.” – click
I slammed the phone into the receiver, the tiny she-bitch’s attitude was awful, was always awful and she took any grievances she had with the kitchen out on me because I was the ‘new guy’ and I guess she had to ascertain her authority over me. I never do well with people and their ‘authority’, it makes me edgy.
I went back to my meat, trusty meat always does as it’s told under fingers that love the art of the kitchen, to love the meat is to love the business, to love the kitchen is madness, but there are a few out there who truly do love the kitchen. When it works, when it really works like a well lubed appendage it can be utter bliss. But this kitchen with its terrible staff and angry management was anything but bliss, it was a living nightmare, an ass puckering, frightening hardship meant only for the brave or those with iron temperaments – nothing, I may add, like mine. Mine is more of a hell-fire car wreck of screaming anger in a thunderstorm of passionate hatred.
Orders began coming through, the blue screen above the pass was listing off meal after meal of non-roast related lunches with beep after beep, nachos, burgers, paninis, chillis, chicken burgers, deep fried prawns and on and on and on it went, and the meat for the roasts wasn’t even in the oven. I looked to Azul for support, he was cooking raw potatoes under the grill – my heart sank, I knew it was going to be tough, but this fool, this plaster on severed limb would be the end of me, I knew it, I knew he had been sent to push me over the edge into plain and simple enraged insanity.
“Azul! What are you doing?”
“Roasting the potatoes boss.”
“No. Azul. You are grilling the potatoes.”
“Is there a difference boss?”
“How long did you say you had worked here Azul?”
“One year boss.”
“One year. One fucking year and you are grilling raw potatoes. Tell me this is some kind of elaborate practical joke. Can you not see the tickets on the screen building up? These are all people upstairs waiting for food. All these people are paying for food. They are not paying for fucking grilled raw potatoes!”
“It’s my first time cooking boss.”
“I’m pot wash boss. Never cooked before.”
“Are you serious? You have never cooked any food in this kitchen before?”
“Never cooked before boss. My wife does all my cooking for me at home.”
“Well call your wife and get her in here then!”
“She is at home with the kids…”
“I was only joking Azul, just stop burning those potatoes and come here, I want to show you something.” I showed him the intricacies of boiling water and left him to start dunking vegetables into a pan while I went to call that son of a bitch Alan.
The phone rang, and I could see that arrogant prick switching from ipad to iphone to answer the call.
“Dan, hi, how’s everything going?”
“You dirty rotten ass fiddler.”
“I beg your pardon.”
“Is this some kind of joke to you? I’m standing in a kitchen with a fucking broken wheel trying to hold the kitchen together while tickets are pouring in and I am a one man band. A fucking one man band you shit muncher! Azul has never cooked a day in his life, he’s been too busy fondling his nut bag and scratching his ass to come across any ambition or drive in his god damned life. And you leave him in a kitchen with me for a Sunday double!”
“Come on now Dan, it can’t be that bad.”
“He sniffed his nutty fingers at me earlier. Sniffed them! And then started grilling raw potatoes!”
“He told me he could cook.”
“Bullshit, you just wanted to spend the day putting your party sausage into that obese girlfriend of yours. When are you going to fucking man up and pull a Sunday shift?”
“Don’t make me pull rank on you Dan. Remember I am still your superior.”
“Superior? What are you superior over? You’re nimble little precious fingers that haven’t seen a kitchen burn in ten years, or your precious fucking techno gadgets?”
“Look, you better watch your tone.”
“Just enjoy your Sunday off you sack of shit.” – click.
Azul was leaning over the boiling pot of water and staring into it like it held all the mysteries of life, his left hand in the crease of his ass crack and his right hand down the front fondling his balls. I left him to his pot and turned my attention to the mountainous list of orders that were filling up the screen. I hit the ground running, got the first order in, fried prawns, dunked into the fat fryer, two burgers on the griddle, dunked a bunch of chips, chilli stirring in the pot, pasta cooking in another pot, salad out on the table, tearing chicken for the Caesar, slicing anchovies, roasting crutons – the phone rang, I picked it up.
“Dan, I’m waiting on burgers for table 38.”
“I’m aware of that, but do you really think phoning down and telling me what I already know is going to make me move any faster? I’m down here with a walking yucca plant with his wandering hands and he’s about as much use as a dead sparrow in my tobacco pipe.”
“Dan, you aren’t making any sense, I just want the burgers for 38.”
“Yes. I know. 38. You are wasting my valuable time, do you realise that there are two other orders on that ticket that need to be cooked off before they can go.”
“Fine. As soon as it is all ready send the ticket.” – click
I flipped the burgers over and shouted at Azul to stop thinking about going for a swim with the pretty bubbles and told him to get me two burger buns ready, relish and chips on the side. I checked the meats, basted the chickens, prodded the beef sides and turned the pork. Azul walked back from the walk in freezer with two frozen ciabbatas, a look on his face like a lost hen in a fox den.
“These the right buns boss?” He looked genuinely terrified.
“No buddy, there are burger buns in the fridge, get a whole bunch, get at least twenty and start prepping all of them. Run them all through the griller and put lettuce, tomato and onion in each one. Then stack them all up so they are ready to receive the meat – so to speak.”
His look changed to abject joy.
“I can do that, boss. I can do that for you right now.”
“Good man, get right to it. I’m counting on you.”
“You can count on me, boss.” There might be hope for the mad man yet.
The prawns came out, the chips were done, the chilli was ready, the pasta was perfect, it all came out and was plated and ready to go when the kitchen door swung open and Silvia stormed into the kitchen swinging her big ass behind her.
“Dan!” she shouted “Burgers for 38!”
“They’re right here, look, on the pass waiting to be taken out by the runners!”
“I told you to send them as soon as they were ready.”
“No you didn’t, and since when do we send food that isn’t part of the whole order?”
“I phoned down and specifically told you to send them as soon as they were ready.”
“You specifically said that did you? Are you aware of what the word specifically fucking means?”
“Don’t you dare say ‘fucking’ to me, don’t you know I am your superior!”
“My superior! Shit, that’s twice I’ve heard that today and I can’t help but wonder where all this superiority comes from when I’m the only one holding this fucking kitchen together! Here. The fucking burgers are ready, take the fuckers and give them to the fucking customers and stop wasting my fucking time!”
“As soon as this kitchen calms down you come and find me because we are going to have a little talk.”
“Sure – now get the fuck out of my kitchen.”
More orders flooded in, filling up the ticket screen as I ran back and forth to different stations grilling, sautéing, boiling, frying and the roasts hadn’t even started coming in yet. I would have to get on top of the veg for the roasts, as well as making the Yorkshire’s from scratch which meant a fire-hot oven and bubbling hot oil in all the trays to make sure they were perfect. I was beginning to feel more and more agitated with every new beep of an order on the screen, I had to keep my eye on a dozen different orders all cooking at the same time, trying to keep them from over cooking or under cooking with zero help from the insane pot-washer-turned-sous-chef doing his best to impress me with his burger bun assembly skills.
“Here boss, I have the burger buns for you.” They were all assembled perfectly.
“Great, get them on a couple of plates and flip those burgers into them. Then get the relish ready in the ramekins and place them next to the burgers and then chuck a load of chips on the side. The chips are there in the basket ready to go.” I watched him take to this task like a man with nothing to lose, rushing back and forth to the relish and chips placing them on the plates with beautiful precision. Then it happened. He needed an extra couple of chips for the plate, I had told him so. And he had seen some. Some that were cooked. Some that were still bubbling in the hot oil burning at 170 degrees. And he dunked his hand in. Just dunked it straight in there.
There was no scream as I had expected, first he looked at his hand cooking in the oil before his brain had a chance to catch up with the pain that was about to scream through his nervous system. But the scream wouldn’t come, he just looked over his shoulder at me with that doe eyed expression, reaching out for a command, reaching out for something that would ease the pain.
“Take your fucking hand out of the oil Azul!” He looked down to his ass scratcher and suddenly whipped it out of the oil, the smell of burning flesh rich in the air, and held it up to his face to inspect the damage.
The bowl of pasta I was holding dropped to the floor in slow motion, rolling over and over itself before it crashed to the floor in muted splinters. I reached for the first aid kit and told Azul to stand still, not to move, pleaded with the kitchen gods not to let him smear butter over his hand or some such other madness. His lips curled over his teeth as he held the pain inside, his eyes a burning human reaction hidden behind stupidity.
I ran him to the sink and made him run his hand under cold water while I dialled 999 on the phone, the operator was good, she knew her stuff and swiftly despatched an ambulance to where we were in Holborn, Central London. As I was nursing Azul the tickets were still beeping behind me, incessantly, mocking me for how far behind I was. I left Azul by the sink and got back to the orders, smashing out as many tickets as I could in a blind haze, all the while keeping my eye on the injured Azul.
The ambulance arrived and the paramedics took control.
“What happened here?”
“He put his hand in the fat fryer.”
“Why? Was it an accident?”
“He was getting some chips.” The paramedic in his green leprechaun’s outfit looked at me like I was a complete buffoon.
“Getting some chips?”
“Look man, he just dunked his hand straight into the fat fryer. Like it was nothing. Like it was a nice summer’s day and he was just testing the water of the sea. I had no idea he would actually submerge his whole fucking hand into the fryer!”
“Alright mate, just calm yourself down, we need to take him to the emergency room, it’s a pretty serious burn.”
“No shit it’s serious, he just cooked up his hand.”
Azul looked at me with those rabbit eyes and mouthed ‘I’m sorry, boss’. It broke my heart.
There was no escaping the Sunday rush, it was still there poking at me with those annoying little beeps every twenty seconds. The list seemed endless, there was no way I would be able to cope without help, but there was no help. I attacked the first orders on the list, threw the meals together and started getting them up to the pass hoping that some miracle would present itself to me and save me from the inevitable doom. But, it was useless, for every meal I got to the pass another three, or four would beep at me on the screen. I was alone on the front line, losing the battle, being beaten to death with a never ending stream of hungry punters smashing me to pieces with their greedy hunger. And I was about to crack.
The phone rang.
“Dan, where is the Caesar salad for 15?”
“It’s right here, I’m doing it now.” – click.
Thirty seconds later Sylvia walked back in with her big ass swinging behind her. She looked angry, but to me this only made me feel better.
“I’ve been waiting for that salad for fifteen minutes Dan!”
“Do you have any idea what has been happening down here since the last time you were here? My man-monkey decided to deep fry himself and has left me to fend for myself. And every time you come down here bitching at me all you are doing is slowing down the service. As you can see, the salad you are waiting for is right here in my hands being plated up along with the two large mixed grills that go with it. Both well done. Well done means they take fucking time to cook. You are just coming down here to vent your frustrations on me and I’ve had it with your bullshit.”
“You can’t talk to me like that!”
“Do I look like a fucking ventriloquist’s dummy with a perverted magicians hand up my asshole? NO! I am saying these words, and therefore I am perfectly capable of speaking to you like this. So here’s the skinny, fuck this job! You can stick it right up your big fat asshole you fucking little bitch.”
And with that I gave her the double finger and threw my chef’s whites at her.
“Where do you think you are going? She enquired.
“Getting the fuck away from you. I quit.”