The Serial That Takes You to Dinner
by Chef Bob Munnich
Back of the House is a real chef's fictional story about running a restaurant and the politics behind the scenes that diners rarely see.
Michelle was disheartened to say the least. Eight resumes out in the mail, and after a week only one phone call. She had been to several restaurants, but they all just offered her positions in the pantry if at all. Most wouldn't pay more than the $6.50 per hour offered her at Chez Baci.
She was concerned. She had thought for sure she would be able to get a job as at least a first cook. Well, it's only been a week, she thought to herself; and she opened the help wanted ads.
She hadn't tried any hotels yet; but really wanted to work in a fine restaurant. She was afraid that a hotel would be too "institutional". There weren't enough good hotels in the city.
Under the heading "Hotel" there was one interesting ad. It was for a rounds man at "Richard" in the Biltman. The Biltman was a small hotel. It was in the suburbs but was popular not only as a restaurant but the bar and hotel itself were getting a lot of recognition. She decided she'd give it a shot.
The next morning, dressed in her best "business" suit, she went out to drop off her resume. Maybe she could meet the chef. She arrived at the hotel around 10:00. She thought that it would be good to get there before lunch started. She approached the front desk and, somewhat nervously said, "I'd like to apply for the job advertised in the newspaper, I have my resume right here." The front desk attendant took the resume and asked her to have a seat. He would see if the Maitre 'D was available.
She politely corrected him, "Well I was applying for the cook position, not a dining room position."
"I'm sorry, I just assumed you were a server." The young man said apologetically. "I don't see many women apply for cooking positions."
"That's all right," Michelle said, "I get that a lot."
Michelle waited patiently for the chef. He came out of the kitchen, somewhat unimpressively. His hair was all over, a curly mop, his apron was stained with what looked like blood, flour and guacamole, and his clogs were covered with gunk. He definitely looked like a mess.
"Well, well, a culinary graduate, heh?" he said as he looked over her resume. "Not much experience, but what you do have is very impressive... Oh yeah, I'm Jay. I'm the Executive Chef."
"Pleased to meet you, chef," Michelle said. "I'm interested in the position you advertised in the paper."
"Well you're the first to have applied. I am desperate. As you can see I'm up to my ears in prep work."
"Tell me about yourself. Are you local? Are you available immediately?" He inquired.
Michelle went on and on about how she has always loved to cook. She told him how her mom had taught to her make French toast as a child, and how she always loved to read cookbooks and bake cakes. She also answered the other two questions with a simple "yes, I am local and yes, I'm not working yet."
"Well, would you like to see the kitchen?" Jay asked.
"Sure, sounds interesting." Michelle followed the Chef through the double doors and into the back of the house.
The dining room had been so organized and clean, but the kitchen was not. The meat order had just been delivered and it was sitting outside the walk-in propping the door open. The floor looked like someone had just thrown lettuce and tomato cores all over, and all of the stoves were filthy with build up. Michelle was a little shocked when she saw the mess.
"This is the line. It's a little bit of a mess, but we are pretty busy this morning and very short staffed. Over on the left is the grill station, the center is sauté and on the right is the pantry."
The kitchen was not too big, but it seemed adequate. The sinks in the dish room were overflowing with dirty pots and pans and a couple of cooks in street clothes were having a cigarette outside the back door.
Jay pointed down a hallway where Michelle could see a narrow staircase. "Downstairs we have a little bakery and more storage. Well I gotta get back to work now. I'll give you a call later today. I'm very interested in hiring you. I'm assuming you have good line skills; and what you lack in experience you'll make up for in enthusiasm."
"I sure will," she said in her most enthusiastic voice. "I'll look forward to hearing from you." Michelle shook his hand; and, wiping the gunk off her hand onto her pants, left the kitchen through the back door.
When Michelle got home she checked the messages on her answering machine. There was one message from Chef Joseph at Chez Baci. He wanted to offer her the job. She quickly returned his call and he made his offer formal. He told her that after some careful consideration, he thought he could offer her 7 dollars an hour with a three month review. He would start her in the pantry, but train her on the line during those first three months. "That sounds good; but I'll have to think about it. Can I call you tomorrow?" Chef Joseph agreed, and she promised to call either way. She liked his restaurant. It was clean, organized and he seemed patient and nice. But seven an hour wouldn't go very far. Just then the phone rang again.
It was Jay. "I'd like to offer you the rounds man position if your interested. It pays Ten-fifty an hour and is roughly forty hours a week. Do you think you'd be interested?" Jay asked.
"Well, I'm not sure. I have one other offer and would like to think it over. Can I call you tomorrow morning?"
"Sure, but I'd want you to start right away. It's gonna be a busy weekend and I'd like to see you on the line before Friday."
She promised to call the next morning either way, and said thanks and good-bye. Wow, first no opportunities, now two. And one pays over ten dollars an hour!
What do you think? Should she go for the money or for the career? Have you ever had to make this decision? How would you handle it? Post your comments on the B.O.T.H. message board.
Copyright © 1996, 1997 Bob Munnich. All Rights Reserved.
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
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