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.
Jules was upset about how Mark was handling it, but hey, what did she expect. He was loosing his chef, he'd have to go find a new chef, and that was just one more thing on his plate. She rationalized it by thinking he should have kept her more challenged. The routine was getting too easy for her. Everyday was the same. Prep, cook on the line, deal with a few employee issues and work on new recipes. After a while it just gets redundant. It was time for a change.
She was excited to get home and start reading through the folder Jamie had given her. She grabbed a beer and turned on Letterman, got comfortable on the couch and opened the folder. It contained all sorts of "Personal Profiles," the typical government forms I-9 and W4, a workman's comp form and a "Employment Contract". She was little nervous about that. She had never had an "Employment Contract" before. But then again, she never was given a percentage of gross receipts and all that other good stuff either.
Then she got to the meat of the folder. The Menus. She found a lunch menu and dinner menu, complete with prices and some recipes. They were pretty good. There were a few ingredients she never heard of, but basically they were things she recognized. She pulled out a cook book and looked up "Panko-crumb" and Halloumi cheese. "Wow" she thought, "Cool stuff."
She got out a pad of paper and started taking notes. She had a long list of ideas and notes when she noticed that it was well past 2 AM. Time for bed, she had an early day the next. She wanted to start putting together the menu, and take a look at the kitchen design. She was so excited. It was time to really go places.
The next morning she called Jamie to see if it was OK to come by the restaurant and look around some more. He said fine, and she went by on her way to work.
When she arrived, she walked through the kitchen and asked for floor plans of the kitchen and dining room. She took a list of the kitchen equipment, and gathered whatever cook and utility applications they had already collected. She met briefly with Jamie and Scott and asked permission to run an ad for kitchen help. They agreed, told her to write one, get it to them and they'd place it. She explained that she knew she wasn't officially "on the clock", but wanted to get started anyway. They were excited to see her so enthusiastic.
They agreed to meet in a couple of days to review the menu and what she needed to proceed. She told them she had some great ideas, She also confirmed that she would be available in a week, and that she would like to be available on the weekends for her previous boss if that was OK with them. They agreed, actually that relieved Jamie's concerns about her dedication to the previous job. She agreed to bring the contract and employment forms back when they met next. They set up their next meeting and she left for work.
Work was tough, another busy night, and Mark was riding her like crazy. "Just 5 more days," she thought to herself. "I don't know if I can take it though." Mark was rough, really picking on her she thought. Most of the staff had asked if she would hire them. She was nervous about stealing his staff; but the way he was treating her, he deserved it.
She had another rough night. It seemed there were a lot more food problems than usual. An overcooked steak ...that looked just about right to her, a cold soup, a chicken breast that the guest said "just didn't taste right." She never had this much trouble. "What was going on?" she thought. And Mark was there every time with his "What's going on?"
He was constantly trying to pick a fight, she thought. He was never like this normally. Usually his intentions were to correct the problem and please the guest. But lately it was to place the blame on the kitchen. What game was he playing, she wondered. The morale of the kitchen was suffering, she was getting upset, and the wait staff was getting frustrated. Instead of just fixing the problem Mark was wasting time yelling at the cooks and complaining to the chef. Food was taking longer, and guests were getting mad. Most of all, tips were going down!
Usually the restaurant was totally focused on guest satisfaction; but lately it was just bickering and placing blame. No one was having fun at work. It was time for Jules to say something.
"Mark, you're making it very difficult for us." Jules started. "I know your mad, but don't take it out on the cooks. The guests are getting upset, the waiters are worried, and the kitchen is a wreck. If you want me to stick around and help out over the next few weeks you best lighten up!"
"Who are you to tell me to lighten up? You think your hot stuff...I run this restaurant, and I'll do what I please. Don't tell me to lighten up." Mark snapped back at her.
Jules was shocked. She never saw Mark so upset. "Whatever you want," Jules said. "But I don't know if I'll even make it the week at this rate."
"Neither do I," said Mark sarcastically. "Now leave me alone, I'm busy"
Jules left his office, slammed the door and went to her locker to change. She wasn't even sure if she'd come back tomorrow.
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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