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 had finished her externship at Tuttopronto. She learned a lot; but wished she had gotten more experience with sauces and on the hot line. She spent most of her externship working in the pantry. She made salads and picked herbs.
She had fulfilled her requirements, received her degree and celebrated with her family. Now it was time to get a job. She didn't have much experience. Just the fast food restaurant she worked in during high school, Tuttopronto and the degree. She managed to put together a resume. It wasn't long but it was printed on nice paper and she was proud of it just the same.
Flipping through the Sunday paper she found quite a few "Restaurant" ads. She had made 50 copies of her resume and a simple cover letter. She addressed envelopes to all the ads with PO boxes and made a list of all the "apply in person" ads.
On Monday morning Michelle started out around 9:00. She first went to the post office and mailed eight resumes. Next she started on her list of restaurants to visit. The first one was not to far from where she lived.
Chez Baci was a trendy "French-Mediterranean" restaurant. Michelle had heard of it. The reviews had touted the beauty of the restaurant and it's design; but had criticized its inconsistent and simple food. Still it was a busy and popular restaurant.
She arrived at about nine thirty. The doors were locked. She knocked, but no one answered. Peeking in the windows through the lace curtain she saw a fabulous dining room with beautiful place settings on every table. She also noticed a uniformed maid vacuuming the rug. She decided to look for the service entrance and see if it was open.
Around the back of the brick building was a door propped open with a case of tomatoes. The produce delivery was being received by a young man in a T-shirt and jeans. Michelle waited for him to finish checking in the order and asked if the Chef was available.
"Your lookin' at him!" he replied cheerfully.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I saw your ad in the newspaper and wanted to drop off a copy of my resume."
"Great!" he replied. "I really need some help, we're so busy! If you have a few minutes maybe we can chat."
"Sure, I'm just passing out resumes today. I have plenty of time."
Michelle handed him her resume, neatly folded in an envelope. He showed her to the dining room, asked her to have a seat at one of the tables, and excused himself for a minute while he locked the back door. After returning from the kitchen, he opened the resume and scanned it. Nodding his head he said, "So you just graduated, congratulations."
"Tell me about yourself," he began. "What made you decide to go to culinary school?"
"Well I've always loved to cook." Michelle went on about how her mom taught her to make French toast as a child. How she always loved helping out at dinner and reading cook books. She went on to describe her experiences at Tuttopronto and how she loved every aspect of her job there. She didn't even mind scrubbing the equipment at the end of the night.
The interview proceeded for about twenty minutes. Joseph seemed impressed. Michelle felt good about the conversation. Things were going well. Finally it was coming to a close. "Tell me about what your looking for," Michelle requested.
"Well, I'm looking for several positions. I'm looking for a sous chef, someone to run the line and work the saucier station when I'm not around. Also I need a line cook, someone with some grill and sauté experience. And then I need a pantry or prep type person. The one that I think would be ideal for you, is the prep or pantry position."
Michelle's heart sank. The only thing she could think of was picking parsley for hours. She thought for sure she was better than that. After all she had a degree, some experience, and loved her job—except being locked to cleaning lettuce and picking herbs. She didn't want to burn any bridges, so she asked what the job paid.
"Around six-fifty an hour to start, after a month you'd go to seven if you work out."
SIX-FIFTY? she thought to herself. Thirty thousand dollars for a six fifty an hour job? She could feel her face getting flush. She wasn't sure if she should say something, or just thank him and move on. She decided on the latter.
"Do you think you'd be interested?" Chef Joseph asked.
"Well, I don't know," Michelle responded. "I have a lot of other irons in the fire. I was sort of hoping for something where I could get a little more line experience and a little more money."
"What do you expect?" Chef Joe asked sincerely.
"Somewhere around nine dollars an hour. I made seven as an extern."
"Well what is different now? You still need more experience before you can earn nine dollars an hour. I could put you on the line as an apprentice; but that would pay even less." Chef Joe offered.
Michelle was a little distraught about the idea of making less that she expected. She was beginning to see his point. She decided to mull it over. "Well you have beautiful restaurant here. I'll have to think about it and let you know if I'm interested." She said politely.
"I'll give you a call in a day or so. I like you, and you seem sincere. If I can do anything about the money issue, I'll let you know, meanwhile think about the pantry position. It would be 40 to 45 hours per week with time and a half for over time. We don't have a health benefit program, but are looking into it. You do get fifty percent off dinner here if you'd like to come for dinner." the Chef offered. "Thanks for coming in. I'll be in touch."
"Thank you," Michelle replied as she left the restaurant. I hope they all don't pay this poorly she thought to herself as she got into her car to drive to the next restaurant on her list.
Are Michelle's expectations typical? What do you think she'll find at the other restaurants on her list? No benefits? How can an employer expect an employee to live with no health insurance?
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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