Things only working in a kitchen can teach you
Being world class at potato peeling
You’d assume it all begins with the food in a restaurant. Chefs in whites, preparing and cooking ingredients, looking stressed and sweaty, occasionally screaming “service” and “yes chef” like an episode of Masterchef. Unfortunately, the real world is not like an episode Masterchef and it doesn’t start with food in a restaurant, it starts with a clean pan.
The people who get those pans clean are the kitchen porters – KPs for short – and in London they are legion. A secret army washing and scrubbing and scalding themselves to make sure the rib-eye steak you’ve blown 40 quid is sat on a plate as exquisite as the meal itself.
When I was 18-years-old I worked as a KP in a very fancy gastropub in Ealing. It is not a good job. It requires no skill and it has no prospects. It is the most exhausting thing I have ever done. The kitchen, like any workplace, has its own private grammar, its hidden links – things your average customer wouldn’t understand or expect. Abjectly placed at the bottom of the pile, doing the most servile and artless work imaginable, the KP has plenty of time to figure out what the fuck is actually going on in the kitchen. This is what you learn.
Welcome to your office
Where you spend more time with this machine than with the people you love
The Ecomax H Range Pass Through Dishwasher becomes an extension of your body, your mind, your very soul. You are it, it is you. People mistake you for the Ecomax H Range Pass Through Dishwasher in the street. People try and put their unclean dishes in your mouth, such is the resemblance at this point. Your girlfriend breathlessly pours the word Ecomax into your ear at night. You reserve your highest, Himalayan contempt for dishwashers which are un-industrial, un-Ecomax – unable to wash thousands and thousands of plates to a spotless sheen every single day.
You hear dark stories about other kitchens
Whispers and rumours mainly, but I heard that a guy called Leo chopped another chef’s thumb off and it was “no accident” at a scary, shouty, steamy restaurant my sous chef used to work at off Berkeley Square.
You haplessly dragging massive bin sacks around
You can double bag, you can triple bag, if you’re really asking for it you quadruple bag but guess what? It doesn’t matter. The universe, vast and arctic and shapeless and godless as it is, is obviously not going to protect you tonight. It is not going to stop the fetid, broken remains of the 57 Sunday lunches you’ve bagged up from spilling all over your arms and legs and shoes – inside the shoes, filling them, soaking them, until your bare feet are squelching kitchen juice – no, that’s going to happen every other time you drag refuse bags round to the bin area.
You never, ever, ever stop
And you smell like shit for a long time after the shift
I can’t describe this smell. It’s what happens when you have been covered in recently masticated food for a good eight hours and covered in really, really hot water and disinfectant for eight hours, while sweating heavily. I suppose I could say it’s not a good smell, not a pulling smell, not a smell you’d bottle and get Gigi Hadid to be the face of anytime soon.
There’s gak everywhere – everyone loves gak
Imagine having a deadline every five minutes. A deadline with complicated, moving parts like fire, boiling water, knives sharper than early 80s Bowie. Imagine if you had ten of those deadlines happening every five minutes. And imagine the place where you were carrying out these finicky examinations was humid and loud and cramped. What would you want to power you through this?
You’d want some gak. Chefs really like gak. KP’s sometimes help them out with this.
You become a world leading expert on potato peeling
There’s a lot of things it would be really fun to be world class at: football, chess, writing prose, painting, singing, shagging. Well, one thing being a KP guarantees is that you’ll be world class at something no one gives a damn about: peeling potatoes.
There are times when the restaurant is so busy that you end up cooking without really knowing anything about cooking
A perfect storm: the function rooms are triple booked so there’s a hungry wedding and two hungry Bar Mitzvah’s upstairs, every single table is booked solid for the next three hours and they need some to cook ten mutton casseroles. That someone is me, once it’s been patiently explained to me that mutton is lamb not rabbit as I’d previously thought.
More positively there’s a time when you get a free steak
Some dickhead has sent a steak back because he thinks it’s too well done and once every single other person in the building and every member of their extended family has declined the chance to eat it, the steak is passed all the way down to you, the lowly KP. You eat it on the spot without washing your hands.
You come to understand that salad is a lie
“Ohhhhhhh” says your girlfriend or your Mum or your sister, as her eyes soak in the menu. “I think I’ll save myself a bit and have the quinoa salad today, it’s only a light lunch after all.” What your Mum or your girlfriend or your sister don’t hear is the triumphant laughter, the raucous, back-slapping, end of a Rocky movie we did it Adrian laughter and fist pumping that happens in a kitchen every time some dumbass orders a salad. Do you have any idea how much it costs us to make it for you? Do you have any idea how badly we are fucking you with the mark-up? Salad is a lie. Do not believe in salad. Do not order salad.
You buy a pair of those weird kitchen shoes
Today I decided to saddle soap up my kitchen clogs, and give them a light polish. Now I stopped myself before I mirror shined these bitches because it almost happened! I can't help it! I came in the Army during the era of black boots, and spit shine! Hahahaha once a soldier always a soldier. Should I be disturbed at how much I enjoyed doing this??? #cook #chef #cheflife #shoes #polish #kitchenshoes #clogs #dansko #professional #uniforms #shiny #army #armylife #vet #veteran #veteranlife #92G #black #kiwi
Yeah I wore a pair of these to Kingston Pryzm after a shift.
Non, Je ne regrette rien.
And yeah, wine is also a lie
You’re taking Zadie out for the first time and you’ve decided to take her to the pub and we’re going to be laughing at you again from back in the kitchen. We’re going to chuckling and guffawing when we hear what you’d done this time. Why? Because you don’t want to look like a cheapskate in front of Zadie. Because instead of ordering the cheapest wine on the menu you order the second cheapest wine. But as anyone who’s ever worked in a restaurant will tell you, the second cheapest wine is actually the cheapest, we’ve just made it more expensive to fuck you over – hahaha x. Enjoy your date.
Mashed potato is your greatest enemy
This looks innocent. It looks normal and nice and tasty. I’m sure it is all of those things. But I’m also sure of something else: it is the most annoying thing in the world to clean. It sticks to the bottom of the pan, it welds to the bottom of the pan, it moves in and it refuses to leave the bottom of the pan. It is impossibly clingy and after hours of fruitless scraping away, the KP learns to hate mashed potato like nothing else.
Most chef’s have a story about doing something gross to food
All I’m saying is that it’s best to not send things back to the kitchen. Just to be on the safe side.
You get really into shouting “yes chef”
“How was your day Will?”
“Did you go out last night Will?”
“It’s Anzac day next week.”
Looking back at it, being over-zealous in my use of “YES CHEF” contributed more than anything else to my sacking from that gastropub.
Cleaning at the end of the shift is basically the apocalypse
You’ve been on your feet for eight hours and you are tired and you are bored. All you want is a shower and a bed and to never think about scraping mashed potato off a pan the size of a Mini Cooper ever again. This is when they throw everything at you, when you have to drag those bin sacks out, when you have to sort out the massive, steaming gravy pot, when you have to pick every dank, used condom-like piece of cabbage out of your friend the Ecomax. It is the worst.