Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pantry Girl -- Part Two

I can’t help but think of Allen’s whenever I watch an episode of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. Ramsay wouldn’t have stood a chance with us -- he would have marched into that kitchen and we would have made short work of him and then, then we would have deposited him into the Mill Pond with no life preserver. Yes, it was that tough of a kitchen.

Blessed are the diners, but they were damned to a nasty doggie-bag surprise if they mistreated or pissed off any of the waiters. We had this nice young Asian waiter named Lee -- he was quiet and unassuming, nothing like the Fixtures. Lee had a talent for origami -- and when diners requested a doggie bag, Lee was usually the one to make the package. We didn’t issue those tacky paper bags or styrofoam boxes...gosh, did they have styrofoam back then? Anyway, Allen’s sent diners home with their leftovers wrapped in foil. Lee would fashion his foil packages into these magnificent little silver swans, which astonished and impressed not only the diners, but the kitchen staff. Quickly, waiters decided that Lee would be in charge of all doggie bag requests -- it brought in bigger tips and the WOW factor was always audible from the dining room. But sometimes our clientele misbehaved -- not surprising in Westport, Connecticut, which was rife with the filthy rich who saw no harm in abusing waiters and busboys -- and the Fixtures developed an ingenious way to punish these ruffians, while keeping a smile on their face.

The retaliation was subtle and was meted off the premises of the restaurant, ensuring the diner would be given complete notice not to return to our doorstep and no scenes could be made in the dining room. Offending diners were presented a gift at the end of the meal -- sometimes they requested their leftovers to be packaged up, but in the case of no leftovers, the waiter would surprise them with a beautiful origami swan made of foil, and if they were especially bad, he might send them home with more than one swan, “Compliments of the House!”. The diners would practically swoon over this gesture and the waiter would smile widely as he helped the ladies with their coats and said goodnight to the nasty husbands. It was easy to be nice to those who had wronged him because he knew what they would find inside their sparkling Trojan water fowl when they returned home.

And what, you ask, was contained in the gift that was as lovely as a Christmas Cracker? A very simple thing really, but powerfully offensive. We offered two kinds of dinner rolls at Allen’s, the standard white rolls with sesame seeds on top or dark and hearty pumpernickel. Funny thing is that when you take the crust off of a pumpernickel roll and dunk it in water, you can shape the wonderful dark bread into something that resembles a dog turd -- only the trained eye of say a waiter or a pantry girl can discern the difference. But a badly behaved restaurant patron, who excitedly unwraps their magical little tin foil gift in hopes of a little leftover bliss cannot distinguish the thing sitting in front of them as being anything but a turd. Ain’t revenge grand?

At the time, being the naive teenage thing that I was, the goings on in the kitchen were a trial by fire for me -- an education that one should expect from a first job. I’m not speaking of the lessons of responsibility, the getting to work on time, the virtues of hard work, no, I am talking about real life lessons that prepare one to go out in the world and take care of one’s self. And Allen’s provided those lessons in a fairly sharp way, but the consequences were not deadly, you were not an indian brave alone in the desert trying to survive the cold and killing a jack rabbit with your bare hands, no your fuck-ups could be reconciled. I found out quickly that while I was not under the protective supervision of my grandparents, I was, in fact constantly being observed by the all-seeing eye of the kitchen, Wayne. He was a father before he was a chef and this quality saved my skinny ass on more than one occasion. Nothing got by him in that kitchen.

Which brings me to the dastardly case of the the Predator Chef Boy...

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