KITCHEN TRAGEDIES

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - EDITOR’S NOTE -

When you tell peo­ple you’re a jour­nal­ist they’ll of­ten say: “Oh! Stress­ful. Dead­lines and all of that...”

Dead­lines in­deed. By Jove, I’m star­ing down the bar­rel of one right now. But I can as­sure you that the stress of a print dead­line is noth­ing com­pared to the stress of work­ing in a restau­rant.

As a wait­ress, I felt like the mes­sen­ger who got shot for ev­ery mis­take. Ac­tu­ally, most of the mis­takes were mine. My most mem­o­rable stuff-up hap­pened in fives­tar place that spe­cialised in dishes swim­ming in var­i­ous forms of – I don’t know – jus. An ac­ci­dent waiting to hap­pen, and not waiting long in my case. While reach­ing across the ta­ble, I sent a foun­tain of rich sauce down the silk lin­ing of a man’s jacket which was hang­ing over his chair. I whisked it into the kitchen where the new dish­washer was even more clue­less than I was. “Help!” I said, think­ing he would grab a cloth and dab gin­gerly at the price­less gar­ment. In­stead he snatched it from my hands and – gasp – plunged it into his sink of dirty dish­wa­ter. The owner of that restau­rant was a strung-out worka­holic who didn’t like me at the best of times. This was the worst of times – she entered the kitchen to see two sub­stan­dard em­ploy­ees star­ing at a de­signer sports coat float­ing in suds. “Who does that be­long to?” she shrieked. “That guy,” I whis­pered, point­ing to a happy-look­ing man in shirt sleeves, drink­ing wine and laugh­ing with his friends.

I had to go out and tell the man that his jacket was... gone. I must say he was very gra­cious about hav­ing to leave with­out it on a cold Welling­ton night. He even left me a gi­gan­tic tip, hav­ing no doubt con­cluded that I wouldn’t be em­ployed for long, which I wasn’t.

My next job was at a far less classy joint, spe­cial­is­ing in piz­zas. I re­ally earned my wages there on the night I placed a pizza on a ta­ble and no­ticed that its top­pings in­cluded the kitchen hand’s flicked off stick­ing plas­ter (com­plete with blood stain). I re­turned that pizza to the kitchen at the speed of light. I was the hero of the night, al­though I was ul­ti­mately fired from that job too.

The happy up­shot of these tragic tales is that I never take good waiting staff for granted. And, read­ing to­day’s story about the new own­er­ship of one of New Zealand’s most iconic restau­rants, The French Cafe, I felt so grate­ful to be work­ing here and not there.

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