Kitchen man­ager Janet Mal­com

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - KITCHEN MAN­AGER JANET MAL­COM Janet Mal­com at Ran­cho de Chi­mayó Restau­rante, photo Luis Sánchez Saturno/The New Mex­i­can

When Ar­turo and Florence Jaramillo opened the Ran­cho de Chi­mayó Restau­rante in Ar­turo’s grand­par­ents’ home in the small Río Ar­riba County vil­lage in 1965, Ch­eryl Al­ters Jami­son writes in Ran­cho de Chi­mayó Cook­book: The Tra­di­tional Cook­ing of New Mex­ico (1991), their goal was to serve “meals like those Ar­turo had as a child, us­ing old fam­ily recipes,” such as carne adovada, posole, tamales, and sopaip­il­las. “Meals that were un­fa­mil­iar to non-His­panic guests.” More than 50 years later, the restau­rant is still meet­ing that goal by de­liv­er­ing those sig­na­ture tra­di­tional dishes, cooked fresh ev­ery day. That’s partly be­cause Florence Jaramillo, af­fec­tion­ately known as Mrs. J, is still set­ting the stan­dards and man­ag­ing the front of the house, and partly be­cause kitchen man­ager Janet Mal­com has been do­ing the same in the back for close to 28 years.

The kitchen man­ager is the crit­i­cal but of­ten in­vis­i­ble per­son at the heart of a suc­cess­ful restau­rant. He or she is re­spon­si­ble not only for over­see­ing all the food prepa­ra­tion, but also for main­tain­ing and re­pair­ing equip­ment, or­der­ing sup­plies, as well as hir­ing, train­ing, sched­ul­ing, and su­per­vis­ing cooks and other kitchen staff — that’s about 15 peo­ple at Ran­cho de Chi­mayó — and see­ing that they fol­low man­dated health and safety tech­niques. If the owner is re­spon­si­ble for the phi­los­o­phy, menu, and stan­dards for a restau­rant, the kitchen man­ager makes sure those marks are hit on ev­ery sin­gle plate, ev­ery sin­gle day. Her quar­ter-cen­tury as­so­ci­a­tion with the restau­rant started out as a sum­mer job, Mal­com said. “I re­mem­ber work­ing like a week, and mak­ing sopaip­il­las and then do­ing the grill … and just kind of grad­u­ally learn­ing ev­ery com­po­nent” of the kitchen op­er­a­tions, even­tu­ally tak­ing over as full-time kitchen man­ager.

One of her ma­jor con­tri­bu­tions was stan­dard­iz­ing the recipes for key dishes while re­spect­ing the spirit and in­gre­di­ents of the tra­di­tional fam­ily prepa­ra­tions on which the restau­rant was founded. “Noth­ing was re­ally writ­ten down,” Mal­com said of her early days at the restau­rant, which won the James Beard Foun­da­tion’s Amer­ica’s Clas­sics Award in 2016. “I’m the one that re­fined the recipes and wrote them down so that as new peo­ple come in, they are learn­ing to pre­pare things the same way.” And that’s an im­por­tant part of the con­sis­tency cus­tomers and crit­ics look for when they are eval­u­at­ing a restau­rant. Be­fore she took that on, cooks were likely to make the sopaip­il­las, for in­stance, in what­ever way they thought best, fol­low­ing such vague guide­lines as mak­ing the bat­ter ex­tra stiff.

Hir­ing, train­ing, and su­per­vis­ing kitchen work­ers is an­other key part of Mal­com’s job. Mal­com opens for break­fast on the week­ends, but oth­er­wise works evenings so she can sched­ule new em­ploy­ees to work be­side her, teach­ing them what they need to know un­til they get com­fort­able with their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Teach­ing comes nat­u­rally to Mal­com. She has been do­ing it for more than 40 years — in the restau­rant kitchen as well as class­rooms. (The past six years, in fact, she’s been the prin­ci­pal of Chi­mayó Ele­men­tary School.) The school is just down the road from the restau­rant, so she doesn’t spend much time com­mut­ing be­tween her two full-time jobs. And she is able to use some of the skills that make her an ef­fec­tive ed­u­ca­tor in the kitchen.

The hard­est part of man­ag­ing the kitchen is deal­ing with staff. “I would say it’s a lot like deal­ing with the kids,” Mal­com said. “Dur­ing the day, I’m deal­ing with ac­tual kids, and in the evening, it’s with adults that act like kids.” Mal­com cred­its her abil­ity to plan and fo­cus on what needs to be done — as well as her strict work ethic — to grow­ing up on a small farm in La Madera, and the rou­tines she learned in high school as a boarder at the McCurdy School, which is as­so­ci­ated with the United Methodist Church in Es­pañola. “We grew up on a farm where we al­ways had chick­ens and lambs and pigs to feed,” she said. Her par­ents also owned the small gro­cery store that served the town. “And it placed a lot of re­spon­si­bil­ity on us as we were grow­ing up.”

In high school, Mal­com learned to fol­low a strict rou­tine: “We had to be seated by a cer­tain time for din­ner, had to be ready for study hall,” she said. “Ev­ery­thing was like clock­work, ev­ery­thing had to be on time, and that’s kind of how my par­ents were. You don’t just sit around. You get up, do what you’re go­ing to do, and just keep go­ing.” It’s that un­ques­tion­ing sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity that makes it pos­si­ble for Mal­com to work two jobs and suc­ceed at both.

“Janet can be tough, but tough in a way that’s con­struc­tive,” Mrs. J said. “She’s taught every­one in the kitchen that cooks now, and she works with them … She knows what’s good and what isn’t — and that’s what’s im­por­tant.” — Pa­tri­cia West-Barker

“She’s taught every­one in the kitchen that cooks now, and she works with them ... She knows what’s good and what isn’t — and that’s what’s im­por­tant.”

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