Have you seen Jon Favreau in Chef?
It's a good movie. Not a great movie.
But it is thankfully devoid of gunfights, aliens and zombies. In other words, it's fit for your adults. I still find it hard to believe there are grown ups, folks I work with everyday, who are entertained by the notion of walking dead flesh eaters.
The movie Chef is about the eating of non-human flesh.
You could say it's the culmination of a foodie craze that has dominated our culture for the last 10 years. From the food trucks to the insufferable Guy Fieri to the Top Chef game shows to entire network devoted to nothing but food. But I'm here to tell you all that farm-to-table glorification of the restaurant business is just that, glorification.
I started working at the Spring Valley Jack in the Box when I was 16 years old. The not-so-ambititious night manager liked to nap. So as soon as his shift started he ordered us to cook up 100 cheeseburgers, 100 tacos, 100 Jumbo Jacks and 100 whatever their fish sandwich was called at the time. They sat for hours under the heating lamps. And when the stoners came through the drive through, they got what was handy. No special orders. No substitutions. No exceptions.
Three years later I found myself working the breakfast shift at the Carrier Circle Denny's in Syracuse, New York. They taught me how to crack eggs with one hand and flip omelets. You know when I wasn't in the back freezer with the local townie boys sucking the nitrous oxide out of the whipped cream cans.
After Syracuse, I arrived in Southern California. I landed a job at the Good Earth in Westwood. There were waitresses hotter than Sophia Vergara (Jon Favreau's ex in Chef) but they weren't dating the guys in the back of the house with avocado in their hair and grease stains on their shoes. Oh sure I had a college degree and could work a 750 degree wok, but I was no match for Dale, the surfing waiter with the feathered hair who appeared as bus passenger #3 in an episode of Starsky & Hutch.
Later, I got a job at the T.G.I.F. I thought I was going to be a line cook but the manager rarely saw college educated applicants and decided to give me a cushy white collar assignment. He handed me a clipboard and showed me to the attic where, in 98 degree heat, I had to do a physical count of all the non-food inventory: knives, cups and napkins. The following day he handed me a ski parka and sent me into the deep freezer to tally up the T-bones. But it wasn't the sauna or the frostbite that hastened my departure, it was the 11 AM staff singing of the fight song.
Fuck you T.G.I.F. and fuck your fucking flair.
The point is this, you can gussy up the restaurant business all you want. But the cool Cuban music, the glamorous stars, the manufactured exuberance, should all be taken with a grain of salt. Like everything else the media gets its hands on.
The kitchen is a dirty, grimy, greasy place, more often than not crawling with German cockroaches and Chihuahua-sized rats. And it's often populated by sketchy alcoholics and former felons who got their tattoos at Folsom not at some hipster ink joint on Melrose Ave. The food that comes out of the kitchen comes off their sweaty, well-callused hands and goes directly into your mouth.
That is if it hasn't fallen on the floor first. Because in the kitchens of your favorite bistro, cafe or trattoria, the 5 second rule is more likely the 50 second rule.