Monday, January 11, 2010
Crumble In The Jungle
One day I heard those golden words I’d been waiting so long to hear. Four tables ordered at the same time, and I’d got those out, and was dealing with a fifth, when I scuttled over to the fryer to rescue some wontons.
Graham was frantically plating up two sea bass, and flashing two steaks under the grill. He spotted the four goat’s cheese parcels in my hand, and a look of alarm spread over his sunken brow. He attempted a smile. Then he whispered those precious words...
“Can you slow those up a bit, or I’ll really be in the shit...”
I felt like saying ‘what’ like I normally did, and asking him to repeat it. I stared at him, remembering all the insults and strops I’d suffered. I went back to my board and pretended to be busy for a few minutes, then I chucked the parcels in. Graham nodded at me en route. It was the same feeling I’d had when I’d been called ‘chef’ at Rick Stein’s, and I cherished every moment of it.
Jules had found himself a new girlfriend. He started taking weekends off, and came in full of tales of his sexual exploits.
“Posh girls are so dirty,” he kept boasting.
One weekend his girlfriend decided to delay her return to Brighton, and he took the Monday night off as well. And that's when it happened. A table of three had come in and ordered starters as mains - pork belly, wild mushroom risotto, and a scallop salad. I knocked out the dishes and called in the Dereks.
Cathy held up my pork dish and examined it under the lights, and then made a comment about the scallops. She was really beginning to irritate me.
“Don’t we usually serve the scallops in a circle round the salad, not a square?”
“That’s for the scallops with vierge sauce,” I snapped, “the salad is served in a square!”
She looked in no hurry to move.
“Are you sure?”
Of all the waiting staff, Cathy caused the most friction in the kitchen. There was something in her nature that just stuck in your gut. It wasn’t just the greediness and the way she stole food from plates, it was the sarcasm and coldness.
“Just fucking take them will you!” I shouted.
Her reaction was immediate and explosive. She clearly saw me as nothing more than a jumped-up commis.
“Don’t fucking tell me what to do you fucking prick!”
Her doughy face turned a horrible bright purple. Stewie, who was doing pastry that night, joined in.
“Look don’t just stand there with the plates in your hand, put them back under the lights if you’re not going to take them!”
“I’m not going to take that from him!” Cathy wailed.
“CUSTOMERS ARE WAITING!”
Cindy ran in, and the plates disappeared. Cathy was ham-faced and sullen for the rest of service, no doubt planning her attack. Then another fight broke out.
Cindy asked Stewie why there wasn’t any chocolate sauce on one of the plates, and he yelled at her, and told her to “get the fucking plates out”. I was clearing down with Marcus when one of the desserts came back. Cathy looked absolutely delighted as she relayed the news.
“They said the apples in the crumble were too sour...”
They had hardly touched the dish. Marcus tried it. His face crumpled. Even the ice cream couldn’t save it.
“Helsta hasn’t cooked the apples down enough!” moaned Stewie.
It hardly seemed worth mentioning that she'd forgotten the sugar as well. We sent out a free dessert, and were standing out the back, sharing a smoke, when the news came.
“The table that sent the apple crumble back were AA inspectors,” said Cindy coldly.
“Bollocks! There were three of them!” said Stewie.
“Well the woman said they don’t usually go out together...”
A cloud of depression descended. Cindy and Cathy were enjoying every second of it.
“She asked whether the head chef was there and we said it was his night off. So she said she would speak to him another day.”
I drove Stewie home that night and we went through all the dishes they’d had. Most of them had been cooked by me.
“Did you put parmesan in the risotto,” he asked.
“I even put mushroom powder in to pep it up a bit.”
“What about the pork belly...”
But we both knew the damage had been done. To not like a dish was one thing, to send it back was another. Stewie decided he’d better phone Jules – even if it was his night off. There was a short conversation.
With all the drama, I'd completely forgotten to write out a prep sheet for the next day, and hadn’t checked through my fridge. To make matters worse, I had the next two days off, and Jules was covering my station.
When I returned, no-one would look me in the eye. I thought it best not to ask about the AA inspection. Jules came in and flew into a rage. I’d never seen him like that before. Normally, when he was in a bad mood, he just went quiet. He started pulling stuff out of my fridge and throwing it against the wall.
“You really left me in the shit – and I mean that! You really stitched me up,” he yelled. “Look at those fucking wontons! I couldn’t use any of them. And there’s no dates on anything!”
He ran over, still fuming, and said as if reading my mind: “And that apple crumble – that was all of our fault!”
I walked out that night and never went back - I hadn’t served a dessert in all the time I’d been there. A few days later, I got a call from Greeny. It turned out those two evil waitresses had made the whole thing up.