Tag Archives: work

Y Se Acabo

Well, my adventure in the local Mexican restaurant’s kitchen only lasted a month, which was almost exactly the amount of time I lasted at the one in Gainesville. Tomorrow it will be a week since my last night there and I have not missed it one tiny bit. Working in a restaurant kitchen involves so much teamwork. Everyone needs to be able to trust that everyone else is doing their part and at the same pace so that all the pieces can come together and leave the kitchen correctly and in a timely manner. There is a rhythm to it. Each kitchen seems to have its own rhythm which I guess depends on many factors: the type of food, the volume of sales, the number of staff and their way of working.

In our own restaurant I understood the rhythm. Even when Enrique and I weren’t getting along, even when we were yelling at each other as we prepared the food we were working at the same pace. The plates went out on time and put together properly. Neither in Gainesville nor Cornelia did I ever feel like I was able to get on the same rhythm as my coworkers. Either I was ahead and waiting or more commonly I was just a little behind. In both places if I was even a second behind where they thought I should be in getting the plates out of the oven or putting the salads on they jumped ahead of me and did it for me. It was extremely frustrating and threw things off even further.

If I was having the same problem at the corporate steakhouse I think I would probably just decide that I am not actually cut out to work in restaurant kitchens after-all and hang up my apron and go look for something else. But so far (I hope I don’t jinx myself here) I feel like I am learning the rhythm there. I have worked the line with a variety of coworkers and overall I don’t sense the same type of problem at all. I could be wrong but it seems like the managers and my trainers are very happy with how much I’ve learned and the quality of my work. Tomorrow I am working “QB” during Friday lunch rush so hopefully I will do a good job. I really want to show myself that I am capable of doing this type of work and that my failure to thrive in the other two restaurants wasn’t just because I wasn’t good enough.

Yesterday I saw the owner of the restaurant next door to where ours was and when he heard I was working at Longhorn he told me if he had known I was looking for kitchen work he would have offered me some. The owner of the chain where my husband works has also mentioned the possibility of me working in one of his restaurants. If I decide that this work is indeed work I like and want to continue doing I feel like there will be a fair number of opportunities for me. So I feel like it is important to really look at what happened at the Mexican restaurants and what lessons I need to take away from the experiences.

I think one of the major problems in both places that I was a part time person coming in for 15 to 20 hours week while the other cooks were there open to close six days a week. If I had been there all day every day the same as they were I think it would have been easier to figure out how I fit in. Since I was coming in towards the end of the day I was never sure what I needed to be doing. I knew to restock the cold line and make sure I had what I needed in case of a rush, but as far as whether or not they were caught up with their prep work it seemed like they should have just been able to tell me what they had left to do rather than me having to go search it out. If I had been there all day I would have known. They seemed annoyed if I asked, but if I didn’t ask and went ahead and did what I thought seemed like needed to be done they made a point to correct me.

The other major problem was that there just wasn’t enough work to be done. In Gainesville there were dishes to be washed and their prep work was often behind, but in Cornelia they had dishwashers and by the time I got there the prep work was usually done. They had three full time cooks and two dishwashers. For the amount of volume they are doing they did not need another person. I felt like I was constantly looking for something to do when there weren’t tickets to be made. And even when there were tickets I felt like I had to compete with the little boy from Guatemala to see who would put the cheese on the beans, and then who would take the plate out of the oven to add the salad. It was pretty ridiculous. I do not miss it at all. At the steakhouse there is plenty of work to be done, it is clear what that work is (there is actually a list to check things off of), and if it is finished they send you home.

If I would consider going to work in another kitchen I would a) want to be sure that the hours I was working were similar to my coworkers, b) that there was enough work for the staff at hand, and that c) the expectations of what needs to be done are clearly laid out. There are more factors to explore such as age, gender, nationality and class but they will save for another day.

The Quiet Game

So this morning I wasn’t very excited to go to work. I have been enjoying the corporate steakhouse but today is my mex restaurant day. I got there at ten as scheduled and as I walked towards the kitchen door I passed a coworker. I said clearly and pleasantly, “Buenas dias” and the cabron walked right past me without so much as a nod of the head. We worked together for three and a half hours and spoke only maybe five essential-to-the-job words. I had thought that no work environment could be as heavy and negative as the mex restaurant I worked at in Gainesville, but this place may be coming close. I wish I knew if it’s me or if I’m justing working around a bunch of miserable folks. I know I’m not the sweet bubblegum cheerleader type, but surely I not as wretchedly pesada as these poor pendejos. I wish there was more of a chance to get more hours at the corporate steakhouse. I sure would love to call my experiment in being the gringa in Mexican kitchens a failure and be done with it. This sentiment is magnified by several factors: a) I burned my hand while adding water to the rice this morning and it hurts now and will continue to hurt for at least a week, b) the restaurant in Gainesville still hasn’t paid me and it has been three weeks since I left, c) I have to go back and work another six hours tonight before I can have my first day off in two weeks, and d) even working this much I don’t have enough in my pocket to go buy a bottle to enjoy tonight when I get off.

Time and perspective

It has been over a month since we closed our restaurant, and almost a week since I stopped working at the Gainesville location. I have worked at the Mexican restaurant in Cornelia four times in the past week and tomorrow I have my orientation at the corporate steak house. A year and a half ago I was an artist and a CASA volunteer with the vague idea that it might be nice to help my husband with his dream of having his own restaurant. Eight months ago I was incredibly nervous about being able to run our kitchen without our head cook and two months ago I was incredibly confident I could do it. I went to Gainesville sure that my hands and head were more than ready to do the job but a month with the Michacanos made me doubt I had ever prepared a plate properly in my life.

Now the combined effects of my kitchen experiences have me so exhausted that competing with a 17 year old undocumented Guatemalan to see who can get the plates in and out of the warmer and properly garnished seems like more than I can handle. Several times over the past few days I have just stood back and let him do the work because it just seems too ridicolous to struggle over. I have struggled so much in these kitchens with these young men. I do not understand what it is I am trying to prove.

Today as I was laying here sipping on a bit of Tequila and trying to process it all I realized that the young Guatemalan has literally risked his life and spent a large amount of money borrowed from friends and relatives to have the chance to come here and work this job. If I understand him correctly (and it is very possible I don’t, communication is something we need to work on,) he spent almost $7000 to make his crossing and has only been here six months. He probably still owes a great portion of it. He opens and closes the restaurant 6 days a week with a couple hours break each day. The chance that he has much of a social life is slim. The restaurant is surely the center of his world. Of course he feels like he needs to battle to show he can do the job well. He has so much more to lose than I do. I don’t even know that I want the job.

If the steak house job goes well I hope to be be able to get all the hours I need there. And if neither go well not only do I have all my documents in order and speak fluent English, but also have a college education and almost 20 years of experience as a graphic designer. I’ve been offered three jobs in the past month. I can get another one. In fact the more I think about it I am starting to feel a bit guilty that my working in these kitchens is keeping some young struggling immigrant from having a job. Maybe it is unfair of me, with the privledges of my citzenship and education, to take one of the positions that otherwise would be available to someone who has less opportunities. Perhaps that is why the Michocanos were so unfriendly? I had thought that maybe they wanted the job for a brother or cousin or friend, but I had thought it was because they just wanted to be with people like themselves, to keep themselves isolated from the culture of the country they had come to live and work in. I had judged them for that and thought it was good for them to have to spend time with one of the locals.

On my last night in Gainesville when Jaime admitted to not having been friendly because of his concern over his immigration status and whether he could trust an American I thought I understood. But as is so often the case, the more we understand the more we are aware of all that is still beyond our understanding. I do want to understand though. Even on the most frustrating days I am still fascinated by these restaurant kitchens and the men who work in them. And I feel almost desperate in my desire to figure out what it is I am to learn here.