Chains, Knives & Saucepans


We have all been to a restaurant. I’m sure most of us enjoy it too. The pretty hostess greets you with a smile; the cute bartender sends you a free shot and the food borders on orgasmic. To end it right… No dishes! Life is good when you go to a restaurant.

Now go spend an hour in the kitchen… You probably won’t see the Chef there. Nope. The Chef: the guy who designed the menu; he’s outside mingling with the guests, fidgeting with paperwork and probably screwing some employee in the freezer.  If you do see the Chef, he’s very likely yelling at somebody.

Welcome to Hell! It’s hot, steamy and loud. Yeah! I know it sounds like the description of a porn flick, but hardly. The typical cook spends a good 10 -12 hours standing in front of a hot stove or fryer, getting constantly yelled at, burned, cut, made to carry heavy shit and all while the rest of the world eats and gets drunk. Yup, my idea of the perfect job! NOT! (In case the sarcasm wasn’t evident.)

No, I’m not a chef… I was married to one! I also worked as a waitress for some time. And I can tell you, the restaurant world is Hell! And the cooks are the ones who pay for it all. If I wrote about servers as slaves… (you have no idea about chefs! At least servers get tips.)

Like I said, cooks spend 10+ hours a day sweating in the kitchen. In Puerto Rico, a lot of them don’t even get a full break to sit down and have a meal. When it’s slow, it’s not so bad, but once that rush begins the tension rises. Sounds of pans clanking, meat sizzling, someone yelling about a dish, the printer that keeps shooting out orders… Chaos unfolds. Suddenly, a waiter comes in and returns a dish. Some client complained about the term of the meat. The whole line gets backed up.

“La cocina está arrollá.” It’s how they say it in Spanish; when the rush hits and there’s 20 dishes to put out all at once. Those were the moments when, as a waitress, I behaved my most humbly towards the guys in the back. (Yes, most of them are men. Women chefs are either lesbians or tom boys. Sorry, not a bias or anything, just a fact. Those Barbie girls could not possibly survive back there!) You don’t want to piss off the guy with the big ass knife!

If you look down at the guy with the big ass knife, you will notice a ball and chain on his leg. Yup. He’s a slave. The worst kind of slave; hard manual labor. You would think that the sacrifice is getting rewarded with good pay, but that is just not the case. Most cooks start earning minimum wage and as they move up the kitchen ladder they stop getting paid hourly rates and instead get a salary. Ha! Poor guy thought he was moving up.  Only in name. Now he earns more, but spends 3 to 4 extra hours a day in his beloved Hell. End result: He’s a “not so poor” slave with white pallid skin and circles under his eyes. Yup! Your dream guy! Most are single and available at any decent restaurant. Free for all.  Good luck!

The slaves are kept subdued by alcohol and whatever drug might be available. I urge all kitchen workers to request payment instead of beer as an end of the night chill break. Really, seriously, they don’t do this to be nice or reward you. The bosses know the beer will make you forget you’re in hell. And when you finish the first one, you’ll want another one! Now the slave, like the “jornaleros” of the past, spends his check in the same place he makes it. Nice little trick. Works every time!

So now we have a man (or woman) who works half the day in a hot place, with people yelling and screaming and never sitting down, and slowly being turned into an alcoholic so their life becomes nothing but work. And to top it all off, when it’s time for a vacation, God forbid they should let you off during Christmas. Nobody gets a vay-cay during high season! And you can forget about taking 3 weeks in a row or something like that. 1 week and they’re threatening to fire you! Work, work, work, work, work… that is of course… as long as the season demands it. As soon as it starts to slow down… know your hours will be cut.

Meanwhile the head chef keeps coming out of the freezer with a curious little smile on his face. Did I just see a hostess come out the freezer behind him or was it the kid from the dessert station? You won’t know unless you actually go to the kitchen and see the chains, knives and saucepans for yourself.

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