Wednesday, August 3, 2011

479. That Time That Chef Scared Me

So I walk into work last night, and who do I see but some eight-foot tall, overly tan, 50-year-old Viking woman in a crisp white chef's uniform standing behind the demo stove at the high-end kitchen store. “Hello! I am Ingrid!” she says predictably. She flashes me a smile that walks the fine line between Hollywood starlet teeth and dentures. I vote dentures. “I will be cooking for the party of 10 people!”

What party, I wonder to myself, and why am I always the last to know?

“You will be my sous chef and also dishwasher!” she cheers, as if I’ve won free First Class tickets to Sweden, “So please get me a cutting board and some sharp knives!”

I smile a tight plaster smile, a smile that plays hide-and-seek with my emotions, a smile that says, “Wow, I love to wash dishes, how fun!” while my brain thinks, “Oh, crap, why did I trade into this shift?”

My manager Holden pulls me aside. He also sports the hide-and-seek smile, his faux smile is the exact same one I exchange with the nurse at the pediatrician's office right before she administers three painful shots to my sons while saying, “Shots don't hurt!”

Strange words come tumbling out of his mouth:  “Good news, MOV! We are hosting a special private party, and you will be assisting. Our other store in Popular Town called and their hot water heater broke. They were supposed to do this party, and now they have, uh—” (pawned it off, stuck us with, dumped it on?) “… asked us to help them out, and of course we, uh—” (were forced to, were obligated to, had no choice?) “… readily agreed to step in and host their event here.” Stucco smiles all around.

Now, we do not host parties at the high-end kitchen store. We sell spatulas. From time to time, we will have cooking demonstrations which consist of one of my co-workers chopping up some chicken and throwing it into the slow-cooker with one of our pre-made sauces in an effort to sell the pre-made sauce. This whole “party” thing was brand new for me and for Holden.

We are not set up to cater parties. We have no dishwasher (which means that all dishes and pans are washed by hand), we only have a few random ceramic plates and pieces of non-matching silverware that inhabit our employee break-room/ kitchen. And yet on this specific evening in question, we are expected to make it look like we cater private events every day.

Queen Virgo pouts in the backroom as she searches for a cutting board and knives. I hear her whine to Holden, “But I don’t understand? Why are we doing the party?”

“MOV, I already told you. Popular Town gave us this party. We just found out this afternoon.” He shrugs.

“I know, I know, I get that part. But why did Popular Town ever agree to do a party in the first place? Since when do any of our locations do parties?” I cannot let this go, the not-knowing part of the equation, the part of who-can-I-ultimately-blame for tonight when I replay my story for The Husband later.

“MOV, I don’t know either. Who cares? It doesn’t really matter. We have a job to do, and we have to do it. We’ll figure it out.”

Holden always was more optimistic than I.

I bring the items that Ingrid requested just as the first guests begin to arrive.

“Coffees! Coffees all around!” bellows Ingrid to no one in particular.

“Yes, that would be great!” confirms a guest.

“Fantastic!” cries another.

“You’re reading my mind!” enthuses a woman in a green sweater.

I consider getting $5 out of my purse so whoever is doing the Starbucks run can pick me up a latte as well. Then it occurs to me that these women are all looking at me, the dork in the bumblebee apron, to make them coffee.

We do not have a coffee maker. I am curious as to why Ingrid is trying to torture me so. I have only just met her, and I have never done anything to her to make her mad.

“We do not have a coffee maker,” I whisper to Ingrid.

“Sure you do!” she replies loudly, motioning to the 17 different coffee makers we sell all displayed neatly on the shelves.

“Uh, Ingrid, those are to sell.” I give her yet another tight smile, and worry I might be using up a month’s worth of my quota of tight smiles.

“Oh, well, then, cappuccino is fine, or espresso. Whatever. Bring us whatever you think.”

Ten pairs of eyeballs blink up at me (11 if you count Ingrid). I immediately have flashbacks of my flying days and working in First Class, except for that tiny detail that UNITED ACTUALLY GAVE US COFFEE FOR THE PASSENGERS (oh, and plates, and advance notice).

“I can make some espressos with our demo machine?” I squeak out, more a question than a solution.

“Perfect!” roars Ingrid, who winks at her 10 new best friends, then swats me away like an especially annoying mosquito. “Ten of those then!”

I go over to the machine and make the shots in rapid succession. Then, I walk around and offer the espressos to the guests.

“Oh, do you have any cream?”

“I take cream, please.”

“Me, too. Or even milk.”

“Ugh, this coffee is way too strong. I don’t like it.”

More sets of eyes, staring at dimwit high-end kitchen clerk, and questioning how they got stuck with such an inept loser as their designated server.

“Uh, I apologize, but we do not have cream.” I want to add, “We are a STORE, for goshsakes! I thought I was going to explain blenders and juicers and maybe sell some tablecloths to actual customers this evening, like I normally do … I had no idea I was going to be the Tuesday night impromptu barista.”

Tight, chipped plaster smiles.  On their faces, and mine.  

I feel the spackle that holds my perma-grin in place slowly crack. 

The night devolves from bad to worse. Chef Scandinavia decides to make the menu into a multi-course extravaganza, which means I must clear the pans and plates, scurry to the back as fast as I can and wash and dry them all, then reappear as if these are brand new plates that I am just too stupid to have brought out in the first place. I do this four more times. Remove plates/ wash plates/ dash back before the chef is ready to serve the next course. 

At one point, one of the guests turns to me and inquires, “You don’t have to wash all the plates, do you?!?”  Her tone says, Fairies wash the dishes, right?  Or perhaps cheerful magical kitchen gnomes?    

I give her my 73rd fixed smile of the evening, force a laugh, and reply, “Oh, no. We just throw them away.”

The clock mercifully strikes nine, and in a reverse Cinderella moment, I am set free. We are now closed.  The customers must leave, and since I have been washing dishes and pans all night, the task is complete. Ingrid (unbelievably) gives me a sincere hug, and says,

“How would you like to work for me full-time?”

(“Meals Of Variety”)


  1. I just have to ask.....what did she make for the multi-course extavaganza?

  2. Ah, I knew I was missing some crucial details! She did an appetizer that involved goat cheese and home-baked crackers, next a beautiful salad with farmers' market cumbers and heirloom tomatoes with home-made balsamic vinaigrette, the main course was multi-grain rice soaked in Amaretto (!) and served with a stuffed chicken breast (stuffed with spinach and some sort of exotic cheese), a side of roasted asparagus and all topped off with a decadent cream sauce. YUM-O. Dessert was chocolate peanut butter brownies. She left detailed notes on the cook-top with instructions if/ when we wanted to reproduce the culinary experience for ourselves. Queen Virgo picked up the notes, which rivaled the rough draft for Gone With The Wind, skimmed the notes, laughed, cried, and threw them in the trash in defeat. Luckily, Sara Lee makes some very good frozen dinners that are relatively simple ("Turn on microwave. Set timer for 4 minutes").

    As much as I complain, Chef Ingrid made enough for me and Holden, and it exceeded my Top Chef fantasy expectations. I gained 5 pounds just writing about it.


  3. That pretty much makes you the winner of the most screwed up work day. Not the I am gonna kill myself wordkday, just the screwed up one. I would have been fired as I would have unwrapped and used everything in the store and put it in a cardboard box and then I would have taken it home to wash and claimed it all was broken on the way home.

    Oh, and if there was any hand cream in store I would have used 6 containers of that also, 3 of them would have been defective or lost in the process.

    I hate it when supes dump this stuff on the "one person who will really get it done" and forget to give the foot massage when the disaster is over.

  4. nola,

    ha ha ha ha ha! I left out so much from that night, but here is a peek (remember the store was open and I still had to help other people in between doing a million dishes): fancy-shmancy lawyer guy in his $1000 suit unfolding and laying out one of our exensive Russian jacquard tablecloths ON THE FLOOR so he could see the pattern (?). I said, can I help you? and then I picked up the tablecloth and mumbled something about how I did not want to get it dirty if he ended up buying it to which he responded, "I would never buy the DISPLAY one!!!!!!!!!!" and I am thinking it is not a display one, and by the way, we sell everything please do not ruin merchandise so we have to mark it out of stock and take a loss on it bec. of people like you! argh!

    next customer: remember the party? it was a birthday. there were balloons involved. Some deranged child age 2 or 3 ran into the store with his parents and DEMANDED a balloon. I said, so sorry this is a private event and maybe you can buy a balloon at the Hallmark store, to which the parents were SHOCKED at my rudeness to which I was in turn SHOCKED at their severe "Entitlement Syndrome" (oooh, I feel a separate new blog coming on....)

    What is with people? what makes them think the world should just crumble to its knees and serve them????????


  5. Goodness! Such a strange night at work for you. I know you love your job - but I think I would have quit at the height of the mayhem and have them eating out of my palm to hire me back which would entail more money, product kickbacks, and a promise I would never have to do that party-thing ever again!!!

  6. Jennie,

    You're right, it was a very strange night. I could just tell things were going to be "off," and they were. Being a flight attendant was way more stressful than working at the high-end kitchen store, but like I said, United at least gave us the proper tools to do our job!



When you write a comment, it makes me feel like I won the lottery or at the very least like I ate an ice-cream sundae. (This has nothing to do with the fact that I did just eat an ice-cream sundae.)