Thursday, February 19, 2004
TRENCH TALES…I’ve been involved in the restaurant business professionally for more than 20 years. I’ve been marinated in its culture for so long and so completely I’ve been cured like one of Jon Magnusson’s beautiful salmons.
I have so many war stories from my days in the trenches that I try to only tell them to myself, to remind me of how absurd life can be at certain moments, moments that seem like they will never end, that will lead to the destruction of your being…or moments when you feel all powerful, like a rock star commanding the attention of a giant roomful of adoring fans…or moments when you are so tired, so wired, so over-hired, so deep-friered you need to be retired.
I’ve been fired, rehired, fired again, rehired and fired again from the
same joint three different times. I stopped counting the single firings
at about 14.
I once got fired for trying to repeatedly get the air conditioning turned down during a wedding I was working at a very posh New York hotel. An elderly gentleman (friend of the bride) was suffering miserably and kept pleading with me to help. I kept…argghh…almost got trapped into telling a war story.
That’s the problem with the restaurant business. There are times in this business when you just feel like walking right out the door (done that twice). Real restaurant veterans become like beautiful trees, full of character, scars and deep-rooted strength born of overcoming years of pressure. We’re the most beautiful ugly people on Earth.
Restaurant work is one of those professions (like nursing, police work, firefighting, haircutting, et al) that should be mandatory for every member of a society to experience. In fact, restaurant work should be used as a balancing agent for society—if you’re convicted of embezzling huge amounts of money from your company’s shareholders and employees, you have to work in a high-volume tourist trap restaurant as a dishwasher in an area without great public transportation. You are not allowed to have a car so you must commute either by spotty bus service, bicycle or walking. You are paid regular wage (anywhere from minimum to not anywhere far enough past minimum to matter that much). Every employee gets to humiliate you daily because they know you can’t quit—you get the picture. Restaurant work makes you understand life.
Where does a cop go to tell his problems… where does a priest go…a lawyer…a psychiatrist…where do they all go—to a bartender. Where does a bartender go to tell his problems? That’s right, another bartender. Nobody knows humans, better than a great bartender…nobody. One of my best friends in the world is a very important psychology professor in Irvine. How did we meet…you guessed it. It was at the original House of Blues in Cambridge, Mass. She was doing a sabbatical at Harvard, I was bartending—she was a regular.
MASTERS UPON US…Forgive me for rambling like this, but I feel kind of like war veterans must feel when they’re attending a reunion or commemoration of some sort. You see, the Masters of Food and Wine is happening. I’m writing this exactly one week before it begins so while you’re reading this it’s already here. I can feel them all coming. I can feel my battle-scarred compatriots approaching, so my emotions are beginning to get the better of me.
If you are reading this and you are somehow involved in the restaurant or wine scene in any way, even as a regular diner or wine lover, you must call the Highlands Inn immediately and beg to be admitted to any of the events still available. Whether or not you work in the business, you have the opportunity to plunge into a pool filled with pure professional practical experience. Call…go…(800) 401-1009, 620-1234 or www.mfandw.com.
SHOTGUN STYLE…Business at hand…Go learn stuff from one of the coolest guys in the biz, Julio Ramirez, the Fishwife and Turtle Bay guru, at Monterey Peninsula College on Feb. 21 and 28 from 9am to 1pm. Spice up your life learning about Caribbean and Latin American cuisine from El Hombre himself—646-4125…Another Hombre on the local scene is Doug Meador (Ventana Vineyard and Meador Estates). Señor Meador has been growing grapes in Monterey County since the early ’70s and knows everything—he really does. Go listen and learn at the Salon Du Vin at Ventana’s tasting room. Call Barbara (one of the coolest chicks on the local wine scene) at 372-7415…I know I promised to tell you more about Simon Park Sports Bar & Grill on Highway 156 near Castroville (633-3737) and Pagrovia’s on Lighthouse in PG and Serendipity on Alvarado and Carmel’s Mulligan’s Pub…and, and…help me out here, do a little research for me.