Sunday, June 26, 2005

a secret wine tasting and arthritic dish-hands

The busyness of what in the past two weeks of work I assumed was the usual rhythm of service has been elevated to a new level of intensity. Between keeping the kitchen in dishes, the waiters in coffee cups, the chefs in peeled carrots, picked herbs and cleaned lettuce, I sometimes have to remind myself to breath. Looking back on the last few nights, I’m having a hard time coming up with any specific incidents to write about. I hear a crash of white clanking dishes, shouts of the Chef, the sizzle of hanger steak in a hot pan. I see a gleam of orange-red-yellow carrots, delicate purple flowers of the gill herb salad, a blur of the perfectly shaped sour-milk panna cotta, a blood-red strawberry coulis. I feel a burst of damp hot steam from the sanitizer, sticky clear plastic buckets, the rough handle of a mop, the sharp edge of a paring knife sliding the crusty shell off a shallot. I can smell the dankly viscous bucket of fat to be trashed, freshly plucked green mint leaves, wafts of roast squab.

Clocking in my 10 hour nights, I come home feeling like I’ve been run over by a steamroller. My legs are covered in bruises and my hands feel like they have aged 50 years, bent with arthritis.

One moment stands out, however. 11pm, Friday night: I was putting greens away in the walk-in fridge when W., an older waiter, whispered my name from around the corner. W. is a rail thin gentleman with shaggy hair, inquisitively pronounced eyebrows, and an aura of ex-hippy. He has a penchant for complaining about the customers and often freaks out in the small room where dirty plates are deposited, a verbose case of claustrophobia. He always, however, and unlike other more single-minded wait staff, has a smile and a kind word for me in passing. While the other waiters roll their eyes at his often flamboyant antics, I have a fond spot in my heart for him. (Also, he once accidentally got some fois gras stuck in my hair during a late night snack session. I don’t think there has ever been a cooler substance lodged in my mop of curls.) And on Friday night his urgent whispers beckoned me, curiously, to the back hallway. He stood there, grinning, and holding a gleaming wine glass and an almost empty bottle of red. It was a 2000
Volnay 1 er Cru En Caillerets, an extravagant 81 dollars, and left over from the table of a wealthy diner who did not drink the last quarter. I don’t profess to know a whole lot about wine, but the way that W. said its name and described the vineyard that it came from (one man, a donkey, southern France and some grape trees) I knew that I was in the presence of something special. W. smiled and poured me a half inch of the dark red liquid. He instructed me to sniff, sip, swish. I did, and tasted deep dusky grape: a complex fruitiness that intensified as it travelled down my throat. “And that, Molly, is what it is all about,” he said cryptically. “Don’t tell the others; they’ll be jealous,” he winked; I smiled. We rushed off to continue our respective dish-duties.

Tonight is my last night of work before a two week vacation. I feel like I have just barely arrived (and yet, at the same time, feel like I’ve hauled enough dishes to last me a lifetime). But the restaurant is closing for their much needed summer break. While some of the other kitchen staff are traveling (the Chef to Spain; J., frat-boy-style to Cancun, L. to Maine), I will stay here in Boston, seeing some friends, remembering what it is like to see the sky at night, and certainly cooking up all kinds of interesting concoctions.

1 comment:

karen said...

These last two entries are great: vivid sensory detail - I could see and smell the kitchen. I loved the character vignettes of hippy waiter offering you wine, and especially of Rafael. You are finding your voice and beginning to tell a story. You couldn't know what story to tell before because it had not yet taken shape. Great job!