I find it interesting that the CIA (Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park NY) spends such time on and requires its students to learn the front of house. It makes perfect sense. There’s usually a rivalry and hostility between the two. Waiters make tips and dishwashers and cooks start at minimum wage and often have to purchase and launder their uniforms, plus learn Spanish right quick.
When I apprenticed for a month at Cafe Beaujolais in Mendocino I made no money, the waiters gave $1 per plate in a fund for the kitchen staff to divvy up every night but I wasn’t allowed to have any of that either. After I spent my life savings on cooking school, which used to be Peter Kump’s New York Cooking school and is now ICE, the Institute for Culinary Education, I had two choices. One was to microwave hot dogs for four year-old brats at a Long Island yacht club, the second to intern for the legendary Margaret Fox. I chose the latter, thank goodness.
But all my money went into cooking school and I had to get to northern California so had to rent a car for a month, then find a place to live. A motel was OK for two days but I wasn’t finding anything so one of the waiters set me up in his place, as he and his girlfriend had just moved to a larger cabin on the property. They left me a bed, sheets, blankets, a few kitchen items and a ton of wood to split. Trying to split one log almost cut off a leg so I reverted to the supermarket bundles that kept me warm until 2-3 in the morning, then I froze.
It was wonderful to work all the stations in the kitchen except the stove. Chef wouldn’t let me. But I also worked making breads and pizzas in the Brickery. It was also great to teach them how to bind a chicken for roasting. I was the chicken bondage Queen! My first chore Wedsneday prep nights (dinner was served Thursday through Sunday) was to prep the chickens, which meant cutting off the necks and feet. My version was to take 2/3 of the wing off to be properly trussed. Once done, I had to rush the pans to the chef for roasting and eventual stock.
A lot of time was spent dealing with apples and pears, as it was harvest season. Also, I pressed a lot of pate sucre (sweet short pastry) into molds. I was poor as a church mouse but did get to eat before or after my shift. If I made staff meal, I stayed for staff meal so that helped with costs.
No, I did not get to do service in this restaurant but I do know how important it is. Consider the following story:
My father and I were at the Algonquin Hotel in NYC for lunch one day in the mid-1980′s. He recognized the maitre d’hotel and acknowledged such. He was told he was mistaken. There was a line to get in and while we waited my father knew he recognized this man from The Palm, at The Plaza Hotel. He mentioned it again and the man demurred, then said it was his brother. Finally as we were seated he told us that yes, he used to be at the Plaza. It was a step down, to him, and he didn’t want to be found out. But he was a great maitre d’ and I’ve never forgotten the Algonquin’s goulash that day.
Service, cheers, Dee