A long time ago when I was a younger man and far too naive than I used to let on, I got the awesome opportunity to apprentice with a world class chef.
Now this man was a legend! He had Michelin stars, he was forever in the news and he was a genius to boot. He was an extremely hard working chef and did not expect anything less from his crew.
To a young man like me, being in his presence was intimidating; akin to being faced with the wrath of god!
Anyway, long story short and I landed up at his kitchen on the appointed day. To be honest, everything was in a bit of a whirl. I had travelled thousands of miles, was now in a strange country, not yet cured of my jet lag and was staring at my first day in the scariest place on earth.
When I walk into the kitchen, there is not so much as an orientation. The burly chef steps up to me, throws a duster in my face and says: “You, brown boy, clean up the kitchen. I don’t want it looking like any of your slums when you are done okay!”
Well, young brown boy did not have much of a choice back then. The only reason I had spent half a year’s worth of wages and agreed to inure myself as an unpaid slave was for the education of a lifetime that I was about to receive.
The kitchen obviously needed a lot of cleaning and I put that down to the fact that probably there were not too many brown boys who wanted to come down there anyway.
I was quite surprised that the health department hadn’t as yet raided the establishment for flouting the norms. If you think that you know what a Hell’s Kitchen looks like; at this moment I was staring straight into the fiery bowels of hell itself.
There was grease so thick that I could barely see the original colour of the tiles.
This doyen of the culinary industry also employed the use of wood and coal rather artfully in his kitchen and soot from the ancient fireplace blended with the grime in a perfect flourish of cleaner agony!
So, anyway I started cleaning up the place and tried to stay out of everyone’s way as they prepped for what was going to be an extremely tough lunch service.
I tried to stay as optimistic as I could; I also avoided gagging over stuff that appeared putrid.
I understood the chef’s peccadillo for fresh ingredients; his kitchen seemed to have mushrooms growing in the corners.
Here was a kitchen that was the high altar of culinary greatness; where devotees waited years for a reservation and did not squirm at the several hundreds of dollars that they forked out for each
And there I was, in the middle of the kitchen, scrubbing it to some semblance of normalcy. I saw mouldy stuff in bottles that were consigned to the safety of the garbage cans and these were swiftly followed by knife blades that were missing handles, a chopping board that looked like it was brought back as a relic from Caesar’s campaigns and a small tray of a cornstarch and icing sugar mix.
When I was done, I was knackered but by the look of surprise on the faces of the team as they returned after their break, I knew that I had done a fantastic job.
Dinner service was about to begin and I was allocated my section. I was thrilled to be working on the entrees. It is not an entry level position which means that someone surely valued what potential they saw in me in the short time available to judge me.
Suddenly this culinary deity comes up to me, red in the face. He is yelling; profanities spewing out from his mouth in his native tongue. I think that this is probably the culture divide; he wants to thank me but since his race is known for their displays of passion I just don’t get it.
It is true that I didn’t quite get it.
The chef was truly upset with me; he thought I had stolen from him.
What could I have possibly wanted from him? But his stuff was missing and he wouldn’t rest till he found the thief.
After checking me thoroughly and the innocent look on my face, he knew that I wasn’t the one who had stolen from him.
Little did I know then that it was me who had caused him all his misery!
Do you remember that tray of cornstarch and icing sugar that I had thrown in the garbage bin? Well that was four hundred Euros worth of cocaine!
From that day on I never had to clean the kitchen more than necessary and I was never called ‘brown boy’ again!