Mundane Musings

So, working in the steakhouse kitchen hasn’t given me as much fodder for writing as I had hoped. I didn’t get as many hours last week or this week as I would have liked, but that seems to have happened to a majority of the staff. There are politics and factions and all the complications that you would find at any workplace but so far I haven’t really found any of them interesting enough to engage in. There is a Mexican vs. American thing that I am of course sensitive to, but it crosses over into a day shift vs. night shift thing, and is magnified, I think, by the the fact that the only three people who have set five day a week schedules and almost always hit close to 40 hours happen to be Mexican. The three of them were the only ones that didn’t seem to feel the scheduling cuts the rest of us did, so the resentment toward them I notice may be more about that than the fact that they are Mexicanos. But this is not high drama resentment and my curiosity is more about how I can get myself more hours.

The Director of Operations for our region told the scheduling manager, in front of me, that I should be given more hours, so I am hoping that next week I will see at least a slight increase. If not, I don’t imagine there is much else that can be done. And really it might not be a bad thing. My brother-in-law, who has been my built in babysitter for the past five months, is leaving tomorrow and I have no other childcare arranged yet. And there is also the fact that we are probably moving at the end of May. It doesn’t seem fair for me to push for more hours and then in three months pick up and move. My husband is driving an hour and a half to work five days a week. We need to live closer to his restaurant. His paycheck is like quadruple mine. Of course there are steakhouses all over. Perhaps I can transfer, or maybe get a combination of hours between the one in Cornelia and one in Alpharetta or Cumming.

I think the real issue that I need to be thinking about is whether kitchen work is what I want to keep pursuing or if I want to focus my attention elsewhere. I may have already mentioned this in a post, but 38 is not really all that old of an age to chose a new career path. If I only work until I am 65, and it seems like most people are working past that these days, I still have 27 years left in the work force. Even if you count the work I did while I was in college I am not yet halfway through my working life. There is plenty of time for me to go in a completely new direction. And if we do move to North Fulton I will be in easy commuting distance to the city and about any sort of job I might want to pursue. If all options are open do I really want to keep working in restaurant kitchens?

I am still surprised at how much I like the work. I never thought I would take to it like I have. No one else did either. It is very possible that I am still trying to prove I can do it even though no one else cares. I continue to think that once I feel like I have mastered the work it will become boring and I will want to do something else. I guess then the question becomes how long will that take. There is also the idea that though the steakhouse is teaching me how to handle high volume I am not actually cooking there. At our restaurant when someone complimented the food I could feel proud because I knew that almost everything there we msde ourselves. The guys who work the grill at the steakhouse can take pride in cooking the steaks to the guests liking, but everything else is good because the packets of seasoning that have been perfected at a corporate level. I guess we could manage to mess the recipes up, but what we’re doing doesn’t feel like cooking the same way. It may be that once I feel like I can handle high volume I will want to apply both that and the cooking from scratch I learned at our restaurant. The cooks where my husband works now do just that. I think I would like to try it. But long term I don’t know if I am willing to make the sacrifices that restaurant work requires. It will always mean long hours standing, working nights and weekends and holidays. And it will always involve lots of teamwork. I know I should try and pretend otherwise but teamwork has never really been my strong suit. Some of my favorite times at our restaurant were when I opened alone.

The other career options I think about are much more solitary pursuits. My top choices, writer, artist, illustrator, involve working alone. The other idea I am considering is to go back to college and study Spanish seriously enough to get certified as a court interpreter. That would involve working with other people, but not in a way that my performance is based on theirs. What people said would be their own issue. I would only take on the responsibility of translating it correctly. I think I would enjoy the work and it would certainly be challenging. When I was a CASA volunteer I always looked forward to going to court. It felt like I was part of something important, like I was making a difference. Though I would be playing a very different role in the proceedings I think I would have a similar sense of purposefulness.

I do not have to make any major decisions today or even this month, but I would like to have a sense of what direction I want to focus my energy by the time we leave Clarkesville. That gives me at least three months. I am so curious to know which way I will end up heading.

Night Shift

Tonight was my second time working a dinner shift at the steakhouse. I worked the salad station which of course involves making the salads, but also the desserts and serving the soups. It was a good shift, busy enough to not be boring but never so busy as to be overwhelming.

I still like the job and find my coworkers pleasant to work with. I am glad they are giving me more hours. They told me when they hired me that they do performance based scheduling, so hopefully the fact that I’m getting more hours means my performance is good. I did get one complaint tonight that my ice cream balls needed to be rounder, but I got two compliments that my salads are pretty.

I do think I like working days better than nights though. Not only is it better for my family but I prefer the atmosphere and pace. During the day we have tons of prep work to do. We just go to the line when there are lots of orders. The rest of the time A, the main day line cook, takes care of the line while we prep. There is always plenty of work to do. If we finish the prep work and the line isn’t busy we can do dishes. If all that is done we get to go home. There is no standing around, no trying to figure out what to do to look busy. I like that.

But I must admit probably the main reason I like the day shift better is my coworkers. During the day most of the people working in the kitchen are Hispanic. A on the line, E doing protein prep and L doing salad prep are all Mexicanos. I like the music they play. I like the way they help each other out. I like that if they feel the need to do a few dance steps as they work they do. We don’t talk a lot, we are all focused on the work we need to get done, but when we do I like that too. Apparently I talk enough with them that two different people have asked me what my first language is.

Unfortunately there is a sense of separation between the staff depending on their culture. Both A and E have made comments about how their “paisanos” will support them differently than the American staff. They feel there is a difference in work ethic and teamwork. It is too early for me to have an opinion on whether or that perception is based on truth or prejudicial expectations or what. I am curious to see, but in the meantime I am thrilled to be able to feel at home with both. I hope I will be able to continue that.

Tomorrow is the beginning of Lent so I may have had too much sugar and alcohol in anticipation of 40 days without. I cannot seem to think of a way to end this post other than just saying good night. “Good night.”

Map Print Series

Map 8 with FishI worked on my map print series from March to May 2011. I started with a Metro Atlanta Street Atlas with over 100 pages of maps that begged to be drawn on. Rather than plan the drawings out in advance I let the lines of the streets, rivers, lakes and highways dictate the shapes I drew. Many of the drawings will never see the light of day, but at least five were deemed worthy of framing. They are also available as matted prints for $15. Though it as been almost two years since I have worked on this series it is possible that I will revisit it.

Map 79 with Hornbill  Map 2 with Urban Girl  Map 22 with Owl  Map 100 with Profile

V Chica or B Grande

In Spanish, or at least in Mexican Spanish, the letters B and V sound the same. If you are spelling a word to someone and it includes one of them they will likely ask you, “V Chica o B Grande,” which means “Big B or Little V?” And it is very common to see these letters switched. Venda (bandage) becomes Benda, Abeja (bee) becomes Aveja, and Voy (I go) becomes Boy. Depending on my mood, how I might be feeling about the person making the errors, and my expectation of their level of education it can be amusing or very annoying.

In the four kitchens I have worked in I have experienced 3 different ways of tickets coming back. In our restaurant and the one in Gainesville we had printed tickets from the POS system that we would hang above the line. At the steakhouse everything is digital, the tickets show up on screens above the line, but at the restaurant in Cornelia they write out all the orders by hand. Among my challenges when I went to work there was trying to learn a new menu, how the items on that menu were abbreviated on the tickets and reading the waiters’ handwriting. The fact that their spelling was not good did not make it any easier. Taco Suabes, Berduras and Cevollas just made my job that much harder. I shook my head at the chicken scratch that I was trying to decipher. I might have also made a few disparaging comments about the Mexicanos and their spelling. I should have been more sensitive.

According to NationMaster the average years of schooling completed in the United States is 12, while the average in Mexico is 7.2. But my bet is that among Mexican immigrants to the United States the average is more like 4. I am amazed at how many of the people I have met, from dishwashers to business owners, only finished the fourth grade. My eight year old is in third grade and she is an atrocious speller. And as my mother reminded me recently, when I was in elementary school I was too.

And we are talking about averages. I am still blown away by the fact that there are still people getting no education at all. The woman from Guatemala who did dishes at our restaurant had never been to school. As a child instead of being sent to school she was sent out take care of sheep. She is completely illiterate and has no interest in being taught.  I am not sure what percentage of people who can’t read wish they could. The lady who helped me with my house in Mexico also couldn’t read, but she wanted to learn.

I don’t know if it was because he heard me comment under my breath about spelling or if he just happened to bring it up but one day one of the waiters shared a bit about his reading and writing. He told me he had worked at the restaurant for 15 years (he is probably about my age, late 30’s). He told me that when he had first come to the US he hadn’t know any English or how to read or write in English or Spanish. The restaurant gave him a job as a busser (which requires no speaking, reading or writing) and then taught him enough of all three so that he could be a successful waiter. And it seems that he is a very good waiter. He was definitely the friendliest. He was the only person in the whole restaurant I could count on to answer my questions patiently and with a smile. He is the only one there I wish I could have said good bye to. When I am tempted to think less than nice thoughts about the owner and management of the place I remember that they took the time and energy to teach him. Someone who does that cannot be all vad. 😉

Y Se Acabo

Well, my adventure in the local Mexican restaurant’s kitchen only lasted a month, which was almost exactly the amount of time I lasted at the one in Gainesville. Tomorrow it will be a week since my last night there and I have not missed it one tiny bit. Working in a restaurant kitchen involves so much teamwork. Everyone needs to be able to trust that everyone else is doing their part and at the same pace so that all the pieces can come together and leave the kitchen correctly and in a timely manner. There is a rhythm to it. Each kitchen seems to have its own rhythm which I guess depends on many factors: the type of food, the volume of sales, the number of staff and their way of working.

In our own restaurant I understood the rhythm. Even when Enrique and I weren’t getting along, even when we were yelling at each other as we prepared the food we were working at the same pace. The plates went out on time and put together properly. Neither in Gainesville nor Cornelia did I ever feel like I was able to get on the same rhythm as my coworkers. Either I was ahead and waiting or more commonly I was just a little behind. In both places if I was even a second behind where they thought I should be in getting the plates out of the oven or putting the salads on they jumped ahead of me and did it for me. It was extremely frustrating and threw things off even further.

If I was having the same problem at the corporate steakhouse I think I would probably just decide that I am not actually cut out to work in restaurant kitchens after-all and hang up my apron and go look for something else. But so far (I hope I don’t jinx myself here) I feel like I am learning the rhythm there. I have worked the line with a variety of coworkers and overall I don’t sense the same type of problem at all. I could be wrong but it seems like the managers and my trainers are very happy with how much I’ve learned and the quality of my work. Tomorrow I am working “QB” during Friday lunch rush so hopefully I will do a good job. I really want to show myself that I am capable of doing this type of work and that my failure to thrive in the other two restaurants wasn’t just because I wasn’t good enough.

Yesterday I saw the owner of the restaurant next door to where ours was and when he heard I was working at Longhorn he told me if he had known I was looking for kitchen work he would have offered me some. The owner of the chain where my husband works has also mentioned the possibility of me working in one of his restaurants. If I decide that this work is indeed work I like and want to continue doing I feel like there will be a fair number of opportunities for me. So I feel like it is important to really look at what happened at the Mexican restaurants and what lessons I need to take away from the experiences.

I think one of the major problems in both places that I was a part time person coming in for 15 to 20 hours week while the other cooks were there open to close six days a week. If I had been there all day every day the same as they were I think it would have been easier to figure out how I fit in. Since I was coming in towards the end of the day I was never sure what I needed to be doing. I knew to restock the cold line and make sure I had what I needed in case of a rush, but as far as whether or not they were caught up with their prep work it seemed like they should have just been able to tell me what they had left to do rather than me having to go search it out. If I had been there all day I would have known. They seemed annoyed if I asked, but if I didn’t ask and went ahead and did what I thought seemed like needed to be done they made a point to correct me.

The other major problem was that there just wasn’t enough work to be done. In Gainesville there were dishes to be washed and their prep work was often behind, but in Cornelia they had dishwashers and by the time I got there the prep work was usually done. They had three full time cooks and two dishwashers. For the amount of volume they are doing they did not need another person. I felt like I was constantly looking for something to do when there weren’t tickets to be made. And even when there were tickets I felt like I had to compete with the little boy from Guatemala to see who would put the cheese on the beans, and then who would take the plate out of the oven to add the salad. It was pretty ridiculous. I do not miss it at all. At the steakhouse there is plenty of work to be done, it is clear what that work is (there is actually a list to check things off of), and if it is finished they send you home.

If I would consider going to work in another kitchen I would a) want to be sure that the hours I was working were similar to my coworkers, b) that there was enough work for the staff at hand, and that c) the expectations of what needs to be done are clearly laid out. There are more factors to explore such as age, gender, nationality and class but they will save for another day.