Filed under: Opinion
Man this industry can be fickle. I was out for dinner the other night and decided on “the hot new place” in town (there’s always at least 2 or 3 at any one time). I’d heard fantastic things and thought it’d be a bit of fun (I don’t tend to get out much in “normal” hours) to have a meal somewhere special, just for a change.
This particular place (which shall remain nameless for the sake of it’s owners reputation) has been having what some might call the “golden luck” in the run-up to it’s launch just a few weeks ago. A full feature article on it’s chef/owner in the local rags, a quick t.v snippet the other night and… as it has had the good grace of opening its doors during auckland fashion week: a nice long string of local and international celebrats (spelling intentional) to grace its fine floors upon open night. All pretty special attention for a small, tucked away, 30-seater downtown. So imagine my suprise to the response I got when ringing for a reservation just a few weeks after launch night:
Nah, not too busy tonight… just pop in any time before 10pm
Pardon? Not too busy? Even back on the home-front we had a good set of bookings tonight! And this… of all the places in the world to be “not too busy” on a Saturday night, this was the last! This required some thorough investigating!
But so it was! We arrived at 9 to find, well… nothing! From the hustle and bustle of main street we passed through the (very beautifully carved oak) front doors to find a virtual sanctum of peace – not in the good way – waiters polished the already polished cutlery, kitchen staff could be seen out back quietly shuffling soup ladles (along with other such life-or-death type duties) and our golden boy? The chef/owner taking the charge for all of this? I spied him limply propped upon the bar, glass in hand staring dolefully into its contents. In total “hot restaurant had 5 customers, including us.
So how was dinner? P-E-R-F-E-C-T-I-O-N! This place does some of the best and most imaginative culinary artistry I have seen in Auckland (and with the way this industry is cramming up with “artist/chefs”, that’s one hell of a compliment), I hesitate to describe the meals for fear of outing this establishment but, lets just say: I had pork, better than I had ever had pork and my date felt likewise about her chicken. This place really was 5 star and all for a measly $160 dollars? (that’s a bottle of wine, 2 mains, desserts and coffee) I mean, this place really was impressive. And so in the same stroke, utterly baffling in its tranquility.
What could have possibly gone wrong? Food poisoning? Terrorist threats? Twilight zone type customer abductions? I couldn’t make sense of it all. And so a week later, whilst out at another bar (I must try not to start all my stories this way) upon spying our aforementioned golden boy, cradling an almost empty whiskey in the corner booth, I took the chance to find out…
First off, what a bloody nice man (let’s call him Mickey for now). I was struck, during our conversation, that i’d never met such a genial and well intentioned bloke in all my time in kitchens (not that long I know, but given the usual high staff turnover: that ends up being a LOT of people!). Mickey was more than happy to accept my offer of a drink and more than forthcoming in regards to his thoughts upon his grand new venture. And the truth was? Mickey didn’t know either! Apparently it went something like this:
So where did that leave us? Week four looked to be shaping up the same and, with all the pro bono goodies provided at launch coming up on the bills, our Mickey had every right to look damned nervous!
Some background on our boy: a much celebrated underling to another local famous name, Mickey had worked his way up through his masters many successes before deciding to strike it out on his own, he had the experience, the image, the location and to top it all off the kind of publicity money would have a hard time buying! So why was it all going pear shaped? (his words, not mine) In the end I put it down to a case of early wobbles and bid him the best of luck. I meant it too, I’ve been back a couple of times since with friends, as well as some of my own regulars (Mickey’s place is on the opposite side of central and so does not really fall into that evil “competition” basket) I even flicked him a function a few weeks back when some clients of mine started to get a bit fussy over food requirements (his skills vastly outnumber my own, so it was only fair). And now? Things seem to be getting a little better, bit by bit Mickey’s building up a solid clientele and all going well, we may see him round for some time yet. Looks like it just might have been a case of the wobbles, but jesus, that’s one hell of an experience to go through on your first week.
Which brings me to my point (finally! I hear you say)
This is no industry for pussies
Sometimes, without any explination, things can go wrong, horribly wrong. In this industry, more than any other, we put our livelihoods on the line and in the faith of the the great general mass (that’s you, our customer). Nothing can prepare you for the nail-biting roller-coaster ride of opening your first premise, praying for customers, praying for staff, praying for a good take! It’s not typically an industry of plan b’s.
If your thinking of getting in with all of this there’s one very special quality you must have acquired:
(not a gender specific comment of course)
Shuna Lydon puts it best in her latest post on eggbeater (I hope she wont mind me re-posting this bit here)
The lists grow, the people wring hands, take up smoking, drink coffee for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Tempers simmer or boil or sear or steam a soft hot burning shadow. Pressure tightening like a happy python.
do you know who you are?
Friends fall away, phone-calls go unanswered, home fridges empty, significant others take a seat on the shelf next to bills and laundry. Demands get begged, purveyors wish you could lose their numbers, cooks hear a shortness in our voices we can barely control.
are you strong enough?
What seemed important a few weeks ago is no longer. Sleep is merely a replay of the day before or the day to come. Numbers get crunched, staff learns new words, tastes new foods, and we are expected to know that we all know the same amount: absolutely nothing.
suit up or shove off.
People get a talking to. Egos get spanked. Hard. We nip attitudes in the bud, with our fists. Communicating language is clipped, succinct. Deadlines come and go. We attempt to reign in the chaos but it grows evermore out of our gripping hands, like slippery fish. T’s get dotted and I’s get crossed. People disappear, never even attempting to collect their checks.
pinch yourself. where are you?
I love it, so eloquently put, thanks Shuna! Hope the opening goes well.
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