Dave

Dave was as crazy as a shit-house rat!  He was a blast to work with because he worked his tail off and had a good time.  I worked for him at a high end summer music camp where we fed 300 snobby NY & NJ teenage overachievers 2 meals a day.  I’d had two previous summer cooking jobs when I scored the kitchen helper job at the music camp.  I’d run a concession stand cooking and vending burgers, dogs, & fries at my local beach — which my father had leased and allowed me to run at 14.  Before the concession stand, I had helped my old man complete his dream of owning a sub shop, sort of — we built Boston style subs on crusty rolls with chopped veggies and special dressing and delivered them by boat on the lake where we lived.  Dave hired me on the spot the day I applied and put me to work cleaning up the kitchen from its winter rest.  Even though he was twice my age, we hit it off right away.  He had to hire a half dozen kids to wash dishes and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by the hundred, and he seemed happy to have someone interested in food and not just the pretty rich girls.

Dave was an ACF certified chef and worked for a food service management company which, in addition to the music camp, ran the food service for several universities.  I learned that he was the Executive Chef at one not far from my home.  In addition to hiring on a couple of my friends and a few other dishwashers, Dave had a Head Cook & a Baker.  As I look back on it now, it seemed like a pretty tough way to spend the summer for them.  We on the boy brigade worked three eight-hour days, then took two days off.  This rotation gave us each four days per $125 pay week — one remembers these things.  Dave and the other two cooks only took one day a week off, and even though we fed family style, serving two (usually hot) meals a day with only three cooks and four boys was quite an achievement, but the days we did it with two cooks and four boys were insane!

Speaking of boys, Dave had a saying that has stuck with me ever since, and has been proven true to me thousands of times.  He always said, “One boy can do the job of one man, but two boys can’t”.  So true.  He had a lot of other sayings that I’ve tried to forget but can’t, like: “The specials are cake and cock, but we’re all out of cake!” and “how about a cup of cumoffme and a blowme sandwich”.  Apart from a few crude lines, he was actually funny as hell.  He sported the classic circa 1980, Cheech Marin, thick mustache and long hair.  He was tall and skinny, lanky really. He be-bopped around the kitchen talking a mile a minute, keeping everyone constantly busy and laughing the whole time, and when someone else tried to make a joke he’d look at you in a serious face and say something like: “Michael, please go to the store room and bring me a #10 can of humor ASAP!”

I remember one day when we boys thought we would play a joke on one of our brethren.  The walk-ins all had locks so that when we were gone the kids — more so the teachers — could not raid the coolers.  One time we locked our buddy Pete in the cooler.  It was about mid-morning, and I don’t remember how it went down, but we got busy for lunch and somehow forgot about him.  Service was always frantic and we didn’t even notice he was gone.  We got lost in washing dishes for 300 people after service, and sweeping up the dining room.  We then got a 1/2 hour break, when we would usually sneak off into the woods and have a smoke or two.  Finally Dave said “Hey! Where the fuck is Peter? I haven’t seen him since this morning!”  We all looked at each other in shock.  Dave was pissed. When we got to the cooler, which was kind of out of the way, and not our main cooler, Pete was sitting on a bucket smoking a butt.  He just looked over at us calmly and said “You guys suck”.  Dave did laugh his ass off but he was obviously affected by the situation for the rest of the day.  We boys kind of worked in silence and waited for the axe to swing.  Then, after dinner, he called each one of our parents and told them we needed to stay late for some extra work.  He had us give him our cigarettes, and then sent us into the walk in.  There were three of us in total that went in, Pete stayed out.  Dave locked us in the walk-in and took Pete out for ice cream. He also shut the light out on us — a fate Pete had not suffered.  We sat there on the floor in the dark for about an hour and we were aptly smartened up.

About four years after we worked for Dave, Pete and I were at USM together. We decided to take a road trip up to the western Maine college where Dave was still the Exec.  We found him in his kitchen as they were cleaning up for the day.  He was his normal 90-mile-an-hour self, practically bouncing off the ceilings as he pushed the crew to hurry up and get out.  When he saw us he quickly changed gears.  He showed us around and we were awed by the very expensive and incredibly well equipped kitchens at the school.  Then we headed over to his apartment to drink a few beers and smoke a joint.  It was the typical classic rock single guy one bedroom deal.  Back then we still listened to vinyl, and he had a whole wall devoted to his stereo and about 400 albums.  We shot the shit and told jokes for a while.  I told him I’d worked for a few restaurants since the music camp, and we got talking about the old crew.  We had to go after about an hour, and right before we left he said “Michael, you are a good cook and a pretty smart guy” he looked at Pete and said “Pete, you’re a genius which why you probably already know what I’m gonna say next.” Then he got very serious and said “If you wanna have any semblance of a normal fucking life, a wife, kids, trips to the Grand Canyon, you need to get the hell out of the restaurant business! Just finish college and don’t look back or you’ll end up 40 years old, divorced, and living in a one bedroom apartment considering yourself one of the lucky ones.” We shook hands and left.

Pete and I talked about it on the long ride home.   There was something sad inside of Dave that was hiding under the piles of bullshit.  The guy who taught me my first real knife skills and made me understand sanitation was warning me away from the path he had set me on and I didn’t really get that at the time.  His advice still made good sense, and later mentors would repeat the warning.  Pete and I both knew what he meant; however, we also felt the warning was definitely misplaced.  Pete was going to be a concert pianist, I was going to get my MFA and teach if I couldn’t do.  I saw Pete again about five years later. He was driving tanks for the army.  I was cooking.

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