Thursday, January 04, 2007

Corned Beef & Cabbage

Back in 1997, 98, I worked at an old hotel in Lake Placid, NY that was trying to go timeshare. It was a horrible hotel, they kept promising to build a pool for the place, the towels were never clean, and they hired the worst people in town. A couple years after I moved out of town, my parents sent me a newspaper clipping about the maintenance man being sent away for rape.

As part of the gussying-up of this place, they decided they needed a restaurant attached. Ah what the hell, that place treated me like shit, and I need to warn people away: it was the Northwoods Inn. The restaurant was called "Northern Exposure" "Oh, like the TV show, hee hee!"

The owner of the place, to his credit, hired Sal, a former Olympic bobsledder, as manager of the place. Great guy. Unfortunately, owner held the purse strings so tight, even Sal couldn't make the place worth eating at. I got hired in as a prep cook. And yes, this was in keeping with the "worst people in town" philosophy; their prep cook was a fat stoner who had been fired from the Hilton, the bagel place, two tchotchke shops, and the German restaurant in the past year. Tony, the dishwasher, was an early Juggalo and Collin, the head cook, was a multiple felon and a barely-functional alcoholic. Holy shit, that man could drink.

Since the place lacked the budget for adequate personnel, soon my stoner ass was a line cook as well. Sal was a great cook, but he spent all his time begging the owner to get us supplies. The owner insisted on ordering it all himself. He lived in New Jersey. We were usually out of burgers. This was a bar-food joint.

One day, I was tasked with coming up with a dinner special. It was Saint Patrick's Day, and the bar manager expected a big crowd (failed to materialize). I looked in the walk-in fridge, and it was virtually bare. I'd barely have enough to serve a dozen people our staple dishes.

I had never made corned beef & cabbage before. I had never eaten corned beef & cabbage before. But I thought, Hey, I'm Irish, it's Saint Paddy's Day, I'll bet corned beef & cabbage is in my blood! So I started casting about for components. I managed to find a log of processed corned-beef lunchmeat and lots of cans of sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is made of cabbage. It is not "cabbage" of the sort one serves with a nice dish like corned beef & cabbage. But I gamely sliced some big hunks off the corned beef loaf and tossed it in the steamer with a couple cans of 'kraut.

"Nancy, the special is corned beef & cabbage!"

A couple hours into the night, it seemed like I was gonna get away with this abortion of cuisine. The place had been virtually empty the whole shift, and I had nearly forgotten about my little mixture, which was starting to look a little chapped lips on the edges.

Somebody showed up and ordered it though. I have no idea who it was. By good grace or cowardice, as soon as I heard the order for the corned beef & cabbage, I did not so much as peek my head out of the kitchen. I slopped a couple slabs on the plate, piled some sauerkraut on top of it as artfully as I could, and dandied it up with a bit of parsley.

No go. Five minutes later, I heard a raised voice from the dining room. Nancy came back into the kitchen and said, "He sent it back. He said it was sandwich meat & sauerkraut and that that wasn't corned beef & cabbage."

". . . Oh. Does he want something else?"

"No. He left."

She stared at me expectantly for a few moments more, then shrugged and walked back out to the bar.

The funny thing is, Nancy and Collin both knew about my "attempt," but didn't say anything contrary. Foodservice is full of people who couldn't care less about you and want to go home having expended the least energy possible. This place was something else, though. We were all horrible people.

I like the job I have now quite a bit more.

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At Monday, January 08, 2007 9:39:00 PM, Blogger Kate said...

yo pete, who wrote this?

At Monday, January 08, 2007 10:21:00 PM, Blogger Pete said...

Brandon did, like the credit says.

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