Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


A dishwasher recalls.

The more I think about it, the uncannier the similarities. (See previous post.) One 1980s drink-waiting job - although I was more of a plongeur carrying out jugs of beer and carafes of wine in between shifts at the sink - was at a reception centre in Melbourne's working class 'heartland' (upper classes don't have a 'heartland' - their suburbs are 'leafy' instead). The kitchen was a vast space with a central cooking area and a rabbit warren of passageways running off three sides. (The dining rooms were to the north side, through sound-proof plastic kick doors shielded from view by two enormous curtains.) In the passageways were rooms for the storage variously of foodstuffs, casks of wine, cases of spirits, rows of steel and vinyl chairs stacked at life-endangering height, spare round tables on their sides like giant cartwheels, sound equipment, cleaning items, linen, office supplies and, of course, the day manager's office which was always locked at night. The room in the closest passageway to the dining room was the refrigerator. The reception centre catered weddings, annual or awards dinners for the surrounding manufacturing industry businesses (Hose Fitting Salesman of the Year 1981, etc), Christmas parties for local football teams and similar events. The drinks waiters raced to supply fifty tables with a central jug of beer and carafes of red and white wine, each of which would be immediately drained; invariably beer first; white wine second; red last. The second round was as desperate a race as the first. After that things would slow down to a fast jog until the end of the night. Fights were not uncommon, usually at weddings, not so often at awards dinners and most rarely at Christmas. Perhaps the presence of the Santa Claus (usually an employee of the client, and always semi-drunk) was a calming influence. But weddings were different. Mixed marriages saw ethnic pride, turbo-charged by alcohol, turn multiculturalism into fights to the death, although some didn't need cultural differences to start a brawl. Possibly the worst was when a father-in-law attacked his new son-in-law of mere hours, causing an all-in fight. The waiters doubled as peacemaker and cleaner during and after these altercations. Cleaning was frequently complex, involving alcohol, blood, human hair and smashed plates or glasses.

The noise was always incessant except when entering refrigerator room. You pulled a large metal locking arm on the outside, and the door seals unstuck, and the massive door opened, and you passed into another world. Sometimes the door swung closed behind you, completely sealing out any sound. It was cool and almost dark, the only light being the fluoro strips behind the interior glass doors to illuminate the contents. Carafes were filled from ten litre casks that sat in a row on chrome wire racks. The faint backlight shone weirdly yellow through the glass and you watched mesmerised as the fluid swirled up and around the litre container. A surreptitious long draught was taken many a time from an overfilled carafe on long, hot summer nights. There was another way of getting a drink. You could mix a drink for a customer at the spirit dispenser in the front bar and then forget to deliver it. You sat it on the undershelf, unseen, where you could sip it or down it in one go. The pace was frantic, so you could get away with anything. No-one noticed anything. The singer in the house band regularly rewarded himself with bottles of spirits, which were stored adjacent to the sound equipment room, a design error never rectified by management. I suppose he could have stolen towels or linen were the sound equipment room placed elsewhere. Or chairs. No. A bottle of scotch sat beautifully snug inside a guitar case. You couldn't get anything else in there.

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