Friday, July 29, 2011

Bar Follies

Being that I've been underemployed over large stretches of the past three years, I have availed myself of the opportunity to do some odd jobs to pick up extra cash and generally keep like I'm a productive member of society. Usually, these are menial tasks. For instance, I recently sealcoated a friend's driveway. As much as anything, this served to remind me that sealcoating a driveway in 95 degree heat is a young man's gig. But it was satisfying to hustle and sweat, and especially to complete.

Another gig I picked up for a while was to work in a bar. A friend needed help plugging holes in his staff, so I lept into the breach.

I ended up doing everything except tend bar. You need a license to do that, so I made myself open to doing anything else. The one thing I really enjoyed was cooking. I like cooking at home, so why not? A cook failed a drug test, coming up positive for cocaine, so Mike The Cook was in demand.
It's different cooking in a bar. Everything I cook at home is from scratch, and I rarely use salt. I don't fry anything at home apart from eggs, and the majority of the menu was fried food. French fries, shrimp, cheese sticks, fish patties, and a whole lot more... pickles even- drop the basket into the oil, pull it up in 2 minutes, maybe 3, maybe 4. It hardly matters. Very little was from scratch, and much of it used salt. Even the burgers.

Some customers wanted their chicken wings crispy. Normally, the wings are cooked for 10-12 minutes. 15 makes for crispy. I had one customer ask me to double the cooking time, so that they were really crispy. After 30 minutes in the fryer, I couldn't see any appreciable difference. I couldn't imagine waiting 30 minutes for chicken wings.

One thing I learned about cooks who make $10/hour is that these aren't people who are paid enough to care. The job is simple enough. You have rushes at the dinner hour where you are jumping around trying to get all of the orders fulfilled without missing anything. But for the rest of the night, it's a pretty leisurely affair- an order here, and order there, plenty of time to do things like fill salad dressing cups or clean the surfaces.

Those are things cooks making $10/hour either don't or won't do unless browbeaten. I'm not sure why. It was boring as hell to stand around in the kitchen when orders weren't coming. Yes, I reconnected with Classic Rock Radio. But you can do that while refilling the kitchen freezer with portions, so that the next shift's cook isn't screwed when he comes in. I couldn't understand. All of the cooks bitched about how the shift before screwed them by leaving a mess and portion trays empty... and then they left things a mess, and the portion trays empty.

I took on one fryer as my special case. This was a pressure cooker that was used to make 'broasted chicken'. I don't eat fried chicken anymore as a general rule, but I decided to try the foods I was cooking, just to be able to talk about them if a customer asked questions. The broasted chicken was wonderfully delicious. I gained 8 pounds in the month I was there. Anyhow, this fryer had once caught fire, and there was a 24" black spot on the side, which was grease that was entombed onto it, burned by the fire.

First, I cleaned the caked on grease from a pressure meter on this fryer. It was remarkable! The thing looked like new, and it only took about 15 minutes with a liberal application of elbow grease to scrub it clean. I decided to not clean anything else on the fryer until someone noticed. One of the cooks finally did notice, and told me, "Looks like we got a new meter on this fryer. That's good, because it was getting hard to see the needle through the grease."
The hours are horrible, of course. Indiana bars can stay open until 3am, and this one does. The kitchen is open until 10pm Sunday through Thursday, but 2am on Friday and Saturday nights. Add another half-hour for clean up, and 40 minutes for me to drive home, and that made for comings and goings in the Kole house. I got about 2 hours sleep on Saturday nights before Ame had to go to work on Sunday morning.


Doug said...

Just, for what it's worth, I *really* wish you had Charlie White or Todd Rokita's job.

Tasting the food so you can talk about it and cleaning the meter because it needed it are probably apt metaphors for aspects of public life; but I confess I haven't thought that one through.

Mike Kole said...

Ooh, US Representative or Secretary of State? Oh, I really wish the voters had wanted me to do those jobs. It beats sealcoating driveways, I'm sure! I would have even settled for County Council, alas.

Doug said...

On the other hand, I'm not sure those guys would be capable of doing the other jobs you're doing.