The following is the first of several posts by guest blogger Lauren Mote, bar manager at South Granville’s Chow Restaurant.
The Covenant of the Cook: an unspoken theology or contract accepted from the moment the apron goes on, and the knives are sharpened.
We all know it takes a “special” kind of person to last in a restaurant, to withstand the military regime of the “Oui, chef!” kitchen. The covenant of the cook, the bond that holds the team together and keeps them loyal to their chef, shows in bold relief whenever I hear “D’ahhhhhh——–!”. It’s the high-pitched squeal that intermittently stirs up from JC’s spacious dungeon, where we keep our cooks.
If you took a long look at his team at work, you’d wonder how it is that they ever stop screaming. Robbie the sous stares back at me with his “Pasquale?s Kitchen” red hat and off-set spatula, his walkie-talkie to the other kitchen informants (I would pay him to break out into an aria like Pasquale Carpino himself). Up close and personal, his finesse and precision confirms why he’s JC’s right-hand man. To his right, JC anxiously prepares cases of butternut squash for battle. Kitchen intern “Killer” sadly busted his arm a while back, and is still out of the game. He loved peeling squash.
Every so often, with a little encouragement from the other screams, JC will turn and join his crew, squealing “D’ahhhhhh——–!” while reverberating ever so slightly to the Marky Mark track blasting on the dungeon stereo. Dom, our favourite Quebecois cook (from the same town as JC), pokes and prods the meats on his station, dips his finger into a random sauce to control salt (we assume), but he never yells. His particular charm comes from his attempts at becoming fluent in English. Of course we don’t make it easy for him. We teach him bad words and how to blaspheme, all the rude slang and the least “correct” ways of expressing oneself (is it really verb before noun, or is it noun before verb?). When Dom bellows lines like “Luuuuuuke, get the yolk eggs, get the yolk eggs!”, and then quietly mutters “I like these peoples a lot”, it’s hard not to find him the most charming man in the world.
Myra, who has somehow acquired the unflattering nickname of “LidBin”, likes tall wicked witch socks, short pants, and sneaking out for mid-service cigarettes. She is hands-down the greatest staff meal cook I have ever encountered, and to that end some have stopped buying groceries altogether. At 4:30pm every day, Myra can stuff them silly for free. She’s the team’s pastry gal, and about to compete in her first ever pastry competiton for Quady Essencia Orange Muscat. To prepare, she’s been happily sampling off her ideas to guests and staff alike until they are perfected (very good for morale). On a professional, “scalding hot items” note, I’m pretty sure Myra could reach into a boiling hot pot of veal stock with her bare hands and not give a twitch.
Lastly, we find Sean Bone. He’s a double-name addressee for some reason. “My name is Bone, Sean Bone. People call me Sean Bone.” OK. Each member of this kitchen brigade is worthy of their own blog entry, but Sean Bone will be good for plenty. He’ll absolutely have a Top 10 list of Reasons Why He Should Always Get Enough Sleep, with listings 3 through 9 predictably including variances of “the necessity of wearing clothes at all times in the kitchen”.
I get to leave this place, to work the floor upstairs where the sunlight, the traffic, and the people all are, but down here, where harmlessly disturbed individuals (that anyone would be especially reluctant to pass a knife to) prepare the most outrageous of duck breasts, the most delicate of seafoods, and enough addictive sweet and savoury accoutrements to undress a team of stubbornly sexless curlers, there is this common covenant that makes the professional kitchen the envy of cubicles everywhere, even of us pretties up top. Their love for food is shared, yes, but it is the kitchen as “giggle factory” (as Robbie puts it), the love of cooking in a platoon, that makes it so special and singular.
*written as part of the “CHOWBLOG” by Scout Magazine.