True Kitchen Stories: The Tale of The Iceman
Before we begin, let me tell you that this story is 100% true. As much as I wish it didn’t happen, it did happen.
First let me give you a little backstory about the busy downtown seafood establishment in which this story takes place.. The restaurant was big and busy. The highlight of the place had to be its massively heaped oyster bar. It was the first thing that you saw when you entered the front doors. Not only was it awesome to look at, but we sold a shitload of oysters, day after day. For awhile they were served with a cucumber mignonette on the side, until the day we realized we were tired of the same old thing. We dreamt up a granita made with citrus and vodka, and upon tasting, it was damn good. The next day new menus were printed and there it was. And now, on with the story.
We were going through a time in the restaurant of new employees coming and older employees leaving. We frantically tried to quickly replace good employees with the best people we could find. This tale is about one of those new “green” employees, let’s call him Mr.J. Mr.J was the typical Southern California kid. He had the whole “California Bro” package. Blonde hair and a very “Spicoli” attitude. His only real problem was thinking he should be put on the hot line right away instead of being stuck in pantry like he was. We tried him on the line a few slow nights and he failed miserably. He was slow and made “amateur” mistakes. Things like selling the wrong proteins with the wrong veg or even selling two orders of fish on 1 plate. He was not the smartest guy in the world, but he tried and I liked him.
On this particular night, he made one of the stupidest mistakes I have ever seen made in a professional kitchen. We were pretty slow on the hot line, but the pantry was getting killed on oysters. I sent one of the cooks up front to help shuck and unweed the pantry station. What he came back and told me will haunt me the rest of my career. He told me Mr.J was selling shaved ice with the oysters. I responded my saying that we had changed the mignonette to a granita and that was what he was serving. The line cook then explained that he wasn’t using granita, he was just using shaved ice. I was dumbfounded. “Where the fuck is he getting shaved ice,” I said. The response “Whenever he gets an order, he is scraping the ice off of the sides of the deep freezer walls into a ramekin and selling it.” I was completely paralyzed. I wanted to stab him in the neck with a fork and cram him into the very deep freezer he was scraping away at. My mind quickly switched to that of panic. How many orders had he sold with freezer wall granita on the plate? His response when confronted about his stupidity? ” I didn’t know, I thought it was just shaved ice on the plate.” Damn was this guy the opposite of smart. Zero talent and even less common sense.
Somehow after being written up and reprimanded he kept his job and actually got better. He started making better decisions and was on his way to becoming a decent cook. We still had to listen to him complain about how he should be working the hot line ever so often, but there was no way any of us wanted him there. He eventually transitioned into working the pizza oven for a few more months and then turned in his notice because he was moving back to California. I told him good luck and had him fill out a separation agreement that we have all employees fill out before leaving. Under the question asking his reason for leaving, he wrote “Life is too short to work the oven station.” With that kind of determination, he will have a show on the Food Network in no time. Maybe they call call it “Cooking with SlowCal.”
I’ll take fifty-one percent of the blame for the infamous ice incident. It was ultimately my responsibility to ensure he was properly trained on his station before turning him loose. The other forty-nine percent is completely on him. Common sense should tell you no restaurant in the world is going to serve shaved freezer ice. The moral of the story is to ask questions if you’re not sure about something. You might get ribbed a little for asking a question that you should know the answer to, but at least you wont be put on blast for the whole world to read about how stupid you really are.