My last days as a sous chef were some of the strangest days I’ve spent at a job, period.
I’d upped my last day by a week and a half after my shift on Sunday (the 13th), before I had two days off. My last day was supposed to be the 31st, it was now the 20th. Beyond just not enjoying my job at that point, it just seemed silly to me to hang on until the end of the year, especially when I could spend the week of Christmas with Erin, Nate and the rest of our family (who only live 4 1/2 hours away).
So I got into work on my last Wednesday, did some prep work, lineup, expo’d then eventually had to step on the line to assist because the lunch service that day was really busy and they were getting weeded. I stepped in to assist the grill and fish cooks (more on the fish cook later). At this point the pastry chef (who is my replacement as sous chef) helped expo and pretty much just yelled, screamed and swore at the line cooks.
I looked over at Greg who was working grill and asked if him if it was always like this at brunch (the pastry chef expo’d brunch most Sundays because the chef couldn’t be bothered and both sous chefs would have quit if we had to work a brunch) and he replied “Yep”. Blown away I responded back “If he even swears at me I’m walking”.
Lunch eventually tapered off and around 3 p.m. one of the p.m. line cooks arrived and asked me what I thought of my paycheck (seems the other sous chef had already gone through what I was about to). I hadn’t even looked at it yet, so I headed back to the office where I discovered that my paycheck was less, presumably because I’d missed a couple of days while I was out sick. Thanks for the heads up, dickwads, not to mention this begs all sorts of questions, like how was a rate of pay determined prior to deducting any amount from my paycheck, seeing as I was on a salary. At this point I’d been with the company for over a year and it just seemed to me like a dick move. Like, “Hey, thanks for all your hard work, and even though you came in and we sent you home, we’re going to fuck you over anyway, to our benefit (of course)”.
I was close, very close to walking out the door forever without informing anyone, but after some consideration I realized this wasn’t going to hurt the owners; it would just hurt the line cooks I actually enjoyed cooking with.
The rest of the night pretty much went without incident: I worked the line when I was supposed to expo, mainly because I enjoy cooking and at this point had no more interest in certain facets of my job. My attitude quickly became that of “You choose not to pay me, I choose what functions I’ll perform for and which ones I won’t”. Out the window went expo and paperwork and pretty much all functions of being a manager.
Thursday I showed up to what appeared to be a pretty busy lunch. The new kid hired to work the ‘fish’ station at lunch was in the weeds yet again. I can’t recall a shift that guy wasn’t in the weeds, but then again, his experience entirely consisted of working at a McDonald’s. I had nothing against the kid, but I wasn’t going to teach him how to cook, because I didn’t hire him and never would have. As far as I saw it, he was put in a terrible situation and was sinking because the chef made a ridiculous decision even hiring him. There was no mentor for him, just the outrageous expectation that he would somehow figure it out.
Naturally he didn’t and couldn’t, and that Thursday afternoon Chef threw him off the station by sending him home in a very public and disagreeable manner and worked fish himself. And this is where shit got really strange, because chef crashed and burned. Hard.
Sure, the station was in a shambles, but in the midst of butchering hanger steaks I stepped over to reorganize things and restock the station after McDonald’s kid had been sent home. There was a 30+ minute ticket time on a croque monsieur – a sandwich for fuck’s sake. And guess who was at expo – the crazy ass pastry chef who all of a sudden wasn’t swearing and yelling because the chef was in the building (and working/failing on a station).
I can’t say that part of me wasn’t enjoying any of this though and there may have even been a faint hint of a smile on my face if anyone had cared to look closely enough.
Lunch eventually ended and the p.m. line cooks showed up – ok all two of them who weren’t already there. I was scheduled to work salads but switched with Greg so that I could work the hot line for the last time with one of the other cooks who had the weekend off (he had every other weekend off, one of the thousand or so reasons I ended up leaving to begin with).
I don’t remember it being all that busy but Danny, who was working on hot apps, hadn’t been doing a spectacular job, though he wasn’t doing all that badly though (in the previous 6 months he’d worked that station maybe 3 times, so how much could you really expect?). All of a sudden Chef lays into him using some choice swear words, and Danny finally just had enough, and I can’t say I blame him. I knew how much Danny hated to be sworn at, and all he said was “Don’t talk to me that way”, which was apparently cause enough to be sent home – 2 line cooks in a day!
So Chef came over to work hot apps, and then immediately turns onto me, saying I’ve got a “short time attitude”. Gee, do you fucking think so? But that day I’d done a remarkable amount of prep work for the weekend, far more so than the other sous chef. Instead of letting it drop (what did I care at this point?) I said back to him “You’ve got to be kidding me, I busted my fass all fucking day”.
At this point you could hear crickets in the kitchen, and I said, much quieter (but still loud enough that chef could hear) to the guy who gets the weekends off that “I can walk out that door just like everyone else”.
And that was pretty much my intention at that moment – I’d stick around for the remainder of the night and never come back. I really didn’t need the aggravation. But then chef did something I’d never seen him do, and that was apologize to me, not once but three times, claiming that he mispoke, blah blah blah.
Nothing much after that happened for the other three days, other than that the sous chef who I was led to believe was getting the axe was transferred to another restaurant in the group, to which he was ecstatic about (I believe this past Monday ]was his last day in that lunacy).
Then last Tuesday I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize while I was folding laundry and watching soccer. I decided to answer, and couldn’t believe that it was the executive chef for the restaurant group I’d just left. He queried me as to the real reason I’d left the restaurant, then offered me one of two jobs that recently became available in (presumably) a different restaurant (one was no doubt at their Italian restaurant as I’ve seen a sous chef position listed on craigslist since we spoke ).
I politely declined. He then offered himself to be a reference and wished me luck in my job search.
So that’s that. I went back to pick up my last paycheck and heard how bad things were getting, but I didn’t care. Things always get bad, people leave, new people come in and that’s that.
I am interested to see if that restaurant stays in business, seeing as we weren’t making money and the holiday season wasn’t that busy for us. I’m not hoping that it closes, unless they completely bastardize the menu as I’d heard the owners were considering. All the attempts to get me to stay made mention of how “easy” things were going to be, plainly something I’m not interested in.
I’m not sure why restaurant owners won’t or can’t learn, but when the place first open it was packed for months, with a pretty authentic menu, no American beers or wines. And then business started tapering as the economy went south and they started to water things down, introducing some American beer and not allowing the kitchen to do some really cool shit. But that’s another post about various things I’ve learned while in the restaurant industry, which I plan on writing soon.