Phoenix Part III: Luigi’s

The next few blogs are from my time in Phoenix and are more often than not stories, some heartbreaking and some hysterical but all of them true. I couldn’t make up the stuff that happened while I worked there any more than I could make up the cast of characters involved. I will be using first names or nicknames to protect both the innocent and the guilty.

By BOB ZIMORINO

Every restaurant kitchen is different. This is a case of size mattering. It dictates the types and sizes of the equipment that you have, which in turn dictates the amount of inventory that you carry which then dictates the size of your menu.

Typically there is as much gear packed into a limited space as possible. This is done so that restaurants can have more dishes on their menu than they need. One of the main reasons restaurants fail is that the menu is too large and they carry extra inventory (read as cash out of pocket) storing it.

When entering Luigi’s kitchen, it was dark compared to the daylight outside. There was a walk in cooler to the left and an open area to the right which led to the walk in freezer and an employee rest room. Deeper into the room and to the right was the dishwashing area (dish pit) and the entire rest of the center part of the room was taken up by prep tables Along the left wall a steam jacketed kettle, a steamer, a stack of ovens, a six burner stove and an 80 quart mixer were lined up.

Standing next to the kettle looking eerily like Uncle Fester from the Addams Family was a heavy set, not at all Italian looking guy, who looked me over and turned to Sam and said “What do we have here?”

“He wants work.”

“You ain’t gonna get it lookin’ like that. ”  He laughed. “Lou is gonna love this guy.”

“He is going to love me and have a field day with me. Oh great.” I thought to myself.

At the far end of the kitchen was a doorway that looked like it led to a hallway. The frame of the door was suddenly filled by a very large and very Italian looking guy. He was only five foot ten or so but had to weigh in at 375 lbs. He was moderately dark skinned with black hair, a black moustache and brows as well as a pair of coal black eyes.

“Who’s this bum?” He said nodding at me. “This ain’t no soup kitchen. Get out.”

“I am here to apply for a job.” I said.

“No you aren’t” he shot back. “If you were, you wouldn’t look like you were raised on some commune or somethin’. Get out.” He pointed toward the door.

The two bald guys looked at each other with knowing smiles. I was about to get crushed and they knew it. Lou came and stood two feet from my face and still pointed at the back door.

“I am an Italian from New York and I came here to cook.” I insisted looking him square in the face.

“Is that so?” he barked. “You ever cook for a living?”

“Yes sir since I was in high school.”

He paused for a second and then snarled, “No. Get out.”

I turned and headed toward the back door. I wasn’t intimidated. As a matter of fact I was pissed. I turned and said “You may have these two yahoos buffaloed but you just blew a chance to hire a great cook.” With that I walked out. I let the big door slam behind me. I headed for Suzy Creamcheese’s Vega and before I got to the car. The first guy poked his head out and called me back in.

“Lou wants to see you in his office.”

“Tell him he can find me up the road at Ciao Bella,” the other Italian restaurant that had been mentioned.

“You don’t wanna work there.”  He said in a  matter of fact manner.

“Why is that? I asked.

“Their food is merda.” He paused. “You want to learn? Yes?”

“Yes.” I said. “I do”

“Learn here. It will be like getting a college education in Italian food.” He paused again. “Besides since Bobby left Lou ain’t got nobody worth a damn. He smiled at me, extended his hand and introduced himself. “I’m Lou’s Uncle Sam. What is your name?”

“Bobby” I said shaking his hand.

I was led to Lou’s office which I will describe to you at a later date.

He told me both Sam and Paul, the Uncle Fester lookalike, saw something in me and wanted him to give me a try. He said very few ever get past those two and if I was willing to cut my hair and shave he would hire me. I, of course later learned that was lie. When Lou needed help he hired just about anyone that walked in as long as they were clean cut.

My brother Nick and I had already decided that we wanted to open an Italian restaurant in Missoula and he had moved there. If what Sam said was true, I had an opportunity to learn things that would truly benefit Nick and me and having been nearly hairless several months earlier I knew it would grow back.

I told him I would do it at my first pay check and he sent me immediately to the plaza behind his restaurant where his friend Patty cut my hair and shaved me at her beauty shop. He even gave me money for a tip. I came back. He looked me over, smiled and said “You start at lunch today. You will work till 3 and I will see how you do.” I told him I borrowed a car and had to call the owner to tell her I would be late, which I did.

So started my job at Luigi’s.

Next week: Who was the original Bobby and Cooking With Pineapple.

See the “Taste It” archive.  Back to “Taste It” homepage.  Check out Bob’s recipes.

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Bio:  Bob Zimorino is a full-time real estate agent with Lambros/ERA Real Estate, a retired Certified Executive Chef, a Musician with the popular local band Hellgate Rodeo, a dad, and a grandpa. He shares the experiences from his life that helped shape his careers and hobbies. His weekly “Taste It” blog is his take on the evolution of food in his lifetime.