By BOB ZIMORINO
Pineapple didn’t say anything else until we got to where he wanted to get dropped off near the Post Office on McDowell. He got out of the car, ducked his head back in and said “You’re a good man. You get a pass.” It was the last time that I ever saw him. Within two weeks he was dead, shot trying reclaim his stolen motorcycle.
“You’re a good man. You get a pass.”
These words resonated with me as I drove back to work. I wasn’t sure what it meant. Was it a one day pass? Was he going to let me just do my job? Would I even have to deal with him anymore? For all I knew, he would be back the next day and his old domineering junkie mode, hiding behind sunglasses, barking out orders, and making everyone else do his job.
When I got back to work, my co-workers breathed an audible sigh of relief. It felt like they held their breath from the moment I walked out the door with Pineapple until my return. They smiled at me like they were relieved that I was still alive.
“The boss wants to see you.” Sam informed me.
I walked down the aisle that led past the deli, past the bar down to the hot food line and out into the dining room. From there I walked back through the bar and the deli from the other side and into Big Louie’s cramped office.
“Hey there you are.” He smiled broadly.
“Save it Louie.” I said suddenly angry. “You didn’t care if that guy killed me or whatever as long as I got him out of your hair.”
“Well…” he said not denying it.
“Well I don’t know, for I all know, he will be back tomorrow. I do know he is pissed at you for putting me in this position.”
He blanched visibly, even in the harsh fluorescent lighting of his office.
“I’m not dealing with this crap. I’m outta here.”
“Hey not so fast.” He said. “I thought you came here to learn.”
“That’s what I thought too, but you apparently had a hidden agenda.”
“Okay look.” He said. “Bobby (my predecessor) had the same deal as you except he was getting more money. This place hasn’t run right since he left. I will add an $800 cash bonus if you last through January. I’m not gonna kid you. It will be tough but you will learn more here in the next month than you have in the last ten years.”
“What happens if I want out at the end of January?”
“I will pay you the bonus and shake your hand as you leave. If you are truly here to learn you won’t want to go.” He handed me the dinner menu.
“Here is your text book. Go home and study.”
“It’s New Years Eve and a Friday. You don’t want me here tonight?”
“You are welcome to stay, but you have to stay out of the way,” he informed me. “It will be crazy busy. We’re closed on Mondays so I figured we would start on Tuesday with training you.”
“Well I am sure I can help somehow and I came to work.”
He raised a single black eyebrow at me and smiled, more to himself, satisfied that I was the right guy for the job.
I walked back into the line kitchen and met the night crew: “Little Louie” the appetizer and pasta guy, whom I will devote several pages to over the next few weeks; Crazy Mark, the dishwasher, an acid burnout whose eyes were set on permanent skitter; Christopher, big Louie’s twelve year old son; Maria, a large, somewhat hairy Italian woman who did the line prep and worked the deli; and JoAnne the salad man, a cute, college-aged gal that was in charge of all things salad.
They were in moving at full speed, getting the line ready for evening service.
The pasta side had a six burner stove had three one-gallon pots across the front burners and two twenty-quart pots of water on the back burners. Christopher was loading the drawers in the sauté station with freshly chopped vegetables, whole peeled tomatoes, carbonara sauce, and prepped and pounded meats. He checked the line freezer and made a list of things he needed to fill it with from the walk-in freezer from the prep kitchen and went off to fill his list.
Little Louie was par cooking a variety of dried imported pastas. When they were slightly too undercooked for service, he would drain and cool them all the way down with ice water. He would then add a few drops of olive oil to them and toss them thoroughly. He then would put them in plastic tubs, covered them with a slightly dampened towel and popped them into refrigerated drawers below the six-burner stove.
While he was doing that, Maria would refill the three one-gallon pots with hot water from the kettles on the back burner and then add water to them to replenish the hot water supply. In between the water duties, she was buttering garlic bread and loading up the refrigerated drawers designated for appetizers with baked stuffed clams, breaded zucchini for frying, mushroom caps stuffed with Italian sausage and rolled in parmesan cheese, and more.
JoAnne was busy getting her salad bar set up and ready to go. It included three types of lettuce, one bitter and two sweet, purple onion, tomato wedges cucumbers, parmesan cheese, croutons, and dressing. There were meat and cheese pinwheels that went on the antipasto salad and assorted pickled peppers for the garnish.
They were a team. They didn’t speak to each other. It was obvious they each knew their jobs and were doing them, working both together and around each other.
After my experience with Pineapple, it was refreshing to see that he actually had line cooks that did their jobs. I was pretty impressed that Christopher, at age 12, was as good or better at his job as others I had worked with that were twice his age.
By 4:30, the line was totally set up and they were ready to rock. I had helped out with some of their set up stuff but truly knew enough to stay out of the way and observe.
They were, I thought ready, but then I thought I was, too. Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next.
Next up: Dinner service.
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 Mudfoot and the Dirty Soles, 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.