Leaving Colorado

By BOB ZIMORINO

The day after Christmas in 1976, a co-worker Susan, asked me if I wanted to go to Phoenix with her. My friend Ferd, from high school was living there and having never been to the desert I thought, why not. Maybe it was time to move on.

In a six month stretch in Colorado, I had accomplished many of my goals. Over that six month period, I waited tables, tended bar, cooked breakfast in two different style restaurants, prep cooked a truckstop, prepped and line cooked for a German restaurant both lunch and dinner and got a first hand tour of Mexican cuisine. All of the signs were there. It was time to go.

Bones was making enough money in the slate quarry that he could afford our place by himself. He had grown from a scrawny stretch of skin and bones to a chiseled piece of lean muscle and was loving the female attention. He needed his own place. It was time for me to go.

My 1963 Dodge van “Larry” was as dead as a doornail. I traded it to a rancher friend of mine for an AM/FM radio and he towed it to his ranch. He hauled it out into a field, took out the windows, took off the doors and filled it with hay and so Larry got to live out his golden years as a cattle feeder. Larry literally got put out to pasture. It was time to go.

What did I actually learn during my time in Colorado? I learned the differences in quality between mass volume restaurants and high volume restaurants. I saw the differences between corporate food and boutique style food. I learned about two different ethnic cuisines that I previously knew little or nothing about. I learned tips and tricks of the trade that have stayed with me to this day. I became aware that the breed of people that populate the kitchens of restaurants are a community unto themselves.

Mass volume restaurants are prone to using astonishing amounts of food at a time. When you think about the recipes in your own recipe box, you see a cup of this and a tablespoon of that.  Prepping the truckstop we would use forty pounds of this and twelve gallons of that. Names like Krusteaz, Ore-Ida and Grillmax were common vernacular and used by the twenty five pound bag and by the gallon.

The hotel that I cooked breakfast in had pictures of how every dish should look, a list of specials that you followed, a lot of canned foods, pre-packaged hashbrowns and a pineapple ring with a crabapple in the center for garnish. There were garish buffets that wasted almost as much food as they sold. It was a world of pre-prepped, pre-frozen and pre-ordained to mediocrity, food. It was done more as a service to their clientele than an effort to impress.

The local breakfast house I worked for used fresh foods wherever possible. We served souffléd omelets, homefried potatoes with actual onions, peppers and garlic in them. Garnishes consisted of whatever fresh produce was available and we, as cooks got to make up specials based on the FIFO rule (first in first out). Was there something that needed to be used rather than be wasted and if so what sort of cool dish can I do to use it.

Add to this, the inside scoop on traditional German and Mexican cuisines from masters in their own right, some front of the house experience and the ability to make one hell of a martini and I would say that my time in Colorado was well spent. Did you ever wonder about whom that is that is cooking your food? For the most part they are overworked, underpaid, slightly to extremely off center individuals that work in less than optimum conditions doing their very best to make your dining experience the mostpleasurable.

There are some lazy ones out there, much the same as in every profession but this usually happens in restaurants that lack leadership and offer little to no inspiration to the employees that work there. They are underappreciated and at a certain point start to respond to this by skating on responsibilities and living down to the expectations of those who employ them.

Many of them have drug and alcohol problems, smoke cigarettes, are overweight, divorced and somewhat miserable in their daily lives. Their saving grace is the high pressure, fast paced, volatile world of cooking and the camaraderie that exists with the others in their world. That being said it is a crazy, sometimes violent life. I have seen and been involved in fist fights, had a knife pulled on me, been screamed at and yelled at others. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.

I left Colorado at the end of my breakfast shift the day after my co-worker asked me to accompany her to Arizona. I was going to give my drunkard chef two weeks notice. I went into see him and he was already half way to being burnt toast. He looked down his bulbous red nose with red veined eyes that sloshed with liquidity and said, “Oh sure Bill, I train you to be my best guy and you want to leave. Well then, go now, and don’t come back.” Considering that I had never seen him near a stove and the fact that he didn’t even know my name, I took his advice, went home and packed and left Colorado later that morning.

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

****************

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 hislifetime.