Ghost in the Kitchen
Thursday, September 12 , 4pm,“Lord, today I need a break, something’s gotta give,” Christian muttered to himself. This remark, was overheard by Nora the grill cook, who snorted in contempt, as she removed the silverskin of a tenderloin with her boning knife and began to portion it for tonight’s service.
“Christian!!! Are you talking to yourself again? Muttering all that mumbo jumbo crap, if you’re gonna go crazy, do it on your own time, pantry boy,” grumbled Nora as she aggressively cut 8 oz. pieces of filet mignon and stacked them in a ½ pan. Christian sighed quietly to himself, secretly; he was afraid of Nora and did not want to piss her off, especially with a razor sharp boning knife in her hand. In this kitchen, his station was right beside the grill. When Nora was upset, which was often, he would have to hear her mouth all night, better to shoot himself in the head.
Sighing again, but quietly, he picked up a case of Romaine lettuce and walked over to the station. His cutting board was already set up beside the sink, which was filled with water waiting for him. “Cut the damn lettuce, wash the damn lettuce, spin the lettuce”, he grumbled. “Is this what I went to culinary school for? If I had known this was my fate, I could have saved my forty grand and went to work for FedEx instead.” Still grumbling to himself, “Go to culinary school and become a chef my ass.” Christian’s first job in a professional kitchen was what other line cooks referred to as the “salad station.” So far he had spent an entire year washing lettuce.
He felt unappreciated and unnoticed, as if he was a ghost unseen by his supervisors and executive chef. Nora, looked over, as he methodically chopped the romaine into smaller pieces with his French knife, “don’t look so sad, what you thought you’d have your own cooking show like Emerill? Nora laughs at her own joke.
His dreams dashed, Christian hustles to plug in the salad spinner. It was 4:35pm, he had fifty-five minutes left to have his mise en place ready for service, or Dave his supervisor would be giving him an earful, again. For the moment, the kitchen was as serene and tranquil as the sea, quiet, but with a serious undercurrent of cooks hustling to finish prep for their stations before service. Craig the sauté cook was set for service, which gave him time to flirt with the new cocktail waitress. He was pure testosterone with a head, hands and feet. Like a shark, he was always on the hunt for fresh meat. For the past week the cocktail waitress has been in his sights and she looked like her resolve was weakening. Christian saw her discreetly slip a piece of paper into Craig’s hand. He wanted to be like Craig, arrogant, loud, quick, able to sling it, when the action got dirty and heavy. Both of them had started working in this kitchen at the same time and within a year, Craig had been promoted to chef de partie. He was yet to see Craig in the weeds.
“Lord, today I need a break, something’s gotta give,” Christian thought to himself. It was 5:15, the lettuce for Caesar salad was cut and in his reach-in cooler. Mixed green lettuce, already did that. Candied pecans, done. Jumbo Shrimp, poached in court bouillon for shrimp cocktail, chilling in the cooler. Mise tray for the Cobb salad, straight. Christian made sure to double check and poked his fingers into each nine pan, stirring them around. Yesterday, Dave had poked around in his cooler and found a nine pan with slimy ham. Dave holding little cubes of ham between his fingers so Christian could see the slime dripping down, “would you eat that!” “No” he had mumbled. “Go get the garbage bin.” Christian had to watch Dave unceremoniously dump his entire Cobb salad prep, one by one into the garbage. “You have fifteen minutes to reset your Cobb prep, start now,” without another word, Dave walked away.
Christian loved to cook, he loved the kitchen. Honestly, the work was hard, and the pay small, but he knew in his heart he would never be happy doing anything else. It’s a grind, to cook and maintain the same intensity and focus making sure that each and every plate that goes up in the pass is perfect. These thoughts flashed across his mind as he raced against the clock to replace his prep before Dave came back. For the last three months Christian had been trying to get promoted. He hoped that if he impressed Dave by working harder and faster than everyone else, he might just make it onto the appetizer station beside Craig. Luis the app guy had quit two months ago and Craig was running both stations until the chef found a suitable replacement. He had already begun training with Craig on slow nights and was doing as much of the prep and cooking as Craig would allow. All the line cooks had complimented him on his progress and Christian felt that he would eventually catch the eye of his supervisor. “Isn’t that how it’s done, you work hard, take your licks, wait for your chance, and eventually you get promoted?” he asked Nora. She only nodded in assent and turned to focus on her steaks on the grill. “Tomorrow I’m up for review and I have a feeling that I’ll be promoted to the appetizer station,” he told Nora while making a mixed greens salad.
The next day, Friday, September 13, Christian bumped his head on the glass ceiling at work and became a ghost. There is no other way to explain it. Christian was as confused about his transformation as any new ghost would be. Puzzled, he walked over to the mirror in the men’s locker room and looked at his reflection. A slightly rumpled chef’s jacket and checkered pants covered his scrawny frame. What he saw made him feel depressed. His face was as smooth as a cup of cappuccino, chocolate baby cheeks were eclipsed by a nose as broad as a cinnamon bun. Brown eyes brimming with innocence were shaded by eyebrows frozen in a quizzical expression, as if unsure of their place on a face bereft of any other facial hair. He scrutinized his jaw line carefully; hoping that a stray follicle would attach itself and sprout into a goatee or even a thin mustache. He tried to convince his reflection, “I’m not invisible, a real ghost can’t chew bubble gum or have holes in their socks?” The blister on his left thumb agreed starting to throb and sting painfully, chastising his foolish notion.
This made him mad; his thumb was hurting and today Dave was going to do his review. How could he get promoted if his supervisor could not see him? “Lord please, don’t give me ghost fingers today,” he pinched his cheek to make sure ……… ouch……….. ahmmm, his fingers were still there. He wiggled his hand and rotated the bony wrist that protruded from his chef jacket; satisfied, he picked his nose. Christian did this when something was bothering him. It helped him think, some people closed their eyes, others talked to themselves, Christian picked his nose. Whenever he needed to think really hard, his finger would involuntarily lodge itself in a nostril. Like using a mouse to Google his brain, his finger would eventually hit pay dirt, whether a gnarly bugger or deeply buried elucidation, the answer would come out.
If he was a ghost, he was in serious trouble, his shift started in twenty minutes. “Who would believe me?” He imagined himself trying to call off from work, “hey Dave, ahhh, I can’t come into work today.” “Christian you idiot, what did you do to yourself this time,” Dave his supervisor screaming at him through the phone. “Well I, uhmm, bumped into this glass ceiling at work and it kinda, ahh, uhmmm, made me invisible.” “You must be kidding me, there’s no glass ceiling in this kitchen,” the sound of laughing through the phone, silence, then a dial tone.
Not a good idea, he was panicking, a wave of nausea gripped his stomach and squeezed it like a lime. This caused him to break in to a cold sweat. Feeling like jello, he sat on a bench and tried hard to stop himself from crying. Another wave of nausea and the reality of his situation struck him full in the face like an onion. Christian started to cry, fat tears were flowing down his cheeks, onto his chef jacket and spilling onto his clogs. As each tear struck, his shoes began to fade as if they were being erased. “I can’t die, who’s going to feed my cat.” Another wave of sobbing and his checkered pants began to shimmer and turn translucent. Christian was becoming invisible, “this can’t be real, where’s the tunnel and the bright lights?” A sob escaped sounding like a tiny squeak and his chef jacket and name tag winked out like a light bulb, “and where’s St. Peter and Jesus?” He was embarrassed, a grown man crying like a baby in the locker room at work. Sniffling, he used a grubby finger to wipe away a single tear that hung suspended on his eyelash, as his face grew paler and paler, until it too began to disappear. In the last millisecond as his brown eyes blinked for the last time, the truth dawned on him. He was trapped. He had a feeling that he wasn’t going to be promoted. Not today, maybe never. As long as he stayed where he was, he would remain invisible, a ghost in the kitchen.