Monday, August 30, 2010

Indian wedding part three

As I waited in the beautiful lobby of the Hyatt Regency Kolkatta, the executive chef of the hotel greeted me at the front desk and took me to the kitchen.  I met his two assistants and within the first few minutes I could see he didn't want me in his kitchen.  You have to understand that chefs are very territorial so the last thing any chef wants is some other chef having a run in his or her kitchen.  Lions are also very territorial and mark their territory by urinating on trees and bushes.  The only difference between lions and chefs is that chefs don't mark their territory by urinating on kitchen equipment and walls.  Plus, chefs have business cards and lions don't.  It is fine to be territorial but to be a child about it is something different and that is what was happening here.

As we walked through the kitchen one phrase kept coming to my mind.
"I am going to get dysentary if I eat here!"

Remember how I spoke of 'dichotomy?" Well it is personified here.  In my previous posting I described how beautiful and immaculately clean the hotel is, from the lobby to the outdoor landscaping. Well unfortunately it stops there.  We walked into the kitchen and my first impression was depressing and dreary. It was dimly lit with fluorescent lights, (a standard for professional kitchens) some working, some not and some flickering on and off.  The floor was made up of these dirty, greasy, blueish-grey colored tiles that were the opposite of non-slip. Walking on this floor reminded me of the first time I went ice skating.  My feet were going in every direction that I did not want them to go. It took me about half a day of working in this kitchen to actually get my footing to where I didn't feel like I was walking on ice.  I have heard of getting your "sea legs" but not "kitchen legs." Holy crap!

The most appalling thing was the pot sink area in the corner of the kitchen. The drain in the floor was clogged so there was dirty, stagnant water about two inches deep covering the floor which made the area smell like sewage as opposed to a kitchen.  (Note to self: kitchens should smell like food, not garbage dumps) The poor dishwasher working in that area was in his bare feet (can you believe it, no shoes?!) standing in that disgusting, sewage smelling, dirty water washing pots.  

Within the first five minutes I already formed a low opinion of this shoemaker of a chef.  First the stand-offish attitude and then his disgusting, unsanitary kitchen.  I remember thinking to myself that I just wanted to tell him, "dude, you are not good enough to act like your shit doesn't stink because I will cook circles around you and my food won't make people sick." I don't care how good your food is, (and his wasn't)  if you cannot maintain an organized, clean and sanitary kitchen than you don't deserve to be called a chef. From that moment on I just couldn't look at him as a chef.  

One of the common problems in any kitchen is you never have enough tools or some of them are broken but you can always seem to make it work with what you have. Unfortunately that wasn't the case here. Everything was broken or worked at a substandard level and not only was there not enough of many things, there just wasn't anything at all.  The lack of care for this kitchen was blatant.  I didn't even know where to start, I was still in shock from the aromatic smell of ass coming from the one side of the kitchen where the pot sink was.  Everywhere I turned there was filth. Trash cans were overflowing, counters were not wiped down, the cutting boards were stained to the point that I couldn't tell what color they were originally.  To add insult to injury there were six guys in the kitchen and only two cutting boards. The cooks in the kitchen had uniforms stained to the point they matched the cutting boards.  Even the kitchen towels used to clean the kitchen were wet and stained.  I went to wash my hands but there was no hand soap.  Stupid me for thinking a kitchen would have hand soap so the cooks can wash their hands.  The pots had so much of that black, carbon buildup on the outsides that they smoked if you put them on an open fire.

I was concerned.  I had to prepare for and serve a five course, vegetarian dinner for 500 people in these conditions.  How on earth was I supposed to do that?  I couldn't even get friggin hand soap. I also had another concern on my mind that was distracting me from my job- how on earth I was going to eat?  The last thing I was going to do is eat anything prepared in that nasty kitchen and I wasn't in the mood to die from food poisoning.  I had to be there for three days and two nights for that damn wedding and then it occurred to me. The only way I would be safe would be to eat packaged things like crackers and cookies, so that became my daytime meal and after work I went to the hotel bar to have my nightly dinner of Whiskey and pretzels.  I drank a bit more than normal to make sure I killed any bacteria that may have entered my system from that contaminated kitchen and I also enjoyed it.

The good news was that my boss and another Western chef from another Hyatt was coming to help so at least someone could suffer with me. I remember texting my boss telling him what a nightmare this kitchen was and how he was like "ah come on it can't be that bad?" When he arrived a day later he changed his tune.

Until tomorrow tune in for part four

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