Okay. So I was drunk at 7:00 AM when I got onto the kitchen floor that first day of work at the St. Regis. Actually we got onto the floor at 7:30. Raul, the head vegetable man and union representative, took me around and introduced me to everyone working at the time. Julio, a Peruvian Indian, was a pantry man along with Logart, Isaac Logart, who had been a Cuban middleweight boxer until he jumped the Cuban Olympic Team truck and defected in the 1950s. Logart was the number one ranked middleweight fighter in the world, but he never got a title shot because, as he told it, he wouldn’t take a dive. André was the Chef Garde Manger, and his sidekick’s name was John. They were from Bretagne. André was quite a chef. He worked at the White House sometimes since his friend was the Chef Garde Manger there and when they needed extra help or had something really, really special, André was called upon. Serge was André’s cousin, a bit of a screw up but a happy-go-lucky guy who could do the work when he was so inclined, which was mostly never. He probably would not have had a job if not for his cousin.
On the hot side was Jimmy, the broiler cook. He was Chinese but he spoke Spanish and he was the cousin of the banquet chef. Jimmy bought the beers from the cooks who didn’t drink at three for fifty cents and sold them at a quarter apiece. From Jimmy I learned that if you had a bucket full of beers in water and ice and dumped in a whole load of salt, the beers got cold almost immediately because the salt formed a crust on the top and whatever chemical thing happened, that was the result. By union contract, the cooks got 3 cans of beer a day and the chefs got 3 bottles of beer a day.
Next to Jimmy was Mario, the fry cook. He was Mexican. Down passed Mario was Miguel, also Mexican, the saucier, whose station I was to work on, and next to Miguel was Raymond, the soup and fish cook. Miguel always sent me away when it came time to season any food he was making. From Miguel I learned how not to be a teacher.
The vegetable station, mainly a big stainless steel table on which were many cutting boards, was situated beyond the fish station and right in front of the stock pots. Raul and his bandits stood here and cut all the vegetables for the day. Just passed this table was a partial wall and beyond it was the pot washer station. Tarzan worked there; he was built like an ape and was the six-for-five man and numbers game owner.
Right passed the cold food station you made a hard left into the bakery. This was Arturo’s domain. He was a true pastry chef. He was Italian but his pastry man was French. For the life of me, I can’t remember his name, but I can recall his face when I think about it. They made everything you could possibly imagine in pastries and cookies and pies and cakes, everything. Arturo decorated the grandiose wedding cakes made for kings and the super rich who could afford to have their affairs in this hotel, and they would do anything special that anyone wanted, so if a guest wanted a special cake made exactly like a Yankee hat, they would do it. Arturo was another union delegate.
Dominic worked in this station too. He was a baker. He made all the breads, rolls, muffins, brioche and croissants. Everything was made in-house, from mayonnaise on up. At one point in my tenure there, Dominic’s shift was changed to evenings and at about 11:00 PM each night the first trays of fresh croissants came out of the oven. Francisco, the night Garde Manger, and I would drink an espresso and pick the exact croissants we wanted to eat. Nothing in any kitchen I’ve ever worked in was more exquisite than this.
This was the day crew of the kitchen proper on my first day there. Underneath the kitchen was the butcher shop and the dishwasher station and a whole labyrinth of storerooms and walk-in ice boxes and freezers. Raymond was the butcher. I know the name repeats, but that’s how it was in real life. The Executive Chef, André Rene, hunted and he would bring the deer he killed to the hotel where Raymond butchered them. All hunting season we served venison, and when I became saucier, which is the first cook, I was responsible for making the currant sauce and the pepper sauce and ragout we served .
The cold food side spoke French and Spanish. The hot food side spoke Spanish. Orders were called in Spanish by the floor chefs. The menus were in French, although they had a Russian Room too. No English was spoken. The cooking bibles were Escoffier and Repertoire de la Cuisine, and the latter one didn’t contain amounts. If you needed a recipe, Repertoire only listed the ingredients; it assumed that the people using it already knew how to cook and only needed to refresh their memory.