Most of that first day was unremarkable. After the introductions, Raul brought me over to Miguel, the day saucier. In retrospect, to him this was just a job. He had no sense of making the best sauces he could make and was happy with just making what he had to to get through the day. Of course I didn’t know this at the time and would only understand about quality and perfection once I became night saucier and wholly responsible for the station. The day saucier mostly made basics. He made the brown sauce, white sauce and basic chicken sauce in bulk and then anything that was on the lunch menu from the station. But really that was easy since almost everything came to the station just about ready. For example, if they had chicken pot pie on the menu, and they did sometimes, Arturo’s bakery made the crusts, Raul’s team cut the vegetables, Mario, the fry cook, blanched the vegetables and Andre’s cold food station cut the chicken breast, mixed everything together in the sauce inside the casserole dishes and cut the crust tops to fit the dishes. Then all Miguel had to do was warm the casserole dishes in the oven to serve them. No big deal! All the fancy specialty stuff was made by the night saucier.
Miguel put me to cutting vegetables, mirepoix for the sauces and stock pots and then a whole slew of julienne and brunoise for the garnishes for his menu items. They were not our menu items and they would never be our menu items; that was Miguel. And as I mentioned, when it came time for him to season the sauces or the specials, he sent me to the storeroom.
The scotch wore off pretty quickly, at least quickly enough for me watch Raul and Arturo conference. After their conference, Arturo came over and asked me about my union book. I told him I had it and would bring it and that I had been told by the union in Cleveland that all I had to do was go to the union here in New York and show them where I was working and they would transfer the book so I could simply continue checking off. He told me he would look into it but that I should bring him the book to see.
At 11:30 AM the whole kitchen stopped. The hot food side and pantry people sat down for lunch. Raul’s people cooked up a full meal every day for the staff. The Garde Mangers worked through the staff lunch unless the head chef came in, at which point they would sit with the head chef as would Arturo. Any cooks who had orders had to stop eating and do the orders, but usually Jimmy would take care of them if they were simple.
Shortly after noon, the lunch service started. Since I was a roundsman, meaning a relief cook, and would work different stations to relieve the cooks for their days off, this was my only day of the week with Miguel. Instead of teaching me the service, he used me to cut the mirepoix and garnish for his next day’s work so he could take it easy for a couple of hours. I was young and stupid and happy to have a job. I took the opportunity provided by Miguel to learn knife skills which I determined within the first half hour of my working that day I sorely lacked. I would become very good with a knife but never was talented. I was helped by already knowing how to cut meat.
About 2:00 we were pretty much done and were cleaning up. You guessed it! Later on, on the days I worked with him, Miguel quit early and took a nap in the locker room while I cleaned up. The night people were coming in and I met Frank, the night saucier, with whom I was to work Friday and Saturday nights, Tony, the night floor chef who was on that day, Francisco, the night Garde Manger who would become a dear friend, and Sully, the intremédiare, or fry cook/ vegetable man. Later I would learn that Frank and Sully had stood next to each other (within ten feet with an aisle in between) and not spoken to each other for fifteen years since the time they’d had a fight. If Frank needed a vegetable refill from Sully, he‘d tell me to ask Sully or he would tell the floor chef.
Tony went straight to Raul and Arturo. They all had a conference and just when I was finishing changing into my street clothes, Tony met me in the locker room. He had a package for me and told me to stick it in my pants. It had steak and butter and shrimp in it. I told him I didn’t want it. He implored me to take it. I told him I didn’t steal. He told me it was coming to me for my work.
I took it to appease Tony and crept passed the timekeeper when I punched out. I didn’t have to do that since the timekeepers got paid off too, and I vowed that I would never take a package again. The next time I saw Tony, that was the first thing I told him. He said okay and my telling him that, although I didn’t know it then, was the beginning of my becoming Assistant Shop Chairman for the union in the hotel.