In my fist hotel job at the Sheraton On The Square in Cleveland I was the broiler cook for the Falstaff Room, the hotel’s restaurant and cocktail lounge. I’ve written about this hotel before, about the fund raiser banquet we did for Spiro Agnew in the early 1970s, a 5000-plate ballroom banquet complete with Secret Service and machine guns and snipers and all that. I had a good job there. It was easy since generally the restaurant outlet was not too busy. We had little real set up and preparation work and the cocktail waitresses, who were also the food servers, wore French Maid outfits that were more than overtly suggestive, something not unpleasant for a young cook in his early twenties to look at. I worked with Jimmy G. His aunt worked in the pantry, located in its own space behind the open hearth Jimmy and I worked in. Jimmy’s brother was the banquet chef for the hotel.
One of the prep things I had to do was make fresh Hollandaise Sauce every day since it went with one of the vegetables on the menu. I had never made it before this job and Jimmy taught me how to do it, or so I thought. Physically, this work was done in a bain-marie in the main kitchen where I went every day with a cart to pick up all the food needed for the Falstaff Room. Almost everything was made for us in the main kitchen, so I made the Hollandaise, picked up everything we needed and went off the restaurant outlet.
There I was making the sauce. I took the butter, unwrapped it and put it into a bain-marie then set the bain-marie into the steam tank so the butter would melt. While the butter melted I cracked the eggs and separated the yolks from the whites, putting the yolks into the large mixing bowl which, set in the water in the steam tank, was where I would actually make the sauce by whipping in the butter. Voila! Hollandaise Sauce after the lemon juice and the little bit of seasoning was added.
Butter melted and cream separated out of it, yolks ready, I went to work slowly pouring in the butter. As I did this, as he did almost every day, the head chef came by and watched me for a moment. He never said a word. He just watched me as I made the sauce, stood a moment and walked on to do whatever he was about.
Sometimes the sauce broke when I made it, which means that it didn’t thicken or it thickened but then actually separated or thinned; it broke. I didn’t know why, didn’t know what happened. I had to start all over again.
Here’s the point. Jimmy did not teach me the correct way to make the sauce. I doubt he knew the correct way himself. Worse, the head chef, who watched me maybe a few hundred times at different stages of making the sauce, must have known the correct way to make it, but he never took the time to teach me and never even told me I wasn’t doing it right. So what did I think? I thought I was doing it the right way. That chef was either indifferent toward me or simply didn’t care about his kitchen enough to correct me. What he did do, though, was set me up for the failure and embarrassment I was to have later in my cooking career. That was the result of his not taking the appropriate corrective actions for the methodology I was using.
Later on, at the St. Regis Hotel, the head chef told me to make Hollandaise Sauce as part of my tryout for the job. When he saw how I was going about it, he stopped me, told me I didn’t know how to cook, and only by his niceness and because I had been sent to him by someone he knew (that’s another story in itself) did he give me a job, but it was a starting-at-the-bottom-job as a roundsman, a relief cook, where I didn’t actually have to cook anything.
That chef in Cleveland set me up for failure by not teaching me properly, and fail I did, almost not getting the job I so desperately needed at the time. The school in Stevenson (entry just before this), the NYCDOE and our liberal, politically correct, you-can-do-what-you-want leaders did the same thing to that boy with the 7 bags of pot, and I fear his consequences one day will be a lot worse than mine were.
We are letting our society go to hell in a hand basket. Political correctness and fear of hurting people’s feelings be damned. It is time to simply do the right things and teach the right things when we know what they are.
Watch for I See My Light, my new novel coming soon on Amazon. Read some about the inner workings of kitchens and much, much more than that!