How Fifty Percent Capacity Lead to March Madness

Story 6

Thursday, March 12, 2020

“Now we are in March madness, aren’t we?”

Nobody laughed.

They sat in a windowless basement office. The door shut and cold pizza in the middle of the table. Excel spreadsheets in front of each person with tabs for the kitchen staff, the floor crew, office personnel, and the maintenance crew.

“If we’re limited to fifty percent of capacity, then we’ve got to cut a third of our staff,” said the restaurant’s General Manager.

Chef spoke first.

“So, what are you talking about? I have five cooks that already cover thirteen shifts in seven days.”

The restaurant’s owner tapped her fingers on the table.

“We have no choice if we want to keep the restaurant going,” said the owner.

“What are you talking about here?” asked Chef.

The General Manager looked at the owner. She nodded her head then turned away.

“Two.”

“Two what?” Chef asked.

The General Manager reached for the pizza box, but realizing the pizza was cold he pushed away from the table.

“You’ve got to lay off two cooks.”

Chef coughed.

“You’re crazy.”

The General Manager shook his head.

“We’ve got no choice.”

Chef leaned back in his chair and squeezed his eyes shut. The grill cook had been with Chef for seven years. He never called in sick and always picked up his phone if Chef called on his day off. Last week the cook’s son received a diagnosis for an anxiety disorder and needed to see a therapist. The Garde Manger cook started with Chef years ago. Everyone knew they once were involved, but that happens in a kitchen. One saute cook put out three thousand dollars last week to bail his brother out of Rikers on a trumped-up drug charge. Another saute cook is splitting from his wife and just started looking for an apartment. A garbage truck hit the roundsman’s sister and he buried her three weeks ago. The pastry chef came to work last week with two black eyes. Everyone begged her to stop seeing her girlfriend, but she is reluctant to follow advice and says work is her Happy Place.

The floor manager did not have it any easier than Chef. If anything, he had it harder because he had to pick the names of four servers. Deciding who to lay off in the office was easiest of all the choices. The bookkeeper did not hide the fact she planned to leave at the end of the year and retire to a condo in Fort Lauderdale.

What happened next was not pretty. The names of hard-working decent people were read aloud as though they were items in an auto parts catalog. The restaurant owner kept quiet during that discussion. She crossed and uncrossed her legs while scrolling her phone. Or at least she did not say anything until everyone decided they needed to go upstairs and get fresh air.

“I hope you realize this thing is not going away so fast,” said the restaurant’s owner. She looked at her phone and started reading aloud from her screen without making eye contact with anyone.

“Cases in the United States have now passed 1300, including 38 deaths.”

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“Check the Schedule Before Going Home.”

Story 5

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The grill cook plated two orders of lamb chops. He wiped the plates with a damp towel and slid each plate down the line. Then, the saute chef ladled a Merlot reduction over each lamb chop before placing the dishes beneath the heat lamps. Meanwhile, the kitchen’s latest hire sauteed spinach and was adding salt when the expeditor called for a pickup.

“Waiting on the lamb for table seven,” said the expeditor.

Chef tapped his fingers on the stainless-steel table.

Rookie, or at least that’s what the kitchen crew has been calling him for the past week, lifted his pan off the stove, placing it on the cutting board. One cook shook his head and said something in Cantonese. Chef, of course, knew enough Cantonese to follow up with loud words of his own. Then, after collecting himself, he warned the rookie that if the lamb chops died on the pass, he should start looking for a new job tomorrow. Not a moment later, one of the Mott Street wizards moved toward the rookie with his tongs. Rookie panicked when Chef raised his voice again and tipped his hot pan too far, causing the steaming spinach to fall on the floor.

Chef tilted his head and for a moment you thought he’d break his neck. Luckily another one of the line cooks had the sense to fire a good amount of spinach earlier because he sensed the rush was coming. And before you knew it, the two orders of lamb chops were out the door and on their way to table seven.

For the next twenty minutes, the board filled with dupes. Chef ordered the rookie away from the line and relegated him to cutting sprigs of parsley. The rookie’s hands shook while working and he didn’t say a word or lift up his head.

When the rush finished, Chef asked for two pitchers of beer. He poured beer into plastic cups and passed them out to his crew. Rookie was the last to get a beer, which was Chef’s intention.

“You learn anything tonight?” Chef asked.

Rookie was about to say something when the restaurant’s owner came into the kitchen, which wasn’t a normal practice for him. He motioned for Chef to join him the dining room. The two of them sat at a booth not far from the kitchen.

Ten minutes later, Chef returned to the kitchen and poured himself a second beer.

“They’re saying the Governor is going to reduce restaurant capacity starting tomorrow, so you might want to check the schedule before going home.”

“But, didn’t the mayor say it was safe to continue eating out for healthy people?” Rookie asked.

Chef’s eyes narrowed.

“You’ve got a lot to learn,” Chef said finishing the rest of his beer.

Remler.Robert@gmail.com

Check out interesting Queens street photography: @queensstomp

“Can Anything Else Go Wrong?”

Story 4

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The pastry chef looked distraught. The convection oven died. She checked the outlet and fuse box but could not get the oven to work.

“Can anything else go wrong?” said the pastry chef to nobody in particuliar.

For a moment, the kitchen crew laughed. The chef looked at his watch and then at that tray of creme Brule sitting in the oven.

“You’re not going to get that finished in time for lunch. Are you?”

The pastry chef shook her head. She tapped her foot on the floor.

“You got anything in the freezer?” asked the chef.

Both walked to the freezer box.

“We’ve got sorbets leftover from last night’s dinner service,” said the pastry chef.

The chef scratched his head.

“More than three types?”

The pastry chef lifted the freezer box cover. Along one side were conatiners of sorbet.

“Five types,” she said, smiling for the first time all morning.

“What do you have?” asked the chef.

The pastry chef flipped the freezer cover back open. She placed each container on a table.

“Kiwi. Raspberry. Mango.Lemon. Grapefruit.”

The chef looked back at his watch.

“Give me an idea for a sauce to serve with your sorbets.”

The pastry chef looked confused.

“A sauce with my sorbets?”

The chef glared at ther pastry chef. Suddenly he started tapping his foot on the floor. He tapped three times and might have continued if not for the restaurant manager calling his name. The manager stood at the kitchen door.

“Can I see you for a minute,” said the manager to the chef.

The chef turned back to the pastry chef.

“You’ve got two minutes to come up with something.”

The chef followed the manager into the dining room.

“They’re thinking of shutting us down,” said the manager.

The chef took a step backward.

“What are you talking about?”

“The cases are cliombing. Everyone’s worried.”

“Shut us down?”

The pastry chef pushed through the kitchen door. She had one foot in the dining room and one in the kitchen.

“Praline sauce,” said the pastry chef.

The chef and manager stared at each other.

“That’ll work,” said the chef. “At least for today,” he added flatly.

Remler.Robert@gmail.com

Recipe for Praline Sauce:

https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/praline-sauce

Story 3-Monday, March 9, 2020

The sous chef worked the saute station because he was shorthanded cooks. One called in with a fever. The other had the chills. A bevy of tasks ran through the sous chef’s mind as he added chicken broth and balsamic vinegar to a pot while swirling in butter. Meanwhile conversation amongst the cooks continued.

“We were at the hospital last night.”

“Not you too?”

The sous chef shook the pan. His hand squeezed the pot’s handle.

“No, not me,” said the sous chef watching the liquid reduce in the pot. “Her father is eighty-one. We called an ambulance. They took forever. We only got to Elmhurst at midnight.”

“Wasn’t he just in the hospital?” a cook asked.

The sous chef shut the flame. A cook held a sieve for him. Another set up a bain-marie. The sous chef poured the liquid through the sieve.

“Two weeks ago, right before his birthday. Last night he felt feverish and started coughing.”

The head waiter entered the kitchen.

“We’ve had several cancellations.”

The sous chef looked at the wall clock above the kitchen door.

“That sucks,” said the sous chef. “You mind if I make a phone call?”

The sous chef stepped away from the line. The cooks continued talking amongst themselves. All had trouble sleeping. One got up early to watch the news.

“You saw that photo?”

“What photo?”

“The president shaking hands with the congressman.”

“You heard about that congressman, right?”

The floor staff entered the kitchen. They wiped menus with damp cloths. The excitement gone from their faces. One asked the floor manager if she could leave early.

“Let’s see how it goes,” said the floor manager.

The sous chef returned to his spot behind the line. He set saute pans on the stove without saying anything.

“You okay?” a cook asked.

“He’s positive.”

Nobody said anything. The floor manager sent his crew into the dining room.

Seven minutes later the first order arrived.

Sauteed chicken with balsamic glaze.

Remler.Robert@gmail.com

86’d-A Collection of Short Stories In the Time of No Indoor Dining. By Robert Remler

Story 2- Sunday, March 8, 2020

Floyd Cordoz was not in a good mood. One of his line cooks was a no show. The cook complained about having trouble breathing, which may or may not have been true. The fact is Cordoz was struggling while working two stations. He got home last night at four thirty after having spent two hundred dollars at a bar in Long Island City buying drinks for people whose names he can’t remember now. Nevertheless, Cordoz had one eye on the deep fryer as he turned two lamb chops in a pan and sprinkled both with chopped rosemary.

“Did you hear the mayor today?”

Cordoz kept his eyes on the lamb chops and fryer, never bothering to look at who was talking.

“Floyd,baby,” the salad chef said. “I am talking to you. Why are you ignoring me?”

Cordoz turned his head and looked at Rosie Gonzalez. The two dated weeks ago and it was going well until some cook showed Cordoz Rosie’s profile on Tinder. Since then they never spoke except if Floyd needed Rosie to plate salads or set up desserts.

“No,” Cordoz said turning the lamb chops in the pan. “Why don’t you educate me on what I don’t know.”

Rosie stamped her foot on the floor just as two waiters entered the kitchen. Both wore white shirts and black ties. Each carried menus in their hands. Cordoz looked up at the clock above the door leading into the dining room. It was ten minutes to eight and he knew the rush would begin soon. The waiters knew they didn’t have to say anything to Cordoz. Instead they walked over to Rosie and said something funny which made her laugh.

“Well, at least our chef listens to what you say. He doesn’t listen to me anymore,” Rosie said loud enough for everyone in the kitchen to hear.

Cordoz picked up his chef knife and ran its edge against his kitchen steel.

“You were asking me if I heard what the mayor said, right? You know I don’t pay attention to anything that comes out of City Hall. It’s all B.S. anyway.”

It was three minutes to eight. The two lamb chops rested on Cordoz’s workstation. The fryer baskets were empty. A stillness lingered in the kitchen, which is what happens right before the rush.

“You got two minutes to tell me what is so important before we start cranking out orders.”

Rosie reached for two lemons and started cutting the fruits into wedges.

“de Blasio said the city could be hit with a 100 cases of coronavirus patients within the next two to three weeks.”

Rosie kept her head down and eyes on the lemons. Cordoz shrugged his shoulders, which is exactly when Sunday’s rush started. For the next thirty minutes, Cordoz shouted out orders and plated dishes wishing no bad will on the no-show cook.

Remler.Robert@gmail.com

https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#vaccinations

86’d–A Collection of Short Stories In the Time of No Indoor Dining. By Robert Remler

Story 1- Saturday, March 7,2020

Peter Logo sauteed carrots in a pan. He shook the pan until the ouside of the carrots turned brown. Then he removed the carrots with a slotted spoon and placed them on a sizzling platter.

“I don’t know if I am coming to work tomorrow,” said Logo reaching for his salt mix.

He reached for his tongs and lifted the carrots off the sizzling plates. The grill chef slid a plate with a T-Bone steak in front of Logo.

“Lisa’s got the chills. She’s not a complainer, but she complained all night.”

Logo arranged the carrots on the plate then placed five roasted potatoes on the dish. He lifted the plate off his workstation and slid it beneath the heat lamp.

“Pick up. Table twelve,” said Logo.

The waitress entered the kitchen. Allison started six weeks ago and was a fast learner. She picked up the plate and gave Logo a look meaning she was going top start punching in more orders. Logo leaned back against the range. He wiped sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand. Then he touched his kitchen towel.

“I hope Lisa doesn’t have…”

Logo went silent. He looked at the line cooks standing less than three feet from him.

“Covid-19,” his grill cook said. “That’s what they are calliung it if you believe what they say.”

Just then the floor manager came into the kitchen. The color goine from his face. Logo came out fr5om behind the line and approached the floor manager.

“You okay?” Logo asked. “You ain’t looking good. You want water or something?”

The manager shook his head and inhaled.

The governor just declared a state of emergency.”

Logo scratched his chest and exhaled so loud that the manager asked if anything was wrong with him.

“Cuomo said that?”

The manager nodded his head.

“I’m not surprised,” Logo said. “Lisa’s been telling me she hasn’t been feeling well and she never complains about anything.”

“She still works at that nursing home?”

Logo nodded his head. “She’s been at the same nursing home for six years. Everyone there loves her.”

For a moment the kitchen went quiet then everyone started talking at once. Logo realized nobody was listening to anyone, so he walked back behind the line. He was there less than a minute when the dupe machine spit out orders. Ten four tops ordered at the same time. Logo separated the orders and was laying them on the board when Allison entered the kitchen.

“It’s getting crazy,” she said. “I don’t know what is happening. Somebody started a rumor the governor is shutting down restaurants at midnight, so maybe that explains what’s going on.”

The waitress looked at the floor manager, who realized his hands were still shaking. “You think you can help me bus tables. Julia called in sick today and I’m alone on the floor.”

The manager ignored his shaking hands and went out into the dining room.

Logo shouted to his cooks he was about to run the board and told them to to listen up. Fifteen minutes later, the rush ended, and he wondered what to do about Lisa. Logo hadn’t taken a sick day in years, but this was the first time Lisa complained about not feeling well.

About @RRemler

Don’t know how to write about me, but do know about restaurants and those working in bars.

Or, maybe those who used to work in the hospitality field, if that’s what you want to call long hours and low pay.

Years ago, drove a taxi and was on the way from Kennedy Airport. Needed to use the bathroom and saw a bar on Metropolitan Avenue in Queens. Chalk board in front: “Ladies drink free.”

The bathroom was dirtier than what you’d find at a truck stop in Latin America off the Pan American Highway, but the place was rocking. When I brought the taxi back to the garage, the boss asked why I made so little money. Told him something about getting lost in Queens.

Flash forward a few years. Found myself in a wine and beer class at the Culinary Institute of America. The teacher talked for hours and gave us a ridiculous assignment.  Something about designing a wine and beer list for tourists coming to New York. Most of my classmates went to the library, but that wasn’t for me. Stuffed my pockets with cash and went on a bar crawl through Queens. Sangria in Jackson Heights. Tequila in Elmhurst. Beer at an Irish Pub in Woodside. Several gin and tonics in Sunnyside. A nightcap in Long Island City.

The teacher wrote in the margins that my beverage list lacked cohesion and that five Tequila choices was “overkill.”

Nowadays, I got a real job working with spreadsheets and began www.Wheretodrinkinqueens.com because that’s what you think about doing when you look at numbers all day.

But, enough about me, ok?