Monday, April 22, 2013

The Kitchen

It's been a while - I know. But I wanted to write this. And I don't need it published by someone somewhere. I just wanted to share it. Write it out to appreciate it.

About a year ago, the cafe I've worked at since it first opened its doors in 2010, got serious about their food. What started out as third wave coffee shop quickly escalated to much more as the neighborhood let us know that they were hungry. And no number of croissants could quite satisfy them enough. And so my bosses listened and invested and took a chance on carving out a kitchen to make some food.

Now, I say carve with every intention of the word. The kitchen at my work was never meant to be a kitchen, not in the traditional sense. Housing not only a station to wash and sanitize all the dishes, but also four long tables to prep and arrange the plates and three refrigerators to keep everything fresh. (Not to mention the Big Daddy fridge in the way back, what's known in the restaurant industry as a "walkway" as the fridge is so large and tall that one can simply walk through and go about the business of picking the number of corn on the cobs for the afternoon lunch salads.) This "kitchen" in its beginnings was merely just the dishwashing, a few storage racks, and a desk for paperwork.

Amongst all this equipment and furniture to make a kitchen simply function, there comes the hands - the bodies that inhibit the space. The ones that really make everything hum into obedience: blenders, whisks, burners, and knives. What started out as four guys on rotation soon became 5, 6, and 7. Most importantly, the dishwasher. If you ever work in any sort of restaurant or cafe, never take for granted your dishwasher. Say thank you - with eye contact. But maybe that's just me. Because the very odd, funny, slightly heartbreaking thing I'm experiencing with these hardworking men, is seeing my father in every one of them.

I've known all my life that my father and my mother are hard workers. I probably didn't understand all the details growing up, but weird as it may sound, I felt it. Literally. Especially with my Dad. The callouses and the toughness of my father's skin as he caressed my cheek after kissing me goodnight or putting yet another band aid on my scraped knee gave me a clue that he didn't just sit around. Even when my Dad wasn't working, I remember him doing something: working on a car, riding his bike with me, rollerblading with me, fixing this for my mother or that for my aunt. That's how my kitchen guys are: in constant motion. If they're not prepping this, they're cleaning that or lifting this and carrying that. Back and forth they all go in the narrow aisles and the walks around the back of the building to the walkway to get more ingredients. I watch them and I can't help but feel immensely maternal towards all of them.

My father has mentioned that when he first came to America at 17 in the 70's he worked at a restaurant in the Sears Tower in Chicago as a dishwasher. And maybe that's all I needed to look at these guys in the back of the house and smile at them to ask if they needed anything to drink: "Coffee, water? Cafe o aqua?"

"Buenas Dias!" "Que pasa un bien dia!" "Muchas gracias" "Como fue tu semana?" "Que eso?" Tan rico!"

And maybe it's because most of them are Guatemalan if not Mexican, and they laugh like my father and chuckle while shaking their head side-to-side as I animate my frustrations and tiredness with rolling eyes and comedic, over-exaggerated sighs. Perhaps it's that they get that I always have to find a time and place to laugh about the ridiculousness of people and their food and their coffee and all the complications in between. That they want one yolk and two egg whites in their omelette or yogurt and granola bowl without the yogurt. Perhaps it's because no matter how slammed we get and how hard we all have to continue to work in order make others happy, they do it: they work. It's never questioned. That's where my undying loyalty to them lies. And that's where I see my father. In their sweat they wipe off with their sleeve or cover with their hat to preserve the integrity of their food they're serving. Or their pride that curls in their wide grins as I pretend to faint over how good (and it really is that good) my breakfast or lunch is that they made for me.

I don't take any of them for granted. And they know that. Undoubtedly.
And so does my father.

With good work, comes a good heart; no modifications necessary.