I love talking about food and creations, this is probably my favorite subject because I grew up surrounded by my parents’ hope of succeeding in the food industry and my mom working alone to raise me, while working with food, to feed us. I remember the day when she was at the kitchen cooking her lunch boxes and she told me something would stick with me forever: “If you work with food, you will never be out of a job. People stop buying shoes, clothes, and earrings, but they will never stop eating.”
From that point on, it was ingrained in my brain, that I would never be jobless or broke, as long as I knew how to either cook or work in a restaurant. That’s exactly what I did for many years.
In 2009 when I was working in a ski resort in Colorado, I realized that people working in a higher position at the restaurant were loading in money. Not only the managers and Food and Beverage director, but the servers were making good money too. Spago was my first restaurant job, as a hostess, and I had no idea what I got myself into until I start my training. The Ritz Carlton has very specific training, from your voice tone to the way you address the VIP guests. At that time, I was trained to not talk with my hands. I’m from Brazil, and if we don’t express ourselves with gestures, might as well mute us, instead of try engaging in a conversation. Anyway, I was heavily trained to work with wealthy people, even though it was 2009 and the financial crisis were booming, I don’t think it affected the riches. It never does, as they keep living like their fortunes are save, meanwhile, the peasants, are scrapping to get by and will always be there to serve them.
Every day at the restaurant we had a pre-shift meeting, to talk about the specials and how the servers would pair the wines with the dishes. My favorite part of it all was the tasting of the food, the humiliation of the servers by the chef and managers came as side dish. One of my main duties was switching the menu for the day, I remember talking with one of my co-workers about the price of the salad, at that time, 23.00. I started calculating how much would it be for a dinner of 1, then I multiplied by a family of four, adding wine and drinks, coming to the conclusion that the server was making a minimum of 50 dollars after tipping the other working peasants, like the hostess, busboy and food runner. On a Tuesday night. I can’t fathom about a fully booked Saturday night.
After those months working at the Ski resort, I figured out that I wanted to work with restaurants. Young and naive 23 years old me, thought about that daily aggression they call job, as a career. I started planning what would be my next move, think about it for months, and while in Australia, I decided I should go to Culinary School back in my country. I’m moved by plans and that would be my next step, as my internship there was coming to an end. Back in Brazil, I applied for Culinary School.
Culinary School was amazing and painful, as I cut myself multiple times. I enjoyed the classes, but something was off. Probably the fact that, as in restaurants, you have to deal with a lot of ego and people who know a little bit more than you, or a bit less, trying to make you look stupid. Heck, I was there to learn and the feeling that I had was that I was paying for the school brand and not the learning itself. Friendships were flouring, people being part of groups and cookouts, and I was left out. Over and over.
I wanted to learn how to cook, simple cooking and go from there. How can you know all the types of french cutting names, like battonet, julienne, measurements and all, when they tell you not to season the chicken, to not lose it the original taste. Yes, sir, I want my chicken tasting like a dead animal, at this point, I should leave the feathers for garnishing? Nothing it was being taught made sense. In the same level os insanity, I learned hot to deboned a quail. The stress of removing the bones of a tiny little bird is real. I got to taste it, which I didn’t want to, but I guess once again, degrading yourself is part of working in a kitchen according to them. So when I moved to Chicago, I upgraded myself to be part of Front of the House, aka Server. I would talk about food, sell it, without having to be in the kitchen, tasting little birds.
I worked in many restaurants and they all have one thing in common, not the food, the people. Here is how I separate the crew: A dumb boss, who listens to people he is not supposed to, like the senior server. An assistant manager that does all the job, the boss is getting paid to do. A food runner, delivering food to the wrong places and wrecking the entire restaurant system, the busboy who takes his time to do whatever he is asked because according to him, he is not getting paid enough to do this job and the server could perfectly do it. The rude bartender. The magic behind the bar is real, when I had to make a couple of drinks one time, it was like some powerful awakening took over my body, for no reason I yelled, “Get your lemons somewhere else or cut your own.”Bartending power trip is real. Last and most important of the food chain, the Server, that deserves their own paragraph.
If you ever work as a server, you are capable to work in any field. Servers are sales associate, marketing, food connoisseurs, team leaders, stress jugglers, working under a high level of stress, skilled improv masters, especially on Valentine’s day, Restaurant Week. Mother’s Day will deserve an entire post alone. On a busy Saturday night, servers dance like the ballet of serving food, drinking coffee and RedBull to be awake, and downing some heavy alcohol to be able to sleep. Besides it all, serving food has some perks.
While working in a restaurant, I learned and tried wines I would never be able to afford and ate all kinds of different food. From sushi to wood oven pizza, to steak salad and Italian hand made gnocchi. Learned about different cultures through food and learned other people culturally eating habits. I learned fast what countries don’t tip and their peculiar way of ordering. Above it all, my love for food was what kept me finding jobs at restaurants. After a few years in the industry, I call it quits to write.
Today marks a year I left the restaurant industry. Am I making money with writing? Not yet, but I’m once again working with food, this time my dear friend and chef created a position for me at her uprising company, where I can take photos of her private dinners and plates, also doing some admin stuff. We talk about food all day. We talk about clientele and how clueless the requests are. We didn’t stop working on quarantine, we masked up, kept a distance, and did the work. Like my mom said, people will stop buying random stuff, but they will always buy food.
Chef Demeatrie its the creator and owner of Starving Gypsy here in South Austin,Texas. She can be found in all social media’s handles @starvinggypsy and on her website https://thestarvinggypsy.net/ where you find some great pictures ☺️
Be safe, Stay healthy !