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There's a Gangster
in the Kitchen
gourmet articlesthere's a gangster in the kitchen

My name's Jeff, Jeff the Chef and this is my story…

I felt the color drained from my face. The sous chef wanted to talk to me, and of all places he wanted to talk to me in the walk-in refrigerator to "look at something"; I knew that I was in trouble…

This story is set in London, the year 1984 - big hair and small food, the Nouvelle Cuisine era. I was the new kid in the kitchen. I was just like the rookie kids that I work with now - full of energy, eager, desperate to learn, oh, and green. The story that I am about to tell is of my learning experience - albeit a painful one.

Hunnter Gunnter headed the kitchen, he was an imposing figure with a title to match, executive chef and director of food and beverage - in other words "the big cheese'. If he were French we would have referred to him as Le Grand Fromage but he was German and none of us knew the Germanic version, so we stayed with the English tag.

Huunter liked me; I was young, fresh and keen. Every chef's dream, plus I indulged him with plenty of arse kissing, not a bad career tactic for a young kid, at least that is what you might think - but not in that kitchen. Huunter Guunter may have been the chef, the figurehead so to speak but in reality his sous chef Tarquin was the man.

He was born as Tarquin Battley, however no one would ever call him that. If you liked life he was T-Bone, and in T-Bone's world he was king of the kitchen -the Governor, British slang for the man in charge of the mob - the chief gangster.

T-Bone had been watching me. I think he actually liked me, he saw my potential. He saw my energy and on that fateful day he saw just a little too much pecking of the chef's bum. On the day in question T-Bone decided it was time for me to understand how the kitchen really worked.

I felt the color drain from my face. The Governor wanted to talk to me, and of all places he wanted to talk to me in the walk-in refrigerator to "look at something"; I knew that I was in trouble. As I walked towards the fridge I saw Leonard, T-Bone's "Lieutenant" standing by the mayonnaise bucket. I could not figure out what the problem might be there could not be a problem with the mayo, I had made it, it was "very good ya" the chef had said.

I entered the fridge, the door closed.

T-Bone glared at me, and spoke "Jeff, you've got to stay out of the chef's trousers - stop kissing his arse, I run the kitchen. You need to understand that"

Lieutenant Leonard chipped in "you need to show T-Bone respect, he is the Governor - the man. When T-Bone decides you're OK, he will tell Hunnter, and then you'll get ahead, promoted - T-Bone will allow you the chance to succeed. Do you understand?"

I was about to discover the reality of kitchen life. An environment not suitable for the faint hearted, if you got treated badly you deal with it, there was no running to management, no complaining, that was not the way business was done - you learnt to roll with the punches and sometimes take a few. And why? Because if you were hard enough to hang in there, some day you would be the one doing the terrifying.

Thinking back I believe I smirked, and shook my head; I thought he was above these games, I thought I had protection, I thought I was the chef's boy, blessed and earmarked for greater things. I was wrong. In the dim light of the fridge I saw T-Bone reaching for an object, from that point on the experience was a blur. T-Bone gave me a good beating with his weapon of choice - a cold, metallic, flexible wet bat, silvery on one side and orange on the other. He beat me forever, but in reality it was over in seconds. I felt more pain to my pride than my anatomy. Lieutenant Leonard dipped my head in to the "oh so tasty" mayo bucket - just for good measure. My assailants left me in the ice-cold torture chamber.

Once my head stopped spinning I regained my composure, wiped myself down, picked up my hat and exited the fridge - praying I would go unnoticed.

I moved at high speed to the changing rooms, I needed to rinse the mayonnaise from my hair. Gazing at myself in the mirror with the exception of some large silvery speckles - debris from T-Bones tool of destruction my pounding had left me pretty much unblemished…

So the morel of this story is if you would prefer to not get beaten with a side of salmon and end up with egg on your face even if it is a very tasty emulsified concoction, learn the politics of your kitchen. And remember that kissing the chef's arse may not always be the finest career move…

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