Thursday, August 12, 2010

Back of the House

The industry in all of its manifestations; to dine and drink in a place of work and play and stress and nonchalance.

I ran the expo. line. The restaurant at my fingertips. Tables 17-26. Tables 30-64. 70. 100 AKA VIP.

“Halle, you got this?”


The rush, the ruddy cheeks pumped by adrenaline and burner flame. The flare of heat and bursts of smells like fireworks.

“Hey boys listen up! Table 40 is an order-fire-pickup! Grill, Sautee Sides and Hot Apps you are on that with them for entrees!

“Heard!” they yell in unison.


My chest swells like a mamma bird after a return from 4 days in a city that nearly swallowed me whole. I missed Detroit and found home in a city most shy away from. I missed this.

They have all moved up in stations. Sean on sauté, Nick on hot apps, Noodles learning how to roast marrow in 12 minutes, Erik on sides., Pedro expo-ing. I saw them start at garmo. Fluffing lettuce, raw root veggies and chickpeas in a giant metal bowl, moving on to the eruption of pure fire on those burners, thundering of pans again metal, taming them like wild bulls. The adrenaline that poured out of them with their sweat.


The bar is full and no one occupies the seat next to me, and more often now I wish one of them shared a meal with me, perhaps rubbing my sore feet from 8 plus hours skittering back and forth in leather Converse All Stars, feeding me with their fingers, nails bitten down to the callused nub, stained with charcoal and grease, and my tongue would search for the salt and oil there.


The drive home conjures up memories of the shift, the boys, my boys, all of them, their hands working against the grain, tendons taught underneith their leathered skin. And I wonder:

What do they go home to at night? And who? Their yawns, unrelenting and consuming after 15 plus hours on their feet, These men move in listless shuffles through hallways and doors, acrossed tiles, carpet and hard wood. They do it with purpose, their metabolisms dwindling, breath and heartbeats tempered. They wash off the sheen, the salt, all of which I’ve tasted on the peripheries of my mouth and the soft, fleshly part of my lips. What do they smell like when they step heavy and dripping from their late night showers? Perhaps, still, the sent of salt with a hint of mint, that tangy bite of bar soap. I bet they smell like brand new mornings.


French trills leave his tongue in the random words that replace English ones in his self-meditation.

Mis en place

En croute

On y va!” he will yell, splice the French in between English like a sandwich au jambon. He will do this when he’s feisty or nostalgic.

And when he slides a finished plate of the pan roasted lemon chicken nestled in a shallow puddle of tarragon broth and root veggies, “la poulet” escapes my own lips, pointing to the steaming breast with my pinky. His eyebrows rise slightly over the scar on his forehead.

“Parlez vous francaise?”

“Un peu,” I pinch the air with my thumb and forefinger.

“Ah, bien. Tres bien.”


The oysters are nestled in a shallow trough of ice, monstrous and engorged with their own briny juice, more than a mouthful and begging to be sucked down in the most distasteful and raunchy manner.

“Dude if I ate this serving of oysters I’d have a raging hard-on for DAYS.”

“Oh my God. Norm…TMI…you’re like my older brother.”


“Tough love, Halle. Think of it like kindergarten. The more we give you shit, the more we actually like you. “

They push my buttons; know how to tease me, what pisses me off and what makes me crack a smile. They say I don’t smile enough.

Pedro likes to fuck with the cuffs of my t-shirt. I roll them twice for preference, and because I hate it when t-shirt sleeves nearly reach my elbow. But Pedro likes to flick at them, unroll them with a quick little flick of the wrist.

“Reeeeelly Pedro?” I like to mock his accent…he likes it too.

“Stoooooop.” He wines, mocking me back.

“Gahhhh you’re all like big brothers GEEZE.

“You love it.”

I do.



“Yo.” I don’t look up from my polishing.

“What do you love?”

No one has ever asked me that, and if they have its been so long that there are only faint traces left in my recollection like eraser dust, as if someone just swiped at the chalkboard for a clean slate.

And just like that all kitchen banter halted, even the pans on their burners hushed to a dull hiss and spit of grease. Whether or not those boys actually wanted to know my answer wont be determined, but that pause was deafening over the rhythm of the kitchen.

“…What do I love…” heads tilt, movements lag nearly to a steady stop. “Milk foam. I fucking love the foam left over from a well-made cappuccino, have to get every last little bit from the bottom of the cup. And I have to use my finger, doesn’t taste as good with a spoon.” Silent responses seep into my skin, nods and snickers, a few grunts of approval. I like to think they enjoy my less than normal persona. Anywhere else, any other time in my life I would have hidden, scampered off or changed the subject. But they make it ok to me. I know who I am now because of them.

“What else?” A voice to my left, from garmo, I think. I smile and bite my bottom lip. They want to know more. “Warm sheets, you know, right out of the dryer with a little zaps of static electricity. Oh god, and fresh bread, Jesus when you guys throw those massive loaves of sourdough over here on the cutting board I immediately start drooling.”


“You know it.” Those baguettes of sourdough and multigrain remind me of my adolescence when my father tackled baking his own bread, especially on Christmas, a stoli dotted with bits of fruit and a sheen of butter and sugar and dinner accompanied with homemade rolls little puffs of steam spurting from them when they were torn into with two thumbs., a hint of sweetness if you held the soft dough near the tip of your tongue. The kitchen is home.

“I love the sound of fresh baked bread.” Norm paused from pulling meat for beast of the day.

“What? The sound? Don’t you mean the smell?”

“No, the sound. You can tell when bread is the highest quality, has been made nearly to perfection when you can hear that crust pop as soon as it hits room temperature after its pulled from the oven, here, ill show you right now actually.” Norm places his knife beside the cutting board and I already know where to follow him to the back line.

“Right behind.” Noodles and Bam Bam pivot slightly as I shift between them. Norm is waiting by one of the large ovens where I can feel the waves of heat seeping out the edges. He opens the door and grasps the large sheet tray with a rag, putting his face close to the steaming loaves.

“C’mere you’re going to miss it!” I shuffle over to the oven and put my face close, oven heat flushing my face peachy red and I can here it like rice krispees in cold milk, that little crackle. We don’t need to say anything. I just smile.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Kitchen Sounds


Pedro! I've been worrying about's the foot?



a lot better, thanks



Good I'm glad



heard you weren't too hot, how've you been?







...feeling too hot

that sucks

feeling better though?



Today was the first day I've actually left my apartment since Monday

but Frank sent me home and told me to take another night off

yeah just trying to get my energy and my voice back haha



yeah I hear ya. I've been on the couch and Vicodin out all week, not fun



Cabin fever is about to set in..I don't mind being lazy but dude..I can't spend another day inside



I hear ya, no I hate being lazy



How did you burn yourself??? God you poor thing



Doing short ribs, the liquid fell n foot, ill tell at work there’s a lot to it

but I've doing a lot work in the comp, I'm doing the entire recipe book for roast, so that’s where I'm at right now



It went through your shoe?! That is insane






nice! I want a copy



could’ve been a lot worse if it wasn’t for the shoe



I can’t even imagine..I'm glad your ok..It’s going to heal and everything? no serious permanent damage?




its healing it just burn like these take their time u know

but hopefully ill be back next week

anyways... im gonna let you go got finish this recipe book, still got like 80 more recipes to type for Monday.



ok get better soon dear and you know if you need anything im your girl



be well, and take your vitamins, hope u feel better too




will do Pedro see you soon


“Halle do you dress up just for us kitchen guys?” I like that EJ talks to me more, even if I’m unsure whether he is criticizing me or just giving me a hard time.

“Always.” I wink.

“Hey, uh, Halle, your shirt is falling off your shoulder there…”

“It’s supposed to, Forest.”

“Just trying to help.”

“Yeah, yeah, you just wanted an excuse to touch my shoulder.”

“You’re right…here let me help you…”


“Hey kid how you feeling’?”

“Better than I was.” But the words barely make it out through strained, scratchy vocal chords. Travis’s face folds into an awe-you-poor-thing-you-lost-your-voice look. “It’s all your fault.” I mouth, pointing at him with my fork, now stabbed with a ripe grape tomato. Travis holds his hands up in defense.

“Dude we didn’t make out that much, totally not my fault.” I smirk and slide the envelope I have for him down to where he is slouched against the granite bar. The turquoise envelope glides easily over to him resting at his fingertips.

“Happy Birthday.” Manages to squeeze out of my voice box in little gasps. I shrug and finish, “I had to,” before he can say anything. But he doesn’t just holds that smile there, the one I think he keeps secretly for me tucked into the pocket of his hoodie.


“Halle, I don’t want to hear a word out of you today…not one.” Andy can’t fool me, trying to press his face into seriousness but cracking a smile only half a second after he finishes the sentence. The feverish haze has just barely left me and stolen my voice along with it, but not one more day in my apartment, pajamas, soup and movies could keep me from that kitchen. I missed them after a week and it felt heavenly to be back, even if they were busting my balls…so to speak…

“Oh hush up!” My voice came out in barely a squeaky whisper instead of the yell I intended.

“What? I’m sorry I cant hear you…what did you say?” Andy holds his hand behind the crook of his ear. “You’re going to have to be louder than that if you want to get out attention.” I slap him with the yellow polishing cloth and go back to helping the boys set up for service.

“Seriously, Hal, we missed are you feeling?” I flash a thumbs up sign.

“Good. Stay fucking healthy!”


I can feel my phone vibrate in my apron pocket. Texting is forbidden in the kitchen but I discretely hit the buttons in the darkness of the fabric and scan the screen quickly before Andy catches me. It’s Nolan.

“Hey lady! I heard you were quite sick. Are you ok?!”


“Seriously thanks for everything you do…sometimes I wonder what we did before you got here…and don’t ever think I’m yelling at you…you’re the last person I would yell at.”


They sneak little bites and nibbles, and sometimes I wonder what they would taste like if I were to touch my mouth to theirs,


He seemed genuinely hurt...his soft, handsome features folding into an expression of dismay and concern. My chest constricts and suddenly I wish I could take back all of the negative feelings I ever had about him. Because, in reality, my jealousy is what drives me. I want what he has. I let him down..that is my fear..what drives my intimidation now...I so badly want us not just to work together but to be friends..and my guilt is driving me mad..smells like stale grease and salt left over from a packed house.

I let him down..I couldn't live up to the task of becoming a full-fledged server in under a month and cost the restaurant, and himself...he told me months ago..

"Through this process I will be nit picking through everything you do, I will be watching every move not because I’m looking for things you are doing wrong but because I want you to be the best you can be, I want all of the things I teach you to become automatic. I’ll tell you a story. When I first started working as a waiter I had a pretty big head. I hated that someone was constantly coming up to me telling me every little thing I was doing wrong. At first I blew it off because I was young. So there was just one day where I decided I wanted to be the best, and that meant fixing a tweaking all of those little things, even if they seemed unimportant.”

And from the beginning all I ever wanted was for him to be proud of see how much I respect him and want to learn from him..and now I feel like a disappointment...hovering in his shadow...pulse quickening every time he comes around a corner.*

But I like him most when he makes me laugh...I like him when he reminds me


Yoga has made my body writhe and burn in places I have forgotten existed. The plates make my wrists throb and I can’t help but bitch about it because it makes me feel better.

“Yeah, girl had a hard night…a longggg night.” Dan’s voice drips in sarcasm. I pause and eye him over the expo station.

“Yeah and you just wish it was you.” I retort.

“OHHHHHHHH BURN! SHE GOT YOU!” I smile smugly.


Beautiful and refined with a touch of madness


Wait wait you’re leaving too?

No Sean

Where are you going?!


Oh ok oh god don’t scare me like that. Who would make my fry cups? Because no one else makes a mean fry cup like you.


They come and go, new faces replace old, the ghosts of past line cooks continue to linger. Sometimes I swear I can hear Brian yell some vulgarity that makes me laugh despite it; sometimes I swear I see Jeff disappear around the corner. And now Dan is leaving and I am afraid of forgetting about him. Part of me wishes I could. The other part wants to cry.

“ Yeah dude I am stoked. Ill be around the tip of Idaho at this sweet resort, working under a buddy of mine I graduate with from the CIA.” I make a little extra noise retrieving pig shaped plates for him, slamming them onto the metal station where he places finished dishes during service.

“We don’t talk about you leaving while I’m in the kitchen. We just don’t.” My voice carried further than I would have liked as the kitchen becomes silent at the wrong time. The boys hear.

“Awwwwwwwww!!!!” They all echo in unison. Dan turns red and smiles. I bolt.


Chris is leaving too, accepted a job position as an engineer for some small company. It is only when someone leaves when you realize how much their company, and presence, means to you. A little glowing ball of light in the palm of your hand. We all see different sides of each other here and most have never seen the side of him that I have. Deceptively witty and cheeky, an indi film humor.

“It might be my favorite food of all time,” he says calmly, as a matter of fact without looking at me. Just nods his head slowly as if agreeing with himself. “But I really want to get Invisiline so those little shreds of meat don’t get suck in the spaces between my teeth. Especially this one place in my back molars.” He taps two fingers to his jaw line. “Then I could really enjoy jerky to its fullest potential.” Laura and I pause to gather each other’s reactions then break out in wide smiles.

“Fucking adorable, this one.” I ruffle his hair.


Metal against metal clashes and cracks against the atmosphere of the kitchen as Kenny pours a giant plastic tub of silverware into the polishing bin. It seems with sanitation like a plate of food fresh off the burners. I cringe.

“Fuck that sound is going to haunt me for the rest of my life. I am going to wake up in the middle of the night screaming because of nightmares about bins of steaming silverware.” I shift my attention from the prongs of the fork I am polishing and look at Chris.

“Good god now I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight.” A hand jolts me and shakes me violently. I know its Greg without even turning around.

“Babe, polish the silverware, don’t make love to it!.”

“Dude, I don’t make love…”


Friday, February 26, 2010

Disclaimer...Claiming Idenity

I suppose there is no "right" time for and explanation of an artists work. And so I mentioned oh-so long ago, I hate explanations. But we all have bad days, we all have good days. Simple as that. The truth is the things I write here are through my eyes and no one else's. And though my experiences are completely transformative depending on who reads them, this much I know is true. I would not choose to be anywhere else in life. The people I'm surrounded by every day have changed me for the better. They are the most talented, eccentric, beautiful, hilarious, bold, brash, charming, raunchy group I have the honor of working with. And I love them. They have all become pieces of my soul, have breathed life into me, have saved me. I owe them everything. This is life. This is real. This is how I see it through my window.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

"My Boys"


Those ChefsWear pants bug the shit out of me. I want to strut to the back of the line, pull them up so only ¼ of his ass is showing instead of ½, and tie his black apron there so tight those pants don’t creep downwards again. This is a kitchen, not an MTV rap video. Plus, I like to think that ass is a little bit, well, mine, especially if I’ve seen more of it than most of these people.

“Halle, stop staring at my ass. I mean, I know it’s nice but, c’mon, a little digression.”

“You wish I was looking at your ass!” I yell over to him, whipping around to focus on buffing silverware again. But I know I’ll be sneaking glimpses of those hips jutting just above the checkered waist for the rest of service.

Greg strides into the kitchen and leans against the counter, next to me. His brow furrows.

"Halle, don’t make love to it, polish it!” The yellow rag becomes warm from friction under my quick fingers

“Dude, I don’t make love. I’m passionate and aggressive.” He cracks up. I love the way his eyes crinkle.

“You’re silly, boo.”

“I love that you and Laura call me boo. It makes me feel special.”

“Well-,” he pauses and looks at me with those white blue eyes, “you are special.”


In all circumstances, insert raunchiness.

“You know my motto, here it’s standard conversation, everywhere else it’s sexual harassment! And you know the saying ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas?’ That doesn’t apply in this case…ever.” Norm retrieves the oval plate that flaunts 3 glistening; plumb kielbasas nestled atop steaming violet cabbage.

“Aw, look! A cute little nub on top!”

“And it’s oozing too!”

“Yeah, small and oozing kind of like something else I know.”

“Oh yeah and how would you know that? Have you seen it?”

“God, I hope not.”


“Hey Halle, can you keep an eye on things while I do some prep work in the back?

“Dude, you know you don’t ever have to ask.” Andy smiles the way an old friend does when nothing has to be spoken between you. I like to think we are heading in that direction.

“Uh oh! Watch out! Halle is behind the line!”

“You know it so don’t fuck it up boys.”

“That’s right, Hal, keep them on their toes girl!”


Laura is patient and beautifully serene, like aloe on skin; someone I feel as if I can tell all of my secrets to, even if they are small an insignificant or embarrassing. She would smile every time and make me feel like its ok to be me. I told her a few nights ago about my infatuation with “my boys.”

“They kill me,” I say over the rim of a Bordeaux glass, as if its circumference will conceal my words from the kitchen line. I don’t want those boys to know how I feel, my admiration seeping through my pores. “But it has to be the right combination of them. I love all of them, I really do.” They may give me shit but I thrive on it, nourishment for my exoskeleton that has taken 23 years for me to grow, only to be shed and restructured again.


That little tattered notebook lays on his bureau opened to the last few pages, running ink and dog eared, next to a foggy decanter that he snuck from the kitchen before it was able to be washed and polished. His room was cold on my naked skin as I searched for discarded garments. Now he makes lists on that notebook, and my skin is warm and dewy from the kitchen. I catch his eye and he looks away, busying himself with lists and I busy myself with polishing. His hands will work on me later.


“God, you guys are all going to kill me when I publish my book.”

“Well I’ll make myself a bit more interesting.” Mischievousness sprinkles the air. “Run this fucking food! I’m surprised that my reaction is to laugh, but perhaps it is because I know him now, that he can be stern but never harsh and stinging.


My legs ache from pattering around like a bumper car from one side the restaurant to the other and my mood has steadily sputtered into something a little less than pleasant. Joseph has already caught me shoveling a bowl of lentils into my mouth between platings and courses.

“Food running comes before eating, Halle.” He can’t even look up from his iPhone to address me.

“Halle, get back on your side of the line,” Andy snaps as he attempts to figure out which food goes to what table along with the appropriate seat. I find myself wishing I could tell him I’ve looked at those tickets more than he has tonight and could get the food out before it becomes mush. The cuts on my knuckles burn and tingle. Frustration makes the little severs throb in annoyance as if to scold me for fracturing too many glasses this week into shards sharp enough to slice through the tension pent up in the restaurant tonight. The plastic racks that hold freshly washed and steaming glassware have piled up as fast as I’ve emptied them and now they tower over me; red, blue, green, brown, like giant legos. Oscar asks me in his sweet broken English for another glass rack, light blue for wine glasses, so I empty one, hastily swiping the soggy cloth over the circumference of the bowl, stem and base in one swift movement, before I carry the rack back to the dishwashers station. I suppose, in hindsight, I knew the metal shelf where the racks sat above my head were filled with a soup of leftover food, soapy water and various forgotten beverages. Oscar only had certain moments between rushes to rinse the station clean of dishwater soup. But I wasn’t thinking about that festering liquid. My crankiness escaped through my fingers as I slammed the empty rack onto the shelf above my head. What I was not ready for was the backlash of that concoction into my face, mouth, and hair leaving me dripping with a foulness I could only taste on my taste buds, some of which I am sure were burnt off after the fact.

Everyone stopped in hesitation of what to do or say while I stood there, bangs dripping. Oscar halted amidst the dirty dishes, spray faucet still sputtering water onto the metal surface. Brian and Steve both snorted, knives in mid chop. Some “oh gods” and “uh ohs” floated around. But Frank’s response was the best.

“Well you’ve officially been christened with the dish tank money shot! You poor thing.” Andy tossed me a rag and I swiped at my face, giggling into the silliness that I embodied at that moment, a drown mouse, a damp bunny. I laughed and they laughed with me.