Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Language of the Kitchen - se habla espanol

"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. 
If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart."
~ Nelson Mandela

I always thought it funny that French is thought of as the language of food, but its all Spanish in the kitchen.  Not just some kitchens, but all the one's I've seen. Usually its the dishwashers, a lot of line cooks, prep chefs are Latino.  I has just returned home from studying abroad in Venezuela and I knew that if I didn't keep up, all the Spanish I struggled to learn would go out the window.  Cant have that happen, it would be a waste.  My first day working in a professional kitchen was overwhelming and amazing AND there was Spanish everywhere.  Relief!
If all the hoity toity clients knew that it was Latino's making all their fancy food, they might think twice about passing up the hole in the wall Mexican joints on Lake Street.  The Bakeries, (las paniderias,) are to die for.  Let me pause for a minute for dramatic effect..... ..... .... the juice these girls make....its so fresh and flavorful with all the flavors as there are fruits and vegetables.  That's what I want to learn from them, how to make delicious juice.

Over the years, I have really grown to love this position of being able to speak to all the staff.  Not just about kitchen stuff, but about preparing the food.  Which spices do they use at home to make chicken? What goes into their salsa to make it pop? Co-workers who don't speak Spanish have expressed the language barrier as an issue.  I'm so relieved that is not a concern for me, I can talk to whom ever I need to.  There is a downside to being the hub of this communication divide.  It becomes my job to carry out someone else's job.  I'll hear my name a thousand times a day, with questions that aren't meant for me.  I then go and ask the person with the answer and relay it back to the girls.  In the meantime, the cheese samples have been sitting and customers waiting.  Its all for the function of the kitchen, and I'm happy to do my part to help it run smoother.

This skill has landed me in some great positions.  I've acted as translator during an interview, loved it.  I've been the bridge between management and a problematic check with our dishwasher.  The sandwich girls, as we lovingly call them, were up to their ears in bread, and I was able to help them readjust their order.  I makes me glow to know that I, me, Sarah Gross, make people's jobs easier and there is a skill I have that is useful in the kitchen.  I'm shocked, stunned, fuckin pumped about it.

"Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people."
~William Butler Yeats

I had an experience the other day that was really neat.  I was working in the back doing prep instead of on the line, and having a chat with Elizabeth the main prep girl.  She was telling me about all the different kitchens she's worked in.  This woman knows how to roll  20 different kinds of sushi, open oysters, cut beef, bake killer cinnamon rolls, soups of all styles.  Then it hit me, that with all her experience she might be getting paid the same wage as her dishwasher co-workers.  Its an amazing benefit to have this cultural infusion in kitchens all over the country, but at the base is the fact that Latino's are cheap labor.  They have all the talent needed to be great, but are willing to work at low wages.  Kind of sad really.  Lesson: don't work for too little.  I work hard, and I don't obsess about clocking in, I will give my all I just wont do it for long if I'm getting paid too little.

"Food is out common ground, a universal experience."
~ James Beard

To end on a lighter note, thanks for checking in.  Keep reading, keep responding, and if you have topics you'd like to have covered, send them my way.  Thanks again, tune in next time!

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