Before we get into it, let me introduce myself. Hi, I’m Nate and you may remember me from previous mentions like The Sum is Greater and Shot Clock. I’m excited to be back working with the Rux crew again and thought I’d write up a guest post on the blog…
Two Thursdays ago I had my first experience washing dishes for a restaurant. Stationed at the north end of the kitchen I reigned supreme with a floor to ceiling drying rack above, a ginzu-3000 spray gun beside, a proper three-compartment sink below, and the world’s fastest automatic dishwasher. My shift began at Noon as the cooks trickled in, barely scenting of their pre-work cigarettes. During their prep I commenced the jet-streamed spray down, the scrub, and the sanitation process. Andres, the seasoned mogul of the soapy empire bequeathed his techniques before his departure:
– “Don’t use your fingers to scrub the pans. You’ll tire quickly. Fold the Scotch Brite, crush it with a fisted hand, and go to town on the stainless steel. Apply Bar Keepers friend when necessary.
– During service, you get first priority on hot water. Don’t let anyone get near your store. It rinses the plates and pans, but most importantly it keeps the front’s glasses streak free.
– The line cooks need sauté pans. Keep them well stocked. Pick them up as soon as they’re done. That means they’ll be barely red-hot. Fold a dry bar towel in thirds and grab the handle. Yell out, “Hot, coming through.” Don’t forget to keep the fry bowls, sizzle plates, steak plates, pork plates, calamari plates, salad boats, and soup bowls in circulation too.
– The front of the house needs glasses, flatware, and plates. Keep them happy with a regular fresh washing.
– Everything is priority. Attack all simultaneously.”
Inheritance in hand I took reign of my jurisdiction for the next ten hours, breaking for 4 minutes to swallow my family meal and calamansi juice gifted from one of the cooks.
Amidst the regularity of motion, I entered that clichéd zone where the surroundings faded away. An inner dialogue emerged. I was feeling the weight of the oncoming evening. This was no post dinner party clean up. Already my wrists were fatiguing and my hands started to wrinkle. I called them Grandma hands when I was a wee lad swimming with dolphins and Lego boats in the bathtub. Two decades later I was climbing up the ivory tower receiving the marks of membership with scholarships, fellowships, grants, and a masters degree. My pursuit to be a good Chinese son, a professional, an academic, and just smart was in conflict at 6:15 PM. What in the world was I doing here? Wouldn’t I be better slotted elsewhere? I have been groomed for roles unlike this.
A lifeline then jolted my dwindling state. Inner grumbling morphed into what some have called the zone, a Zen moment, an epiphany. Monotony and rhythm evoked a thought inspired by Brother Lawrence, “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.” Quite a different outlook from mine. Here the screaming demands for clean pans, plates, and flatware paired with cramping hands and achy shoulders prompted Brother Lawrence not toward humiliation but toward humility. Dare I say even joy. Challenged by this ascetic’s example, I chewed my slice of pie and considered this quandary a Lenten moment.
The evening pushed forward. White noise from sizzling vegetables ebbed and flowed with laughs of happy diners outside. I felt good. Chef checked on me regularly, making sure my countenance was positive. During more frantic cycles Jenny, the expediter, and Gabe, the Garde Manger, would slip beside me and help load the dishwasher. Around 10:45 I thought that I was moving steadily, but all those around me observed otherwise. Chef and Jenny forced me to take 5 on the loft. They pushed a plate of hanger steak in front of me. “This is only the half way point,” Chef warned me, “You need to eat something.” Slouching on the wooden bench I stared aimlessly. I just relished those moments away from water so that my hands might dry. I wasn’t hungry. I wanted to keep attacking that growing pile, get through the rest of the evening, and finish well. At last midnight struck as the last kitchen tongs steamed their way out of the dishwasher. I was finished.
The restaurant dishwasher, I learned, plays a crucial role in the kitchen brigade. He inaugurates a vessel to hold carefully composed dishes and reincarnates it back into the cycle. Without him the kitchen would not function. He is integral as much as the cooks, the hostess, the wait staff, the diners. He operates in a position that is not often highly regarded. It is not a flashy role. But indeed it is a necessary one. This position supports an entire system.
After a single evening among the suds I glimpsed briefly the challenges, weight, and fulfillment of being a dishwasher. I tip my proverbial hat to Andres and all the kings of the sinks. May you continue to renew tired plates and pots with vigor; may you receive joy as you serve your coworkers and diners.
* Nate, this blog’s author, oscillates between host, server assistant, resident artist, expediter, and friend at Ruxbin. He is an aesthete with who gravitates toward gourmand behaviors and community development. Check out more of him at www.natechung.com