The Big Issue : Edition 443
THe Big issue 11 – 24 OCT 2013 17 steel fryers and benches, and beige- golden-brown. The beige-golden-brown is a spectrum of colours and represents everything not described above. It’s the food (potato cakes, dim sims, calamari etc), the 1970s tiled flooring, the oil, the mammoth bowls of batter next to the fish fryer. The shop was owned by a couple who loved to laugh and probably have a lot to do with the person I have become. In this kitchen I learned to love Nick Cave and The Cure, got told to watch the movie Dogs in Space and had conversations that made my face hurt from laughter. But in a town which relies on its short tourist season, the pressure was intense. This manifested itself often in ridiculous ways – from in- depth debates about whether we’d consider grilling fish if the Pope came in (“absolutely not”, if it was busy), to the night one of my bosses came sliding across the oil-sheened kitchen floor straight into the edge of the stainless steel bench. Her arm immediately ballooned on one side, with something looking very like a compound fracture. She refused to go to the hospital because it was too busy. She just wiped a few wisps of hair from her forehead and set her usually smiling face in a Don’t Argue mask. She just kept working, despite her possibly broken arm. But while the ridiculous was mainly harmless, it was occasionally hurtful, and this is where Dad’s advice came into play. In this same kitchen, my other boss fired me in the middle of service. A friend of mine, a wildcard who prided himself on being unpredictable and outrageous, had popped in to say ‘hi’. While he was in the store, he was incredibly rude to my boss. “As far as I’m concerned,” said my boss, jiggling a basket of flake around in oil, spitting tiny flecks of batter back onto his apron, “You can find some other fucking place to work.” He made no move other than to yell, and his wife ushered me back out the front. The rest of the night flew by in skids between the counter and the grill (“Bacon cheese no sauce plus onion!”), and huge wads of order slips dictating our desperate calls to the kitchen (“Potato cakes, cal, dimmies! Still waiting on a blue gren!”) By the end of service, when the crowd had settled down and we managed to get enough space to close the doors, I said quietly to the boss, “I’m sorry I caused trouble.” “Yep,” was all he said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” We didn’t talk about it any more than that. We didn’t need to. He didn’t need to apologise, and I didn’t feel like he owed me any kind of explanation. Hurtful, adrenaline-fuelled things happen. What’s said in the kitchen stays in the kitchen. When I got to work the next day, we played some music and prepped together and laughed as we usually did. We left what happened where it happened. Dad’s kitchen wisdom isn’t just helpful in the literal sense. Sure, it’ll make it easier to deal with an angry chef, but it’s broader than that, too. The keys to “What’s said in the kitchen...” are very Zen ideas, and consequently can be used to tackle any situation life throws at you. The main principles underlying this kitchen philosophy are these: Everyone is under pressure. You’re stressed, everyone’s stressed. Some situations just create stress, and that’s okay. Think about where someone’s coming from before jumping to retaliate. Let. Go. Everything passes. We make far too much out of knee-jerk emotions. They’re not useless, but nor are they something you need to hang onto. Your life becomes like so many Teflon pans. Nothing will stick to you. You will be untouchable and efficient, in the best possible way. With these ideas in mind, I approach people from a place of understanding and forgiveness. Rude customer? Let go. Irritable partner? They’ve had a hard day. Snap back if you need to, but then move on – illogical anger is allowable, but forgiving yourself and others is essential. When Dad taught me that “What’s said in the kitchen stays in the kitchen”, he didn’t just pass on an obscure, trade-specific saying. He equipped me with a life skill. » Samantha van Zweden is a Melbourne-based writer. She also wrote about her brother the chef in Ed#385.