Monday, May 16, 2011

99 Bosses. A Retrospective.

I made my big move into the glamorous world of food prep at A La Francaise Bakery in 1992. Total accident. Cooking didn't occur to me because none of the restaurants I had hostessed in had anything besides a group of derelict creep-outs behind the line.

My roommate worked at the Francaise and was forever bringing home the spoils. It really was a great bakery. The owner had spent a fuckload of her dr. husband's money to make sure they turned out authentic European bread and pastry and there were walk-in ovens and an astonishing number of tiny Asian people cranking out croissants by the hundreds. XLC (that is Shell-Sea for those of us not born with retarded hippie parents) would bring home boxes of pizzas and cinnamon rolls as big as a baby's head. The former bulimic in me was intrigued.

I don't like to share and since there were three other people in the house and Paul didn't work, he'd be right up the basement stairs as soon as he heard the garage door open. If I was lucky, when I got home I'd get a few cookies and maybe a sourdough bear or turtle.

Something needed to be done.

As luck would have, not many people enjoy the idea of getting up at 4 am to go to work. Even in Seattle, where early morning is a Port of Call fantasy, it's a challenge for a business owner to find RESPECTABLE people to be awake at the crack of dawn. It is 1992 after all and no one is not seeing every single band every single night.  The only people qualified to serve your coffee and scones are at the Hurricane or Beth's already.

Except me. We had only just moved there and so weekends were spent oblivious to the Pearl Jam around me. Josh Taft, their video director and friend lived right across the street for Jesus sake and I had no idea who those dweebuses in long johns and shorts were, I just thought their outfits were funny.

I was ready when XLC asked me if I wanted to replace someone who had decided sleeping until 6am was a God-given right and quit unexpectedly.Visions of caramel danced in my head as I said Yes. Yes I would.

Wouldn't you know, three weeks into slapping down tomatoes and chiffonading basil, I was a mutha-effing, well, maybe not cook exactly, but I was a pantry superstar .

Except for sandwiches.

I was, and still am, an abject failure as a deli spokesman. If you don't know what you want on your fucking sandwich after 40 years on this planet, then how are you qualified for anything, really? Should you be allowed to have children if you aren't sure if yellow or Dijon is your thing? You do have to teach children to make decisions, you know, and maybe we could back the fuck off the federal government because it ain't John Boehner eliciting that vacant stare when asked if you want a pickle with that. Please do not torture your sandwich maker with this nonsense. Those are, in fact, daggers they are shooting at you while they hate themselves for not going to college.

Now. At the time, the bakery was in a building on 1st and Jackson that also housed the Mariners baseball corporation and a little known coffee company. Name of Starbucks. Maybe you've heard.

The president of this small chain of coffee shops was working like crazy to expand his business and part of his deal was he wanted food. He wanted scones and he wanted muffins and he wanted my boss to be the lady to make them so he was forever coming downstairs to pilfer a croissant or moan about our Torrefazione and how it was inferior. He was like Jerry Seinfeld, except there was no Jerry Seinfeld yet, there was only this j-hole making my life hell at least once a day.

And the worst was his sandwich.  Turkey-bacon. Which is supposed to have cranberry cream cheese. Since that's what is on the menu and we get a specific amount of whipped cream cheese, all of it gets mixed with the cranberries. It's just the way it is. I didn't make that rule for fuck sake. But here we go again.

"Hi Howard, how are you today"

"Stupendous, fantastic, high as the sky in an elephant's eye" some shit like that. He's a real Tony Robbins sort of fellow.

"Turkey bacon?"

"Yes. And plain cream cheese. Whipped"  and we're off.

Because you do not tell the president of the biggest growing empire in Seattle that he cannot have what he wants, the eleven people in line waiting for their cranberry cream cheese are now going to have to wait  even longer while I haul out the Kitchen-Aid, squeeze 3 packets of Philly into it and whip it with some cream until it's fluffy enough for the master. I ask Joan repeatedly why I can't just reserve some since there is always someone who asks. She says she doesn't want to have to make nice for everyone. She's actually gone through my reach-in to check and make sure I'm not disobeying. This is my first experience with the chef-owner relationship. The chef wants to do things the logical, easy way, and the owner wants to do it in the fashion of a rich idiot who has no real life experience to base running a business on.

I do not remember the particulars about this day. I'm sure it was drizzling, I'm sure that the lunch rush had started off slow, a pizza here and there, maybe a super-wet half-caff for some dumb biddy who had it the one time she went to Paris and now tortures XLC everyday if it isn't EXACTLY how she remembers it. It was probably like that. But it must have been Mercury or whatever planet governs the world of food because I could just not get the ratio of cream cheese to bread right for Mistuh and I had run out of packets.

Each time I would bring it out and hand it to him he would unwrap it from the parchment. lift up the top slice and shake his head.

I had had it. Had it.

I had not been in a real kitchen yet, so I didn't know that cooks have ways of dealing with customers who are less than complimentary. If you've seen Fight Club. Yes. Sorry.

All I had was my mouth. Which is loud. And prone to swearing.

And so, my friends, I did not realize that when I was screaming "Cocksucker" at the top of my lungs next to the dishwasher that was running, and, I assumed, covering up the noise, that the president of the biggest coffee company in the whole world heard every word of it.

You would think I might have been fired. I was promoted to manager. Good help is hard to find.

There is a beautiful moment of irony 10 years later when I am BBQing for the Schultz-man on the dock of his dear friends the Fleischmanns. Private chef beats the Jesus out of sandwich-ho.

These are the cookies we made at the bakery and they are the ones you pay a dollar for at Starbucks. Make a batch for that same dollar. Howard doesn't need your money.

1 1/2 cups oats,
1/2 cup AP flour
1/4 tsp. each soda and powder
 pinch salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup light sugar
1 large egg, room temp
tsp. vanilla
6 Tbsp. butter softened
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 cup raisins

 Butter, sugar, then vanilla, then egg. Mix dry and add. Chill.
325 for 12 minutes

Non-cynical baking blog brought to you by my fetus. My evil is slippin' yo.