Saturday, July 24, 2010

I Left My Harp in Sam Clam's Disco #4: In Which the Author Tastes the Fruit of the Farmer's Market of Good and Evil

My papa always told me that when he retired from [Other Company Name Redacted] he would want to go and get two more jobs: as a people greeter at Wal-Mart during the week, and a chef at one of those teppanyaki-type places on the weekends. I've never understood why my father, who has actual talents and hobbies, would ever want to do menial jobs like that, until I was enlightened by something that [Company Name Redacted] calls the Culinary Internship.

This is an opportunity to do several things, first and foremost of which is the opportunity to skip work for a half-day, giving me an easy out of a meeting via [secret and proprietary long-distance communication system that rhymes with "Mideo Bonferencing" redacted]. But more importantly, it's an opportunity to spend a half-day working in the kitchen of one of our cafeterias (which serves free food), learning about the food prep process. This is how I end up on donut-frying duty at 8 am, dressed in a comically stereotypical white chef's jacket and CSI-yellow latex gloves.

Frying donuts is a surprisingly difficult endeavour, and it's nothing like what you've experienced before. It involves donut dough, which is like cookie dough, but for donuts, and an enormous fat fryer that's large enough to be used to dunk naughty children in. Using a donut scoop, which is like an ice-cream scoop, but for donuts, I take globs of dough the size of my fist and plop them into the oil bath, which hisses appreciatively in a disturbingly anthropomorphic way, like an evil version of one of the magically alive kitchen instruments from Beauty & the Beast*.

Then begins the real issue. When heated, the globs of donut dough expand and start to float in the oil like corpses, but they're actually donuts, and that means that one part- the long segment that sticks out when floating- is not coated with oil, which means it might not get cooked properly. The only possible recourse, therefore, is to use a pair of tongs to savagely beat them down whenever they poke their heads out, bopping them down whenever they pop up like Whack-a-Mole, except with donuts.

It's fun, it helps people get the goodies they want, and it involves donuts; this is enough to keep me amused for what seems like hours, until breakfast is over and the crew cleans up, and serves themselves some leftover bacon, eggs, etc., though for some reason nobody wants to eat my donuts. Afterwards, we gather 'round and get assigned to different stations as we prepare for lunch.

Each team member prepares some dish for the buffet and presents it to the head chef and his assistant, who go down the line, sampling and occasionally interrogating the cooks as to the exact ingredients that go into, say, soy vegan hot dogs wrapped in noodles with coconut sauce. Each chef is required to be able to rattle off the recipe from memory to the head chef, and also to swallow a cyanide capsule if captured by the enemy and tortured for the secret recipe for grilled cheese ([ingredient redacted] between [ingredient redacted], if you're wondering).

The head chef and his assistant seem to like most of the selections today, other than offering a few subtle tweaks here and there that go off-recipe (they both follow the Half-Blood Prince's philosophy when it comes to cooking stuff). We then scurry around and get ready for the day's meal, which in my case involves chopping up a crate full of broccoli for the stir-fry station ("If you run out of broccoli, nobody wants to eat stir fry for some reason").

Next to another team member named Mauricio (it takes me an embarassingly long time to realize this is a Spanglification of "Maurice"), I chop vegetables in a mechanical way and try to re-energize my Spanish with him and other passerby. I manage to learn a few things: most of his family is in NorCal, he has two kids who like watching soccer, and if he ran the cafeteria he would serve grilled shrimp and fish, with various tomato and pepper-based sauces over brown rice.

It's pleasant, to have a conversation that has nothing to do with what you're working on, and I reflect that I could do this job, and be moderately happy. What does that say about me?

I also resolve to talk to my team back at [office name redacted] more about personal, non-work-related content.

*there's a deep-fryer among the characters there, right? You know, the one with the deep Southern accent who sprays Gustan with his gurgling peanut oil during the defense of the castle and then turns into a fat, mayonnaise-loving caricature of Bill Clinton at the end, in a pointed and subtle critique by the Disney animators of how he embarrassed his own party and Americans everywhere? Right? Am I the only one who remembers this?

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