“Be happy in your work” Old Japanese proverb.
A large sweaty man is stirring a metal vat with a spoon the size of a prosthetic hip for a Tyrannosaurus rex. Occasionally the contents of the vat spill out onto the floor and steam gathers round his ankles. The trolleys behind him are piled high with dirty dishes and returning platters of half eaten food. One narrow surface is being used by three sous chefs to prepare and plate up the next course while black jacketed waiting staff hustle, tussle and bustle their way around the hot, cramped, slippery kitchen.
Where am I? A medieval castle basement? A late 19th century Parisian kitchen?
No…I’m in a well known International Hotel chain, one you assume would have better levels of hygiene. Unfortunately for me and everyone who has the misfortune of eating or working here here, this place makes a medieval kitchen look like a Domestos showroom in comparison. I can’t say I wasn’t warned…
“If you think this place is bad just wait till you work at the ______ .”
Would say my colleagues any time standards seemed a little low elsewhere. It didn’t prepare me for this though. It’s utter chaos. There are no systems in place for returning plates, for cleaning, for giving the chefs enough room to work or to operate safely in this overly confined space. But all of this is secondary to the lack of hygiene. The floors are disgusting and God knows when the last time the stainless steel surfaces were given more than a cursory wipe. They’re layered with grime and grease while food wrappings and bits of vegetable peel are left to fester in corners and develop new eco systems along the skirting boards. Step through the double doors into the serving area however and it’s another world; one where plush pile carpets and fancy mock-Greek decorations reassure the patrons that the quality they’re paying for is the quality they’re getting. But believe me, it’s not. Not even close. But then today’s crowd don’t care. Today’s crowd just want food and lots of fizzy drinks. Today’s crowd are 130 Japanese schoolchildren and they’ll eat just about anything, which is lucky really as the shoe-leather steaks and Dunlop rubber beans are inedible. I know, I tried them. I’m still chewing.
All the Japanese kids are around fifteen years old and giggle constantly as we serve the food. They seem to find everything terribly amusing and they give us all nicknames. Mine is Blad Pitt. He looks nothing like me. We both have eyebrows but the similarity stops there.
A veritable army of waiting staff is now ferrying platters and endless jugs of coke to the kids. Nestling between the kitchens and the dining rooms, is a large grotty hangar. This is the loading bay and rubbish area complete with waste compactor and wall to wall, well…rubbish. The food is plated up in the kitchens then carried through this area in uncovered platters and plates. It’s revolting. I wouldn’t eat it if I knew the route it had taken or the conditions in which it had been prepared.
I don’t know how this place retains its health and safety rating. I would say all of this is down to bad management but a total lack of management would be closer to the mark. No plan or semblance of organisation is in place. The hotel appears to get things done by employing far more staff than necessary which only adds to the confusion and allows certain unscrupulous individuals to take advantage of the situation.
Skiving off into storage rooms for 20 minutes or longer is not uncommon and no one does this more or performs shoddier work than Peter, a man with little or no facial expressions. Earlier on that morning Bret and I had crowned him “king of doing fuck-all very slowly” and seriously thought about dobbing him in – the little slacker. But there’s no time for that now as the sous-chefs are plating up desert: a nasty chocolate truffle nipple, adrift in a sea of melted ice cream. We’re about to serve up this monstrosity when word comes back from the dining hall that an entire table of twelve Japanese kids have vomited following a butter eating competition. It will need cleaning up immediately. In the confusion and revulsion that follows this news, Bret and I slip quietly but swiftly away…