Down & Under Pt9 – The air show must go on


It’s 4.30am. I need someone to drag me out of bed. Where’s Forest Whitaker when you need him.

There’s a light rain falling and the street’s empty except for a couple walking a small dog. The dog looks happy but the couple look startled. I think their alarm clock malfunctioned. An hour later I’m in the kitchen with my white hat on and Irish head-chef Bob is handing out the tasks. To a soundscape of sonic booms from the U.S airforce jets I prepare a marinade for pork, put together an accompanying fennel and mandarin salad, deep fry some chicken and manchego balls and do several thousand prawns on the plancha. Maybe they’ll let me go back to bed now.

Ah beJesus, it’s only 10 o’clock. I’ve finished my Red Bull way too early, I must pace myself better tomorrow. Or bring more Red Bull…

We’re right next to the main runway and the sound level is so high I drop my knife and cover my ears while no one else in the kitchen so much as flinches. Bob barks at me to get a move on as we’re behind schedule. Sally, the chef from Montreal smiles at me. I Like her management style better. Careful Bob or I’ll give you a bad write-up.

A crowd is gathering at the kitchen door; black capped runners congregate and tread water like impatient emus. No sooner are the platters filled, foiled and numbered than they grab them and whisk them off to the corporate chalets for consumption. They return later with a mixture of requests for more food and complaints about the quality of certain dishes. I believe some people think complaining infers a connoisseur status upon them, and some people just like complaining. They should go and eat at a certain nameless Melbourne hotel I worked at recently. That would put things in perspective for them; from then on everywhere else would seem like the Ritz.

The afternoon shift runs like the last 6 hours in reverse as we throw away much of the food we prepared in the morning: four hundred prawns all plated up on platters, two hundred sandwiches, a hundred or so Chinese dumplings and a dozen full cake platters all go in the bin. I then get allocated the job of cataloguing everything left in the walk-in fridge unit and nearly freeze to death in the process. It’s so cold my ball point pen dies on me after five minutes. I now understand why astronauts use pencils. I start to lose all sense of time and drift into a chilly philosophical state where I can’t decide if I’m a musician dreaming he’s a chef or a chef who believes himself to be a musician. When I finally come back down to earth and emerge from my frozen capsule, it’s dark and I can’t feel my toes.

Back in the kitchen it’s mayhem and smells funny. Bob hung his motorbike jacket up to dry behind the ovens; it cooked like a buffalo hide and then melted. He’s now a head chef in a bad mood which is about as spectacular as tautologies get. His pride is hurt so he orders a knife sharpening session to perk himself up. My blades are not taken seriously and prompt the old Australian “That’s not a knife…” routine. It reminds me of when, as a teenager, I turned up for a tennis tournament with a Snoopy flask and only one racket. Never adequately equipped for anything it would seem.

No one will talk. I don’t get past names and nationalities in most cases. The head chefs clamp down pretty quickly on socialising and split us up like naughty schoolchildren or say “Time to lean, time to clean.” if we so much as rest against a table for a moment. What little camaraderie there was has evaporated in the space of a few hours. Little fascist moustaches are sprouting.

I cook seven hundred and fifty salmon steaks – salmon are surely now extinct – make enough Greek lamb salad for the entire population of Cyprus, do a passable Thai chicken broth, overcook some Japanese wagyu beef and nicely blacken several hundred red peppers on the plancha. I must also have cooked part of my brain as when I stagger out for a breather, I look up, see the girls from Breitling do their bi-plane wing walker routine and decide that I want their job instead.

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