Kitchen Hunger Games

Round One

What is this?! The dishwasher screams. Um, a plastic bucket to be cleaned? I reply confused as I place the bucket next to his sink. This is clean, he screams. Well, look at it, I say showing him the leaves of herbs stuck inside the bucket. I think it’s dirty I say sharply walking away, but if you think it’s clean, then put it back. It’s your job to decide, so your call. I am now annoyed. Before I finish my sentence the bucket comes flying towards me as the dishwasher starts shouting that if the bucket was dirty, why did I use it in the first place to transfer ice. What on earth just happened, I think to myself now holding the bucket. Did I just have a bucket thrown at me? I don’t know if I want to laugh or cry.

Round Two

All of a sudden, there are a million ice cubes all over the floor. I am standing in front of the ice machine in the kitchen, the slippery tray now empty in my hands, thinking “damn, there is no way I can discretely kick all these ice cubes under the fridge”, like I usually do for the occasional ice cube that refuses to be used as an ice “bain marie” for the coconut flavored crème pâtissière that I’m preparing. You see, after the cream reaches a certain temperature, you have to transfer it into a tray, and place that tray on top of another one filled with ice. Then, you spent a few minutes constantly moving the cream around so that it cools down (enter ice cubes underneath) before placing it in the mixer to be whisked into a smooth cream. So as the smell of coconut was filling the kitchen, I rush to the ice machine to get ice. But alas, the uncooperative tray slipped from my hands, causing a huge mess. The kind waiter who was shining the wine glasses immediately grabbed the broom and I took the dustpan, as he scooped the ice from the floor. As the dustpan filled with ice, I lift it, trying not to throw any more ice on the floor and moved it, with its uncomfortably long handle, towards the large waste bin. Nooooo, shouts the dishwasher as the ice falls into the bin. I look puzzled. Not in the bin, here, he says, grabbing the dustpan and slamming it into the sink. And what is this mess you’ve done, what is all this ice, he shouts as he grabs me and roughly pushes me aside. I am in shock. Firstly because yes, it makes sense to throw the ice into the sink - I do that at home as well - why didn’t I think of that, but also because I realise that for maybe the first time since elementary school I was grabbed and pushed around. I walk out of the kitchen shaking, reminding myself that I need the job to pay my tuition and that for some reason I still worship this chef I am painslutting for.

Round Three

I return to my work as I need to cool down the patisserie, and myself, for I now wish we actually were in elementary school and I could just push back. As I stare at the yellow cream that begins to change texture, I am still trying to understand what lies beneath this really strange culture I am now a part of. A few hours later, I take the patisserie out of the fridge and place it in a piping bag, trying to focus on creating wonderful peaks on top of a crunchy meringue, scattering pieces of fresh strawberry, picturing the well dressed customers sitting upstairs leisurely at the table, enjoying the smooth delicate coconut flavored cream blending with the sweet meringue and slightly acidic strawberries, sipping wine from their polished glasses while listening to soft music. But down here, tension is still in the air, the dishwasher banging angrily the pots and pans and I feel like I am in a circus where the chef seems to be the ultimate form of tamer, a magician of some sorts who imposes impressive discipline with his magical whip. But when he steps out, the hunger games being and the shiny white and silver kitchen turns into an arena. I am surrounded by lions and tigers and leopards and I am not Mabel freaking Stark. Not yet anyway.

I become more and more perplexed talking about it with my friends: my non-cook friends seem equally shocked as I am. He did what?! - sister E exclaimed. Do you want me to come over and hit him? - she continued. Although my sister is quite skinny and this is a tall well-built man we are talking about, I appreciated the offer. But my fellow cooks, as we all sit together drinking beer after work and I recount the eventful pâtissière making, they begin to share their own stories of kitchen hunger games, where people get shouted at, grabbed, pulled, almost stabbed, and which well, make my experience seem somehow normal?

Final Round

A few days later, and after another fight over some dirty pots and colanders, in which for the first time in my professional life I found myself shouting at the dishwasher, I return to work. The chef seems to have intervened (or simply time has passed?) because the dishwasher seems very friendly again, like nothing ever happened. I am confused. The following days, life in the kitchen returns to normal as him and I act very politely to each other, making jokes, discussing football and sharing food. I find it impossible at this point to understand the workings of this culture and my place in it. And although I can now relate to Malinowski’s diaries, I find absolutely fascinating the process of discovering this new culture. Comes with being an anthropologist I guess.


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