Better Late than Never

I’ve always wondered why food may arrive late at the restaurant table. Or cold. Or not at all. It’s those moments when you and your dining companions stare at each other, hungry, eager, powerless. I’ve always wondered, especially when it comes to desserts. I mean, the kitchen must be fully functioning, one assumes, to have served the starters and mains, what happened, did the cooks just walked out for a fag or went on a strike before serving dessert?

Well, it usually goes like this: Food may arrive late because the kitchen might actually be crazy busy, with back to back orders coming in, from waiters who for some unknown reason decide to visit all tables at once, resulting in a massive queue of tiny pieces of paper piling up. But alas, it’s not that simple. Your orders may not have been served dear customer because the tiny printer which produces the order tickets is broken, only to be discovered after twenty minutes into service, when confused line cooks wonder if there is a tornado outside that has made all customers disappear. Or set tiny printer might have been left unplugged by some line cook in a hurry, who used the same plug for another piece of equipment during prep time.

And then, there is the mystery of the food which inexplicably disappears in the restaurant black hole, somewhere between the busboy (the young boy who takes the plates from me), the waiters’ stations where the dishes are placed and your table where your food should arrive. You have no idea how many times I’ve had to remake the same dish, swearing to all Gods that yes, I have given you the Greek salad for table 42, yes of course I’m sure, yes I always take the extra few seconds to cross out the dishes that I’ve plated and served, as I am unable to remember anything during service (and generally for that matter) and I end up frantically waiving the crossed out ticket in front of the busboy and chef. But in this world, if the busboy says he doesn’t have a dish, then he doesn’t have a dish. I have been dying to know who enjoyed that extra Greek salad though. Because it definitely ain’t you dear customer. Not yet anyway. 

And fine, to be perfectly honest with you, I must admit that there is also the chance that I have, erm, misplaced your order ticket. And by misplace I mean accidentally throwing it all together in the trash, along with the “done” lot, resulting in the chef screaming about the starters for table 8 and me looking around bewildered, as I have no idea that there even is a table 8, reaching down to the large trash bin for a tiny piece of paper, finally found stained and dirty amongst prawn shells, used kitchen paper and onion peels.

I feel for you dear customer, for I, as a customer, have often found myself at this state of awkward silence, when you wonder when late is late enough; when you wonder whether you should call out the waiter and enquire if the boys in the kitchen are at this very moment busy milking the cow to get the milk for the chocolate ice cream you are waiting for, or if they’ve quickly run off to Tobago to fetch some cocoa.

Well, you are close, I think to myself, as I am bending over, my upper body practically inside the chest freezer, an ice cream scoop in my hand, me covered in sweat, trying unsuccessfully to form a lovely round scoop of ice cream out of what appears to be pure chocolate concrete. As the ice cream scoop is banging against what is supposed to be chocolate ice cream, I am debating whether to just give up and for the first time ever in the kitchen use the “I’m a girl/weak by nature” crap card. It doesn’t matter that I am often lifting massive pots larger than myself; it doesn’t matter that I’ve tried hard to get no special treatment and do what my boys do. The ice cream freezer is a whole different beast; one that I’m not prepared to face. For you see the thermostat is somewhat broken and freezes all ice cream to the point of no return - and the chef refuses to let us take the bloody silver box out and let the ice cream become…manageable. Or to fix the freezer for that matter. As a result, the scoop in question takes a good five minutes to be set on the bowl, which in restaurant time is an eternity. That is if everything goes according to plan, but the universe has a fascinating way of creating chaos.

For after these few minutes, as I am holding a perfectly round scoop, feeling proud like I’ve managed to climb mount Everest, the stupid damn thing - as if it were mocking me - slips away and falls onto the floor. Watching it as if in slow motion roll under the counter feels like watching someone slowly and painfully die. Not exactly (obviously), but you get my desperation. Bloody hell. I shamelessly don’t even bother to pick it up. The kitchen mice-if they exist- can enjoy it tonight.

So while you are anxiously tapping your finely painted nails against the table’s fine linen tablecloth, I am breathless and begging C., my fellow male cook and one of the few people I trust, “you do it, I’ can’t”, throwing the scoop inside the ice cream freezer, it making a loud noise as it bangs against the still solid chocolate ice cream. But C., after a few minutes inside the freezer is now walking away telling me “I have one scoop of ice cream but don’t use it, it has my blood on it”, his finger bleeding, his nail shattered in the effort, .

I am not sure if I am going to burst in laugh or tears, as I tell the impatient busboy that “we’ll need a couple of minutes, there have been…complications”. I clear all blood away and return to the freezer with less passion this time. I picture you dear customer waiting at the table for something so simple and so complex as a bowl of ice cream, but at this point I’ve given up, caring less and less about you and more about not losing a finger or something, and hoping that the kitchen Gods have had their fun for the day and they can now retire for the evening.

So next time food arrives late dear reader just remember me, hands numb from the effort, covered in chocolate ice cream, attending the bloody finger of my fellow cook, and thinking that I actually wish I was milking that cow or fetching cocoa from Tobago, for it would probably result in faster table service, you know?