Tuesday, July 19, 2011

here I go again...

I feel so Doogie, writing in my blog tonight after a long day.
Here we go again... 
 I’m at a new restaurant, consulting for about 8 months. This spot is located on the gorgeous southwest coast of Nicaragua.
windy and wonderful beachfront minutes from home and work.
I’ve been here almost 2 weeks. The restaurant has been open for years, with cooks coming and going, but they’ve never had a real leader in the kitchen. Some of the troubles are very simple, like; no hand rags (for cleaning and drying), no clock, no storage containers (get this stuff out of pink Chinatown bags!), not one large spoon for serving sauces (at least, one without holes). This can be fixed once some new supplies get in, I hope. But then, also, the restaurant is open from the time staff get in (7am) until 10pm, leaving no time for any prep. The menu is WAY too big and kind of all over the place. Every staff member kind of helps with everything, leaving dishes and prep constantly (and overwhelmingly) behind. The crew is constantly running, and now I’ve joined them. 
Today I started my morning, in at 7am to help with the fish order that Felix is going to put together. Felix “pops” (as fast as a broken jack in the box would) over to the local fishing village to buy fish for the next few days and then comes back to filet it. I prepped the specials for lunch and found out that our dinner cook has a doctor’s note for 2 days, so decided to take a quick break before going back in for the long haul of the night. When I come back, Felix is still hanging around, still not fileting the fish he bought, for reason that, he is about to. Give me a break. Serenity now.
did I mention that I couldn’t find my flip flops this morning? Turns out some animal came by at dragged them to the other side of the house and ate the straps. This place is rural. Rural like the Caribbean, but there’s not even a pulperia within walking distance (That’s one of the reasons the menu is so big, because it tries to accomodate every whim of diners and homeowners nearby without focusing on quality food leaving the kitchen. In my meager opinion.).
what ate my flip flops? IT'S NOT EVEN MONDAY!

The night was a trainwreck... which I foresaw as soon as the unexpected party of 20 walked in. Woooonderful. Electricity coming and going... obviously. The front of house staff is nice and all, but, professional? Well, they tuck their shirts in! That’s a start. 
YES we now serve fresh lobster for grilling and salad (now I am working through using the last 40 pounds that we have frozen for a puree’d soup). The staff is now being trained in sanitation, from raw meats, washing veggies, and washing hands! We label products with the date made and I will not rest until we use FIFO (first in, first out) for each item. As I explained today, if I see two open vinegars again, one almost empty right next to the almost full, I may have no more hair because I will have pulled it out. There is a new, amazing and huge kitchen being built to open in November, but for now, I’ve got to make this small, crowded, semi-functional space work.
I have a smaller menu ready to print, but with 8 million (like, 15) servers and 10 people in the kitchen to train, it is a small feat to change. Not to mention the guests. It seems absurd that people wouldn’t mind some change to have delicious and timely food, but what do I know. yada yada, yada...

Gordon Ramsey has a team. A few teams. They revamp, modify the actual restaurant and layout half the time, then have a new team to come in, prep, train... and Ramsey deals with the deliquence and showtime-type stuff. I don’t have a crew to come in and take care of the dirty work, or access to equipment and tools to get in a day's notice. I do have wonderful family and friends supporting me, as always, and thank you for that.

But still, why do I keep doing this? This is the fourth spot in Nicaragua that I’ve helped, and they are all different and great and frustrating in their own way. I feel like I am a birthmother in the Giver (Lois Lowry, advanced kid’s book? anyone?)... like, I have the dirty work duty, then, when things are fixed up and rockin’, I’m on my way! I suppose I do it for the challenge as well as teaching what I know, and growing as a person and chef along the way, too. Maybe it's more like Mary Poppins.

Yeah, I’ll have to sing more.


  1. "why do it?" same reason why I deal with the ridiculousness that happens at my fund...so when we do it for ourselves we've learned what to do and what not to do! Sounds fun though Ms. Ramsey. I could use some pureed lobster soup after dining on airport food two days in a row. However, tomorrow I should have some authentic Pakistani food (hint at stop 3 of four of my business trip extravaganza!)

  2. thanks, Keith! enjoy your meal! it's fun having a compatriot abroad (although worlds apart)...

    plus, turns out the animal that ate my flippies was a fox. apparently it's well known in this area that there's a family of foxes who love to eat shoes and small pets. come on!

  3. I'm sure you'll whip the place into shape soon. Good luck! :)

  4. As I was reading this I thought, "gosh, she is like Mary Poppins in Nicaragua..." Especially when you mentioned The Giver, I wanted to say "no Calley, you are more like Mary Poppins." Turns out you read my mind!

    I really enjoyed this post. It is nuts to think about all the tiny challenges you face everyday that accumulate to equal a colossal undertaking. But, it is inspiring to know that you have the will to keep trekking and that you realize you're ultimately growing. You never know -- you could be the next Gordan Ramsey or that crazy b*tch Tabatha that does the Saloon Takover show (not sure if you were in the US when that came out... became a guilty pleasure of mine for a bit). Remember, we already named your show "CALLEY COOKS!" ... and sings:

    "A robin feathering his nest
    Has very little time to rest
    While gathering his bits of twine and twig
    Though quite intent in his pursuit
    He has a merry tune to toot
    He knows a song will move the job along!"

  5. thanks, Arielle! and thanks, Derek! (I smell karaoke...)

  6. You are awesome! I would have split once something ate my flips.