Se Habla Espanol
A three top walks in the door. An old woman, face ruined, her hair and makeup arranged in a failed attempt to look thirty. Her daughter, already disintegrating into a younger version of mom, and the daughter’s husband; an Armani clad tortoise shell eyeglass wearing Uber Yuppie
I smile, say welcome, and ask if they have a reservation.
The first words out of the husband’s mouth aren’t “Hello” or “Three please” but,
“Is the owner in?”
I don’t like these guys already.
“No it’s his night off” I reply.
Shocked the wife says, “Where is he?”
“I think he’s home with his family.”
“Well if he’s home who’s in the kitchen?” Uber Yuppie asks.
“The sous chef is cooking tonight.”
“What’s his name?” he demands
“Where in Italy is he from? Lucca?” he queries suspiciously.
“Ernesto is from El Salvador.” I say.
A look of disgust and surprise begins to play out on his face. He catches himself before it’s too obvious – but I see it.
“That’s in Central America sir. “
“I know where it is. Why isn’t Fluvio cooking? We want him to cook our meal.” shithead declares.
Instead of “Get the fuck out.” the words “Ernesto is an excellent chef. I’m sure you will enjoy your meal.” drip soothingly from my mouth.
The man looks at his wife. She shrugs. Her mother is just staring off into space mumbling “What? What?”
They deign to grace us with their presence. I seat them in a relatively shitty table.
Now I’ll let you in on a little secret. Many executive chefs, like Fluvio, hate to cook. After spending twenty or thirty years slaving under abusive bosses, working sixteen hour days, avoiding sodomization, and baking in 120 degree kitchens working themselves up from dishwasher to master of the kitchen – these guys are fucking traumatized. Have you ever noticed executive chefs’ uniforms are always immaculate? Not splattered with tomato sauce? That’s because they shout orders all night and never go near a stove.
So who does the cooking? Mostly guys like Ernesto. Hardworking faceless guys from places like Guatemala, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Mexico. You were expecting a bunch of Italians singing opera flinging pasta? Wrong. You hear mariachi music and guys cursing in Spanish.
But this doesn’t jibe with most people’s fantasy of how a restaurant kitchen works. They imagine someone like Emeril or Mario Battalia waxing ecstatically about herbs and oils, engaging in something close to foreplay as they lovingly prepare your entrée.
So sorry. It’s a Mexican guy earning a paycheck, watching the clock praying for his shift to end as he sweats in front of a blast furnace cooking your food. In every restaurant in this great land of ours, whether it’s French, Thai, Chinese, or even Indian, it’s Se Habla Espanol.
Yuppies raised on a steady diet of Food Network bullshit want an opera singing food personality to reinforce their Williams Sonoma Catalog ideal of how the world should be. When it runs smack dab against the harsh world of restaurant economics and immigration it creates what my old sociology professor called “dissonance.”
After Uber Yuppie and company tuck into their meals I go over and ask how everything is.
“Its ok.” they reply.
What a crock. Ernesto cooks the food exactly like the owner does. If I told these idiots an Italian had prepared it they would be smacking their lips, asking to meet the chef, and calling him “Maestro.”
But it’s only Ernesto the Spic so they don’t.
Dissonance? I call it racist bullshit.
Perception can be more important than taste in my business.
So the next time you go out to eat remember our hardworking Hispanic brothers and sisters who make your dining experience possible.
You couldn’t do their job. Trust me.
Chupa mis huevos grandes pendejo!