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Breathnach's, a two-day job

Kilkenny, Ireland, 2002 —

I'd already heard that Breathnach's was bad.

The first impression I had when I stepped into the kitchen was of the head chef K_ passing behind me in the four feet of space, with a hot pan, and not saying anything. That was my first impression, and I let it slide for the chance that things might work out.

I have to learn to walk away sooner. I'm learning. This one took me a day and a half.

The difficulty of working with K_ was typified especially by one incident. He told me to "plate up some veg for two steaks." Of course, this means to put the vegetables appropriate for two steak dinners onto two plates. But we hadn't talked about that. He hadn't shown me nor had he told me what that would mean in that kitchen.

I asked him what he meant. He said "It's not brain surgery." But I didn't know what he meant. He dashed out some of the shit in a frenzy of tenseness. Carrot, cabbage, 2 scoops of mashed potato and two baby potatoes. That's what he meant. But I didn't know that.

(Where else but Ireland two forms of potato on a plate? [I've seen three.])

This happened again, in different form, on the second day. I'd been telling K_ repeatedly, calmly, "I can only do it right if I know what you want." On Sunday (why did they start me on a weekend anyway?,) after asking me to put some vague unit of mash in the microwave and I'd asked him to clarify, he said "it's not difficult." I told him I don't take shit from anyone. It was all I could think of to say.

K_ took this as a great insult to the 27 years he'd spent as a qualified chef, and went into a high twist, as though I'd delivered the most scurilous attack on his professionalism. He said I could leave or stay. I went to smoke a cigarette.

When I returned to the kitchen he said he'd spoken to the owner and that I could pick up my few euro on Thursday.

On Thursday I got a packet for 10½ hours. I'd worked 13. On Friday, I picked up the money for the other 2 ½.

— October 2002


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