Southeast Republic of Ireland, January-March 2003
The beginning at Zuni was not auspicious. Well, it was, when they rang me on the same day I'd found a flat. That was auspicious. I'd thought about leaving Ireland, to return to my native U.S. But, conflicted, I was desperate for solution and had found a job and a flat. That was auspicious.
But Zuni looked bad early. Interviewed by head chef M_, she sent me to Paul to speak about wages. He told me that the position would start at 8 euro, and that we'd review it in a few months. When my first check came back, it calculated down to exactly 7 euro. I knew then that I'd been taken. This was no mere mistake, and there would be no resolution. I knew that. And I was right.
Paul said he'd never said that. I disagreed. He insisted. I insisted otherwise. I know what I heard. He finally admitted that he may have said such a thing, but that if he had, it would have been a mistake. No, said I; that was no mistake. Jesus, he said. Yeah, well. I know what I heard. So we were straight about that.
It lasted for a while. Two and a half months. I proved myself able to work in the kitchen and as for the breads, well there's not much to say about it. I'm good.*
I gave less than 100%. Nobody could tell me to give more. I worked hard when I had to; I worked when I was on the clock. I worked as hard as anybody, barring E_, the kitchen porter. E_ worked hard at all times.
The work piled up. The jobs expected of me increased incrementally. A little here, a little there. Sure, I could stand up for my rights. But simply put, the pressure comes not only from the top. The pressure comes from colleagues, who are naturally made to suffer if I don't do what management asks.
I fought my way through. I made it work. I fought with the chef M_, and with Paul and Alan the owners. We worked matters out. M_ and myself would fight, make up, fight, and make up again. She was incredulous; I'm good at disputation. Stand up, fight, make the peace. No holds barred, no grudges held.
In the end, the end came with Alan, at breakfast, where he was serving tables. Needling me about breakfasts that I was in fact producing, he stood over watching me work. I told him I was working on it. Impolitely, I admit. Such is the occasional nature of kitchens. My country at war, hassle with a flatmate, the persistent resentment of the way that I'd been screwed for money there at Zuni and treated as if I would get that money if I proved myself worthy; on top of the fact that the industry is ever this petty and vicious.... Yeah, I ran out of patience. I said something God knows what.
Alan came back into the kitchen and jiggered his index finger in a "come here" motion, saying "come here." I'm a little busy, I said. He insisted. He pointed his finger into my face. I told him not to point at me. He wondered if I wanted to just leave, and I was ambivalent. He grabbed my shoulder like I was his errant boy. He told me to get back there and make those breakfasts. I told him I'd call the gards.
I didn't call the cops; I just went and got dressed. I came back and said goodbye to E_. Alan was making some kind of a go at cooking. I went home.
* But I'm not always good. I've worked in several bakeries where my work was not superlative.
Baking is like that, for me. Sometimes it feels right, and I do a good job. Sometimes it does not, and I don't.
The Boulangerie des Gourmets, where I worked briefly in Dublin (2001,) is an example. I never found an expression of my skill there, in that industrial-production facility.
Bakker Arend, too, in Nijmegen (August '03 - January '05,) is another example. While all the pieces were superficially in place an organic little craft enterprise catering to a liberal subset of a liberal city in a liberal town I never felt I'd found my pace there.
It's hit-and-miss. While I long thought that the rule-of-thumb was in the retail-versus-wholesale differentiation, it has not always been that simple.
But, for whatever reason, I made good breads for Zuni. In 2006 a housemate of mine was working there and said that employees still spoke well of my breads.
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