“I’m a feminist. That’s why I own a dishwasher.”
Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I didn’t get the job as a line cook.
I could’ve gotten a job at the local Applebee’s or Buffalo Wild Wings, dumping bags of frozen chicken drummettes into deep fat fryers quadruple the size of the countertop one we have on the hot line. Telling someone I work in the kitchen at Applebee’s is a lot less sexy and romantic than saying where I work currently - a concept that sometimes makes me wonder how I even got this far. A cook at an American corporate chain restaurant and I do much of the same things - we prep for service, respond to the buzzing of the ticket printer, maybe knock back some alcohol after work, and spend a majority of our time after service washing dishes.
People always talk about how hard the life of a cook is, and I’m inclined to somewhat agree based off of my recent experience. But yet no one ever talks about how much harder and shittier it is to be the full time dishwasher - the kind that responds to craigslist ads that ask for “Full Time Dishwashers with at Least 2 Years Experience.” No one romanticizes, or looks up to a dishwasher like they do to me- they will never say, “You’re so brave, living out your passion of dishwashing.”
Whoever finishes breaking down their respective station first for the night has the saintly responsibility to jump into the dish pit. Just as everyone is closing down for the night, the dishie begins his own rush, when all of the nine pans and used pots and skillets flood his station simultaneously with all of the water stained wine glasses and dinner plates from the front of the house. I’ll shamefully admit there’s been somewhat of a secret motive in the past few weeks to break down a little bit slower, lest I get stuck as the second dishwasher for the night.
After a fantastic service on the line when you’ve completed every ticket to your standards and you feel on top of the world, ready for your after work drink, being the second dishwasher for the night instead leaves you in a cramped corner smelling of stagnant water and burnt oil. As all the servers collect their tip outs, and after the produce order has been called in, you’re still left elbow deep in murky water, skin scrubbed raw from the steel wool clutched in your fist as you stare at the stack of pans that never seem to diminish. Some of them only require a gentle scrub and a rinse off before they’re declared clean, but others have become so crusted over with leftover molé or demi glace that you have to drain the entire sink and refill it with clean water to give it a proper soak, extending your stay even longer.
After all the bussers bring in the last of the dessert plates, and the water glasses have finally been dried and put away, each of the heavy rubber floor mats, caked with grease, dirt from worn out shoes, and everything from dried up rice and all manner of unappetizing particulates need to be lugged one by one to be sprayed and scrubbed off. The cutting boards from the hot line and pantry also need to be fastidiously scoured (and preferably bleached) so they’re ready for service the next day as well. The eight tall trash cans need to be taken out, where by now they weigh what seem like fifty pounds each, many with a collection of foreign fluids pooled at the bottom of the bag, threatening to escape their thin plastic confines at any moment if you’re not careful about how you toss the bags into the dumpster.
But don’t think you’re done - our dish area has an unpleasantly slight slope angled so that runoff water moves away from the drain. Once you’ve mopped and swept all the water towards the proper direction, scrubbing down the sink area finally commences, using your hands to shovel and scoop food filth into the garbage, and anally scraping the walls that have been stained with stray splatters of tomato sugo from servers hastily dropping used silverware and plates into the pit.
Knowing that I’m going to most likely be the second dishwasher at times is the single thing that makes me actually hate showing up to work, as Joey often bows out by saying, “I’ve already worked eight hours today, I don’t want to clock in overtime.” It’s the dirty job that both no one wants to do, and no one wants to pay more than minimum wage for, but at the same time is the one duty everyone dutifully acknowledges we can’t go without. So at the end of the night, when you’re the unlucky one who breaks down his station first, knowing now that your night is far from over, that unwritten sense of camaraderie of a professional kitchen finds yourself side by side with the dishwasher, back craning over a scalding sink of hot cast iron pans and crusted over sizzle plates.