Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Shift Work

This is my second time shadowing a shift supervisor in the kitchen for Out of the Cold. C, a new friend, has also been recruited as a trainee and is working the dining room tonight. We need a crew of 35 to operate efficiently - about 8-10 in the kitchen and the rest in the dining room.

I am under the command of a woman that I will refer to, with cordial humor, as Tiger Mom - very tough, very organized, and a little bit...terrifying. She primes me in a way that the previous kitchen shift supervisor had not with very specific instructions, expectations and demands. She wants no one in the kitchen unless you have a specific purpose and she is ferocious if you wander in by accident without a purpose. Try it...come on in, I dare you!

She asks me if I want to be in charge as the kitchen supervisor or only shadow her? Uh no ma'am I do not...She tells me that when I do my first shift I should do the following prep work:
  • stack soup bowls and plates with cutlery and napkins for the latecomers and overnight guests above the stove
  • prepare a small pot of soup for latecomers
  • delegate the plating of 80-90 dessert plates with the featured dessert to a kitchen volunteer
  • fill the water jugs for each table (12)
  • place towels on the kitchen table for the racks of dishes to dry on and have some tea towels ready for drying dishes as they come out of the dishwasher
  • bring out and fill the pitchers for the milk for coffee and the gravy boats for the main course
  • prepare the industrial size coffee maker
  • place the serving spoons and utensils on the trolley for the main dishes
  • run the dishwasher once before starting to run the cycle to warm it up
  • keep a fresh bucket of water and tea towel nearby for little messes
And Tiger Mom does all this is before the guests arrive. She shows me where the keys are kept and where to find the vegetable patties for the vegetarian meals (as they are ex-pen-sive).

We get the first request for food - bring in the pot of soup! There are approximately 80 or so guests... Ordinarily, the three food servers come and get the soup but there are alot of new people here tonight and they seem a bit confused by their role - a church group of bright eyed young things who are not familiar with the routine. P, a wonderful regular volunteer, helps me place a large pot of soup on a trolley and we wheel it out. Out goes the soup...

I keep making pots of tea and refilling the carafes of coffee for a trolley in the dining room for the drink servers to dispense. I keep an eye on the dishwasher and the teenage boys loading and wiping the dishes as commanded by Tiger Mom. Things are not going as quickly as Tiger Mom would like. Not good...

Bring in the main course we are told! Tiger Mom and I load three large steel trays with, respectively, roast chicken, roast potatoes and mixed vegetables on to a trolley and wheel that out into the dining room. That goes quickly. Later I am told that we had 105 guests, the highest number this season. Novice that I am, I would not have guessed this as the night is warm(ish) for a February and, apparently, that day a certain social assistance cheque had been dispersed.

I get a request that some guests want soup in the hallway - that's where newcomers are placed if they are late for the dinner. Off I go with three bowls of soup...I guess I don't quite understand what is required of me because when Tiger Mom asks me if anyone else wants food I give her a puzzled look which obviously exasperates her.

Back out I go...there are a few more men. "Does anyone want a meal?" I ask timidly. The corridor is tight. The men are little bit intimidating - more because I don't know what to expect in such close circumstances. Yes they say...one vegetarian meal, one meal with just vegetables, one regular meal. One guy seems a little erratic - is he high or is this a medical thing? He is young but something is not quite right. Best to keep my eye on him I think. Security ordinarily would not let someone in who was high or drunk but it does happen occasionally that someone slips through.

Ack, things are moving so quickly in the kitchen that I am getting flustered. I plate those extra meals and bring them out. A few more orders... The kitchen is very hot with the dishwasher going, me running back forth between kitchen and corridor and the number of people coming in and out. Tiger Mom watches me carefully...will I break under the pressure?

The dessert is served in the main dining room - apple crumble with vanilla ice cream - almost every plate leaves the kitchen.

Some of the men are getting a little chippy in the hallway but it's just me getting, plating and bringing the food. I'm feeling a little resentment when they appear peeved at my "slowness". But...I bite my tongue. I wonder, is it because they are men and I am a younger female that they speak a little disrespectfully? This perturbs me a bit.

Oh no, there's LISA (lady of indeterminate sexual attributes) at the door of the kitchen asking for decaf coffee...again...for the record we never have decaf and Lisa never likes the food. But she is pleasant as she stops me to ask what food we are serving tonight. She tells me she will pass as she doesn't feel well also not an unusual occurrence for Lisa.

Back in the kitchen, Tiger Mom looks concerned - is that because I am messing up or is she worried that she is over-burdening me? I am bright pink and pouring sweat from every pore. C and I confer quickly - do we need a runner to go back and forth from the hallway to the kitchen - perhaps next time?

Tiger Mom is a great teacher, a little frightening, but highly effective. I feel exhausted but more confident on this shift. We are close to leaving. I feel like C and I have passed our first significant test. It's 8.30p and everything is done - tables cleared and cleaned, mattresses set up, kitchen clean and dishes dried.

It's nice to be alone and walking home for a bit after a crazy night. The cold air outside feel good. So when my honey R asks me if I want a ride home I say no. Well done kid, you survived...

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