Saturday, November 21, 2009

Opening night - Not exactly a success 16/05/09

Now we realize why the kitchen was so calm at 7pm yesterday – the cook believes in doing everything fresh and on the spot. Which had sounded good at interview, but is of no practical use whatsoever. We all want freshly made gnocchi, but freshly made in the morning is fine, not at 10.30 at night when the order arrives! Unfortunately, there were huge delays with orders, and the food was poorly presented. The cuoco blamed it all on the aiuto-cuoco, but, since we ended up having to spend a great deal of time in the kitchen sorting things out, we could see that the cuoco simply hadn’t prepared the basics. As my soucera said, it doesn’t take an expert to know that you need to have your basics - tomatoes,onions, garlic and parsley chopped up, parmesan shavings freshly grated, grilled vegetables ready etc. This guy was so out of it that he actually started making up a fishstock when the order for the fish couscous came in. I happened to see the face of the woman who ordered it – not good. The aiuto cuoco has no clue about presentation – he sent out a squashed flat meringue with fake cream on top – despite the fact that I had insisted on them using fresh cream and whipping it up.

The cuoco had assured us he knew how to make everything on the menu and that he knew how to manage orders as they came in – he’d had his own restaurant in Spain for 12 years. But what were the dishes in this restaurant? Was it really his? This is the problem of not asking for references in this country. There is this kind of embarrassment around references here as if it suggests that you don’t actually trust the person you are thinking of employing. Plus the cook’s insistences that he ran this restaurant for so long in a different country made it difficult to obtain them anyway. It looked like he had no idea what he was doing. He kept shouting commands at the aiuto cuoco (which distracted the aiuto cuoco from the orders he was dealing with) and another girl who was giving a hand, while he lifted the odd saucepan and squinted at orders as if he couldn’t read them. Some tables waited two hours for a simple pasta course. Some tables didn’t even get their second course. Orders went into the kitchen and never came out.

There were some funny moments. The Cameriera A showed me how to take an order, leaving lines, filling out the table number etc. Waiters A and B moved very swiftly to clear tables. But Cameriere C lived up to his nickname ‘cristallo’ since he broke quite a few glasses in the course of the night. I would see him gaily sailing up the stairs with one glass of prosecco on a tray and then hear the tinkle of broken glass smashing on the stairs.

We had the smoking law tested several times - Sicilians behave as if it doesn’t exist or at least, doesn't apply to them. Two men were on their way up the stairs smoking and I asked them to go outside, but they said they would put it out in the toilet and I had the horrible image of the butts floating in the toilet bowl, hardly the right image for the place on opening night, as you would expect them to understand. But it took two more waiters accompanying them outside to ensure they put them out outside.

Also a table of 4 tried to sneak off without paying! No sooner had I brought them the bill than they got up smiling sneakily at each other and at me, so I said, ah you are going to pay downstairs then? And they smiled sneakily and then made a big performance of going down stairs, with one couple going noisily into the toilet, saying pointedly, ‘OK,see you down stairs then?’ and the other couple went off fake nonchalantly, the girl twirling her hair and looking around her, and the guy behind. So I went downstairs too and heard them mutter, oh, she’s actually going to accompany us. So I went down and watched the girl leave and muttered to Cameriera 1 look I think they are going to leave without paying, what do I do! She smiled and said yes, classic situation, watch out, all you do is go up to them outside and say scusa ma avete pagato? And if they say yes, then say, ok allora potete venire con me per chiarire un po ci dev’essere uno sbaglio. What a nasty thing. Hopefully they won’t come back.

Also downstairs I found two older men in their late fifties smoking, and over I went, thinking I was being polite (but it maybe sounded too over the top) ‘si prega di non fumare’. They said, ‘scusa ma tu chi sei?’ ‘Hang on a second, who are you anyway?’ Really rude! Then they fell over themselves apologising but in a rude fake way, and the other was saying, ‘it’s spento look? Spento!’ Later the same man caught me going past and was all pally, ‘So whose girlfriend are you then?’ I said, ‘ragazza? That man is my husband.’ Like as if I am someone’s arm candy. Then he tried to speak English: ‘You from London? You speak English?’ Oh no, what a lowlife. I had to smile and say I was from Ireland and it turned out his nephew was in Ireland with a Brazilian girlfriend. Then he called me over all smiles later when I was surveying the scene, but what did he want but drinks brought over, I had to repeat several times what they wanted because I have never taken a drinks order in my life and didn’t know the fancy Italian cocktails they required. I called over the waitress to do the honors. He went on, ‘I know your father-in-law, I know your husband, I know the brother-in-law,’ … yeah, I got the general idea, so I said sarcastically, ‘Si, ho capito, sei ben connesso’ … well-connected. My husband said later, of course we need to tell people to smoke outside, but you had the luck of getting Franco XXX who got out of jail yesterday. A known Mafioso type! He apparently said later, ‘Ah, tua ragazza mi ha detto due cose,’ –your girlfriend told me off!’

At the end of the nihgt Cameriere C started fighting with a customer who insisted on being served drink after the bar had closed at the late hour of 3am. The man insisted (being drunk) and C came out from behind the bar and shouted at him and it became a kind of standoff between this town (our waiter) and the drunk (from the next town), an inebriated brawl of campanalismo, how awful to have this provincialism played out on our opening night. Then the barman got involved and the guy roared, tu chi sei? This is locals’ favourite phrase, they think they are better than everyone else it would seem, and he said, you are just an employee, an operaio, and the barman replied, no I’m the owner, or part of the management team or something! It turned out they had been drinking too, and so with the stress and fatigue it got out of control. Tomorrow night we’ll make it Rule no. 1- no alcohol while working.

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