Monday, April 12, 2010

New cook wanted 9 April 2010

The time has come to find a new cook. Things had been running too smoothly for the last while – a quiet January and February were too good to be true. Our cook is leaving us to work in a supermarket because the hours suit her and her small children better. We are not terribly sorry; she has been ok but we have had to teach her a lot and always be alert to potential slip-ups and mistakes. She gave us two weeks’ notice, which wouldn’t have covered Easter, but luckily we managed to persuade her to stay until Easter Monday … She didn’t show up on Good Friday – a big night out in Italy, now pretty much laicised despite the Vatican at the heat of Italy … her husband called in to say she was immobilised in bed with a bad back. Since we know this was the day she was supposed to start her new job, it all seems a bit suspect. Having her husband call … on Holy Saturday she is back in action however which makes it eve more suspicious. Anyone who has ever suffered from a bad back will tell you it takes a few days to recover. Anyway, mia suocera, my amazing mother-in-law ran the kitchen with the help of an aiuto cuoco, an old friend of my sister-in-law. And we got through without any major hassle.

Meanwhile we have had the always interesting experience of recruiting a new cook. Candidate A presented himself with his CV in hand, but with little relevant experience. He had had several seasonal jobs ‘lavoro stagionale’ during the summer months, but worked more as a pasticciere … a pastry chef. In fact when I asked him what his speciality was, he couldn’t come up with one. He tried to avoid the issue by enthusing about his pastry expertise, so I came back to the question later and asked him what his best meat and fish dish were .. and I actually can’t even remember what he said something about tuna or swordfish – he wouldn’t be Sicilian if he couldn’t cook these fish … He has the biggest pancia ‘belly’ I’ve ever seen, so just as our little colloquio is closing I ask him, as mio marito and I had discussed, what his relationship with alcohol is like. He looks taken aback and then seeks the right words, ‘Well, you know, like anyone …’ ‘Because, I say, ‘we’re lucky here, no one touches a drop in the kitchen. Maybe a beer with dinner in the summer, but during working hours none of our staff is permitted to drink alcohol.’ He smiles uncertainly to see if I’m joking with my light hearted tone. So I keep a straight face and accompany him to the kitchen. He’s to prepare us garbugli con scampi from our menu, and another primo of his choice, but without meat since I don’t eat meat.
Watching him in operation unfortunately the pancia does get in the way. The spaces between the sideboards and the fridges, and the central working area and the oven and friers are limited and if there are two people working there passing each other, you need to have good special awareness – which this candidate unfortunately does not possess. But he is adept at chopping and slicing.

We have more interviews with a journalist in whose magazine we are putting a large advert, and once that is over, or two pasta dishes arrive. Error number one: the dish of his invention is penne with a bacon and pistachio sauce – our only specification being not to put meat in it. Hmmm. But apparently it’s tasty. Then we have our garbuglie – like linguine – and scampi. No points for presentation, it has just been slapped onto the plate. Also he hasn’t taken any of the scampi out of their shell – normally you unshell a few as it gives flavour and leave little chunks throughout and then place one complete scampi on top. But it has good flavour and the pasta is well cooked.

I’m not convinced by the overall performance and presentation, so hope our next candidates will be better. Mio marito is convinced that candidate number three will be the man; the only problem is he’s in Germany.

Candidate number two shows up well made-up, hair straightened, nails painted dark red. All business. No CV. Wants to know terms and conditions even before she has talked us through any relevant experience. It is typical here to show up without CV; in that way you avoid having to explain all the spaces or the number f jobs you left and the reason for leaving. She says, as usual, that she has had numerous seasonal jobs, and her most recent one, which lasted a year was in another Bar/restaurant not far from here. Reason for leaving? The new management brought in the mother to do the cooking. But later she says her reason for leaving was that she went to work in Germany. Suspicious. Her penultimate job was as a waiter and she has no qualifications to be a cook. She learned everything she know from her ex-husband who was a chef. She has the gift of the gab and spends ten minutes telling us how great she is and how impressed her ex used to be when she had him taste her dishes. When we ask her is she ready to go to the kitchen and prepare something for us she looks uncomfortable. ‘But people always just employ me directly after the interview,’ she says. ‘That’s strange, ‘ I say, ‘We haven’t even seen your CV. All our other candidates are doing a trial run in the kitchen, so it’s up to you, to be on an equal footing with everyone else.’ She goes on again about how other places have just taken her on immediately and that it is impossible to tell in one evening’s trial; but in the end agrees to come back two days later. She also produces menus from her previous job which she says she concocted, since they let her do whatever she wanted. Indeed, she looks dismayed at our menu, which she says she doesn’t know, and doesn’t look keen to try the tapas, even though we reassure that there are recipes and they are all really similar to Sicilian cooking just with Spanish names.

She is in a less recalcitrant mood on Saturday when she does her trial. She cooks up a nice dish of penne with baby tomatoes and fresh prawns which is very tasty, and then stays on to do some tuna steaks and beef fillets for a table of our friends, all of whom compliment the food, not knowing we have a new cook on trial. Once she completes the order, however, rather than ask what else she ca do to prove her skills, she whips off the apron and smokes on the steps outside the kitchen waiting for us t come and talk to her. Meanwhile she is glued to the mobile phone, nad glances round the kitchen . ‘Other job offers,’ she says with a self-satisfied smile. My mother-in-law reported that one. I can tell she doesn’t like her.

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