One look was all it took to tell:
This guy really needed his Jameson. As he took down his shot in one fluid motion and I took a cold pull on my beer in that Green Bay bar, my thoughts travelled back to the time we first met, where an unlikely friendship had begun.
Ted looks like a stereotyped badass. He’s on the big side, has a fair amount of tattoos, wears shirts showing off his favorite metal bands, and has a vocabulary (and a high propensity to use it) that would be the envy of any sailor. By all accounts, that description should fit any number of cultural stereotypes; from ex-con cook to child-scaring biker gang member. But Ted is neither of these. He is highly intelligent, well read (he consumes books like we consume fast food burgers), very creative, and always focused on working hard and bringing his best to any workplace.
How does one find this enigma? I found it by going to school with him.
He was in an upper class, and there was a special event. It was one of the first times I had the opportunity to work in the kitchen during an event, and I was nervous. Very nervous. I had just finished the task I was handed, and couldn’t find my instructor. So, I did what any first-term intimidated student would do: I faked it. (I did a lot of that; maybe the theme for another blog post?) Seeing another student place empty silver trays by the dessert cooler and walk away, I proceeded to line the trays up and clean them; paying no attention to the fact that they were already spotless. So much for blending in. Just then, one of the chef-instructors came over and saw me; “Oh good! Ted’ll have some help plating the desserts and cannoli!”. Curses! Caught. “You stay right there and grab some gloves behind you; I’ll bring Ted right over.” Oh well, I thought; plating can’t be too tough.
And then this big man came over, cussing up a storm about something that has now gotten lost in the ethos of time. “Damn! These f***in’ desserts? I spent all f***ing day trying to stay away from these things, and now I have to PLATE THEM??!!?!!?? You here to plate this s**t too?”
And so, I met Ted.
We proceeded to plate the desserts, he lining them up on the pan and me taking empties away and cleaning up the platters before going out; all while trying not to antagonize this (obviously) very angry man. And then, the conversation started. He began by asking me about my kitchen experience: I told him that I had no kitchen experience and was a j-school dropout. He began telling me about his life cooking in kitchens, and some of the “experiences” he had working in the food industry. Some were slightly frightening to a kitchen newbie like me, and the others were downright hilarious. Ted showed a knack for being detail-oriented (a blessing in a kitchen) and task-driven (also a blessing). No matter what went down in those kitchens, Ted made sure that the food always got to the guest. The trays went out, and our task was done. I found a guy who was a wealth of experience and know-how who wasn’t afraid to tell you when your sauce tasted like s**t, and was also not afraid to tell you that he wanted to steal your recipe because it was so good.
During this time, I also found out that Ted was a voracious reader. From reading New York Times bestsellers to devouring Anthony Bourdain’s latest, Ted made me ashamed for my lack of reading during culinary school (note to Ted: I’m doing better now).
We do not look like we should be friends: our backgrounds and paths in life are different. We do not look like we would be working or talking too much outside of our school experience together. However, we not only stay in touch regularly, we have also worked under the same roof for over a year; bouncing back and forth between two major league sports stadiums. After working a long game, we often take the time to stop at a bar nearby and catch up on work and life.
Which is where we came in. A very talented and hard working man is sitting across from me, throwing down a shot and swearing about things that could have been better. A perfectionist if there ever was one.
Can I buy you another shot?