During the last couple of weeks I had the opportunity to make some truly new experiences. None of them were very pleasant, but challenging and educating they were.
You might remember it was yours truly, who suggested to run the restaurant at our golf club instead of renting it out. As was the custom previously. So start of 2015 we staffed the restaurant and started to operate it ourselves. Which worked just fine all year long. We didn’t make a profit yet, but the thing payed for itself, produced the rent we previously asked of the lessees and our customers were happy with the services, in general. Mission accomplished.
During golfing season, the restaurant is open for 14 hrs a day (09:00 – 23:00) and even longer, if need arises. Thus, in the kitchen, we need 3 cooks and a kitchen hand for dish cleaning purposes to cover the time. As everybody, also the kitchen staff works overtime during season, which is repaid in paid free time in winter. When opening hours are reduced to fit daylight hours.
This summer, we are not so lucky. The chef is ill with spine troubles, leaving him unable to move. Lest he wears morphine plasters and is strongly medicated on top. The other two cooks filing first sick, then packing it in all together. Conditions becoming too stressful for them, they said. For good measure, also the kitchen hand left. So there was a sum total of virtually zero staff.
To further explain the situation: in Berlin, at this moment, there are 350 openings for cooks. Basically, any cook can ask for what he/she wants and will most likely be successful in getting it. And we are not even in Berlin proper, people have to have a car to get to us, as public transport to suit their working times is not available at all. Making it all the harder, to find anybody who’d be willing and able to work for us.
We tried virtually everything. Adds in every local newspaper, tight cooperation with all surrounding job centers, asking our members to help find staff, talking to organisations working with refugees, trying to find help. So far, we are only partially successful. We found one cook, who lives nearby. She has small children and thus is only available during opening hours of the crib/kindergarten. Which is nine to five on weekdays. We are still happy to have her on the team since Monday. Plus, we found a great kitchen hand. A lady, whose own kids are grown up and out of the house, freshly divorced and now ready to fend for herself again. With kitchen experience, she has worked for a school kitchen before. So we are halfway there, at least.
However, we had some weird encounters during the interviews, that made me personally wonder about the world we live in. Of the few people, who actually did apply for the position of a cook (except for the one we immediately took on this week, the mother), every single one wanted a crooked deal. They were all quite forthcoming with their wants. Most wanted to keep their social welfare benefits, officially just working a few hours a month, making just as little money as they are allowed to earn extra without losing their benefits. On top, they asked for hideous amounts of illegal money. One even for all this plus a company car. And even the ones, who were not on any welfare program asked for a regular basic wage and extra cash on the side. Illegal earnings seemingly are the norm in the gastronomic world.
With the refugees, it is a different story. Of the few, who have all their permits and registrations in order to be allowed to work (and also understand the idea of turning up for work on a regular base and at set times), the government virtually makes it impossible to hire them. Because at the same instant, they are hired, they also lose their right to all public patronage, with the end of entitlement to free language courses being the biggest hindrance. Each and every single one of the refugees is in dire need of German skills. If they had to pay for the courses on their own (they cost 350 to 500 € per month, depending on hours), they couldn’t afford to support themselves on their income any longer. This is also crazy. We had one Syrian in for a week as a temp, who helped with the cleaning and we would have happily employed him full time. But simply, he couldn’t afford to earn a wage. He is so much better off unemployed, that we could fully understand his decision to decline our offer.
Needless to say, that during all this, the show had to go on. So the head of service, let’s call her T. and I, plus the sick chef, did as much as we could, to keep things operating. We had to reduce kitchen opening hours and downsize the menue to foods, we two non-cooks were able to produce on a restaurant level (not much left to offer, let me tell you), which of course led to protest in our memebership. But there are just so many hours to a working day, of which there exist only seven per person and week. And of course there are the tournaments with buffets to run. Or even events with breakfast plus halfway snack plus dinner for 50 – 100 people. Plus the summer holiday kids camps with 15 – 30 hungry children to feed Monday to Friday. It is hard to keep your regular punters happy at the same time. With one staff in service additionally sick for two weeks with a severe bronchitis, and T. already missing on that front, due to her promotion to chef chef :), it took all energy of everybody working in the restaurant to cope at all. I can not begin to praise enough, what great job this T. is doing. Still running and organising service, cooking, ordering, you name it, she does it. Of course I tried to help as much as I could without neglecting my own job too much. Personally, I found it hard, but exciting, to work in the kitchen. Let me tell you, it is a different story to cook to a menue in a restaurant, where orders of different foods come in at once and have to be finished at the same time than to entertain some guests at home. It takes a while, untill you even find your bearings in the kitchen, learn, where stuff is stored or how the machinery works. Also, my own back is not in mint condition and troubled me. Try and lift a steel pot containing 30 ltrs of curry sauce with bad discs in the lower spine. No fun, let me tell you. Even standing all day I found difficult. I usually sit at my computer most of the day, so switching to standing was a challenge for my body.
And don’t let me start on cleaning and hygiene. I spent quite a few mornings before the kitchen openend on my hands and knees (or a ladder), trying to keep on top of the rigid (and neccessary) cleaning program of a professional kitchen. Not that we were able to manage all and everything up to the last requirement, but at least I didn’t have to worry about the outcome of an always possible surprise visit of the hygiene officals at any point in time. In the end, it is my (and the CEO’s) responsibility, to see to it, that things are in order.
Good thing about this is, that I insisted on a few improvements on the technical side of cleaning. Having the stove bottoms covered with a steel faceplate, for instance, so that food stuff and dirt don’t get underneath the ovens so much. It is real hard to clean underneath the stoves, as the gas pipes and energy supplies come out of the floor and things tend to catch and get grimy. I also had a simple garden hose installed, so one can pressure-rinse on top and between the two cooling and freezing units, each measuring some 2 x 2 x 2,5 meters. And also get any waste out under all the other furniture and fixtures each night. This hose is celebrated by everyone in kitchen now. Why they never thought of it before, I can not fathom. The next thing I’ll see to is, that the mechanic at greenkeeping builds me a wiper or abductor with a long shaft to fit exactly beetween some open gaps that need cleaning but are virtually impossible to reach. It will take me a few more days to form a clear idea of how exactly those two, three wipers have to be build, but I am sure, I’ll find a way.
And I also want to buy a steam cleaner, to come back to the title of this blog entry. After searching the internet this morning for hours, I am already convinced to invest some substantial money rather than going for your average household steam cleaner. After all, we also have 10 showers, 16 toilets and many hand basins in the house, too. Especially the gents showers are a constant source of trouble, they are almost always in use, leaving them wet and slippery. With mould forming everywhere. In addition to our extremly calciferous water and all the soap residue, it is extremly hard to keep those up to notch. So, investing in a professional steam cleaning machine sounds like a good idea, provided, housekeeping and kitchen can come up with a sharing regime. In fact, while I write this, the solution already presents itself. All I have to do now, is go get the funding and order the thing.