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The Life Lesson of Pearl Diving

By on September 4, 2016

dish washingPearl Diving is glamorous nomenclature for “dishwashing”, and in my world, while glamor may not fully capture the essence of dishwashing, I can assure you there is no more enjoyable, yet brutal, while altogether necessary position in the kitchen.

Dining Out With Nick

I was recently asked what my favorite job to do in a restaurant was. I answered, with a stone face, “dishwashing.” A smile trickled across the questioner’s face and I could see that they didn’t take me seriously. I think they were expecting me to say saucier or grill yet I was serious as a heart attack. Dishwashing is my all time favorite place to be when I am in a kitchen.

I enjoy doing a thankless job that is nevertheless so essential to every single person who’s soul occupies a place in the restaurant; guests and staff alike. Ever try drinking wine from a dirty wine glass? No of course not because the dishwasher takes care of that. Ever think about using a grubby sauté pan to fire your next “pick up”? Heavens no. That would be unthinkable. The dishwasher cleans those for me. What about taking out the trash? You’ve guessed it, the dishwasher does that too.

Dishwashing is my all time favorite place to be when I am in a kitchen. I enjoy doing a thankless job that is nevertheless so essential to every single person who’s soul occupies a place in the restaurant; guests and staff alike. Ever try drinking wine from a dirty wine glass? No of course not because the dishwasher takes care of that. Ever think about using a grubby sauté pan to fire your next “pick up”? Heavens no. That would be unthinkable. The dishwasher cleans those for me. What about taking out the trash? You’ve guessed it, the dishwasher does that too.

The dishman is covered in hot water, and their work clothes smell permanently of garlic, onions and butter. In fact, I think the garage where I grew up will always have a slight scampi smell to it (my mother used to make me change in the garage before I came in the house). And no matter how I describe the individual aspects of working in the dish pit, I know that, to someone who has never done it, I will never fully and accurately articulate feelings of triumph, defeat, joy and pain of this truly, awesomely, awful, exceptionally (insert adjective here) job.

Ask any chef. Anyone from the local big fish small pond guys to the globe trotting big fish/big pond culinary magnates will tell you, “I started out washing dishes.” There is something about the position of dishwasher that stays with you like a badge of honor amongst pirates. If you did the job, did it well, learned it, loved it and mastered it then you could easily conquer anything.

pearl divingThe trick with pearl diving was being able to let go of yourself. You had to stop caring that you were the lowest on the totem pole. You couldn’t be bothered by smells or that thing clogging up the drain. You had to rise above the Friday night 7:45 dish pit rush of the first seating being cleared. As a young person just entering the workforce you had to make a choice: Half full or half empty? Complain about everything or command and conquer? And depending on how you played your cards, you were either well fed by the cooks, tipped out by the servers, or valued highly by the chefs or…. not.

The choice was all how you looked at the game. The true nature of dishwashing is being both physically and mentally prepared. You have to ready your station with gloves, an apron, scrubbers, soap and sanitizer. You have to develop a system to keep your station organized. You have to develop a rhythm to your work that allowed you to enjoy the slow times while also dominate the busy times, so that you could observe the guy next to you and train yourself on the next job before it was even offered to you. On top of it all, everything had to be clean.

By choosing to rule my work and not be ruled by it, by choosing to be prepared for what came my way and not complain about the unknown, and by doing a very hard and seemingly small job with a sense of pride, I was able to stand out to everyone in the restaurant and my comrades in the kitchen. I was asked if I knew how to chop vegetables. I did, and I treated that task with the same attention and pride as I gave my dish station, and soon I went from prep to making fresh pasta, to rolling pizzas, to sautéing, and finally to running shifts on the line.

From there, dining room work started and was followed by culinary school, and then there was the chance to work for the world’s best chefs, hoteliers and restaurateurs. Yet no job was quite as important to me as washing dishes. I still relish the job to this day. If a dishwasher doesn’t show up, or fails to see the value in the work they are doing, then I am happy to step in and conquer the most overlooked, yet most valued position in our restaurants.

There is nothing like keeping your train moving by getting dirty, rolling up your own sleeves, and shoveling coal.   Our world is saturated with chefs or “chiefs”. In the culinary world, you can’t turn on TV or open a magazine without seeing some new name chef with his arms crossed speaking about the virtues of their new small production, gnome-sourced, early flowering micro mustard greens.

Yet, to Russell and myself, the true virtue of our world comes from the guys who are in the trenches truly getting it done. Washing dishes, accepting orders, prepping veggies, organizing, stocking, and thanklessly ensuring that this restaurant train never falls off of its rails.   I always believe it is a good reminder to step back from personal success and see the shoulders of the giants we are standing on.

Step back and give thanks to the people who supported us as we came up, taught us the ropes, and give a full standing round of applause to those unsung heroes that support us daily. Without the hard work of every one of our staff, our employees, our families, and those who came before, none of us, you or me, would be fortunate enough to find ourselves in the position we are in as we try to enjoy life to the fullest.

 

subscript to Lavish Living Magazine

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