Behind the Kitchen Doors

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Who knows what evil lurks…behind the Kitchen Doors?

Before occupying my current occupation of Mindless Drone I did a lot of different things. In particular, I worked in a quite a few restaurants, both “fast-food” and “full-service.” I held many positions from server to cook to manager, and I learned a lot of stuff. For example, I learned that telling your manager to get stuffed (not exactly what I said, but I’m trying to keep this PG here), can (and should) get you fired.

I was also once fired from a waitressing job by the founder of the Red Robin chain in Seattle–personally–because I informed him that if he required us to wear uniforms he had to pay for them and pay to launder them as well, by law. True, but he still fired me. That firing I’m proud of, and it led me to my first job as a manager. It was a local fast-food restaurant named Herfy’s. Say it out loud and you’ll see why I always spell it before I tell anyone where I got my management start. See?

While there are a lot of differences between fast food and full service restaurants there is one vital difference that many folks don’t know about: Fast food restaurants are, for the most part, cleaner than any other kind of restaurants. Partly from necessity, (small spaces do not do well with clutter), and partly because the volume they do means they need to be extra, EXTRA careful about cleanliness and food handling. “If there’s time to lean, there’s time to clean,” is the motto of every successful fast food restaurant. Sure, it’s trite and dumb, but you get the concept. “Clean as you go,” is another good one–and very practical. I still do it, and I’m never sorry that I do.

Here are some of the fast food restaurants where I have worked, in various capacities:

  • Burger King
  • Wendy’s
  • Herfy’s (see above)
  • Jack in the Box
  • A falafel stand in Isla Vista, California that, if I ever knew the name of, I have long since forgotten

Note the lack of Mickey D’s experience–one of the few I have escaped working in, mostly because of the color schemes.

The point is this: I’ve seen a lot of very, very bad things in restaurants, and most of them have occurred in full service joints–even hoity toity places. Going into detail would only ruin your fine dining experiences forever, so I won’t. Let’s just say that when a full rack of ribs falls on the floor it should go in the garbage, not get “dusted off” and re-plated. Gaack.

Keep your kitchen and your hands clean at all times. If you have long hair, put it up or pull it back when you are cooking. Rinse off your spoon well in hot water–or better yet grab a new one–after tasting. Use a safe, antibacterial cleaner such as Clorox Anywhere on your surfaces. Keep separate cutting boards for meat, poultry, veg and bread. Wash your cutting boards with hot, hot water and soap, rinse thoroughly and air dry (I know the FDA says it’s okay to wipe it down or pat dry, but air-drying has been found to be the most bacteria-discouraging method).

There are indeed ‘good’ bacteria and ‘bad’ bacteria, but when cooking ALL bacteria should be considered BAD. Good bacteria belong in things like sourdough starter and yogurt. Aside from those foods, bacteria have no place in your kitchen. And remember that nothing and no one  is bacteria-free. Constant vigilance is the price of safe eating and cooking. Some of the  microbial challenges you may be aware of include:

Of course, there are others, less or more virulent, but all BAD and not what you want in your kitchen or anyone else’s. So KEEP IT CLEAN FOLKS! We are blessed to live in a country where we have clean water, good medicine and knowledge. Let’s get grateful and take good advantage of our blessings, yes? Yes! (can I get an ‘amen?’) 🙂

Peg Bracken, one of my early personal heroes, wrote several books, one of which is called “I Hate to Cook.” And while I don’t hate to cook (usually), I’ve certainly had my days when it seemed like a heck of a lot more of a chore than a Joy (of Cooking, ha ha). Speaking of which, I once found a recipe in The Joy of Cooking for turtle soup, where it instructs the cook to place the live terrapins into a pot of cold water and bring it slowly to a boil…Yikes!! 😦

The point is there are a lot of cookbooks out there, lots of resources, and plenty of advice on how-to do almost anything in the world on the Internet. But in my book, nothing beats common sense and the will to experiment. Have FUN, but play safely. Knives are sharp, cheese graters work great on knuckles too, and dropping a can of tomato sauce on your foot HURTS. And yes, this is the Voice of Experience. Be careful, turn your pot handles inward, away from your and your children’s hands. Roll up your sleeves. Keep plain old table salt on hand in case of a grease fire (trust me, cook enough, and you’re going to set something ablaze besides your sweetie’s appetite). And have a regular fire extinguisher in the kitchen too, because, hey, it just makes sense, right? Oh, and yes, it is good to know how to use it–BEFORE you need it (yep, that’s the VoE again! Nothing like learning your lessons the hot, hard way…youch!).

Know your basic first aid. What’s the best thing for a burn? NO IT IS NOT BUTTER! Sheesh. Cool, running water. Not ice, not aloe vera, not anything with grease or oil in it. You want to draw the heat away from the skin, so that the burn does not go deeper. Putting oil on a burn is like putting a lid on a boiling pot. No! In Texas we don’t have cool running water in the summer time, because there’s some kind of law against it. So in these situations we use our brainpans and figure out that we probably will need some ice in some water, but move your burned finger or hand or whatever around, keep it flowing. And continue until it feels better when you take it out of the water.

DO NOT MESS AROUND WITH A BLISTER! The skin blisters to protect the nerve endings underneath. Leave it alone, it’ll deal on its own. Treat a healing burn with aloe if you wish, and a scabbed over burn with vitamin E to prevent scarring.

Keep Neosporin or other antibiotic ointment, bandages and latex gloves around for knife cuts and so forth (don’t start with me about “But I’m allergic to latex…” blah blah blah. Figure it out, man!). See? Common sense, but do you have these things handy in your kitchen, or near enough so you can get to them quickly? What about using a tourniquet? Hey, Number One: If you cut yourself badly enough that you think you need a tourniquet, I suggest you need some heavy lessons on your knife work technique. Number Two: Tourniquets are used in movies for dramatic effect, and for normal people who bleed are a very, VERY bad idea. So fuggetaboudit. And do try not to cut yourself. But when you do, rinse the cut under running water, douse the wound with hydrogen peroxide, and then anoint it with ointment, bandage yourself and slap on a glove and mush on. Or get to the ER, depending. Sad to say, but yes, I did nearly lose a finger in a Hobart meat slicer. Did I not say earlier that these lessons I share were learned the hard way?

So have a good time cooking…and HEY! Let’s be careful out there…

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4 thoughts on “Behind the Kitchen Doors

  1. Once again you give lots of important info here … I never knew that fast food places are cleaner than regular restaurants … but you’re right about small spaces and clutter also, perhaps it’s because they’re corporate run and field managers are constantly visiting and checking out the restaurants. I think people really need to read this … and kudos to you for speaking your mind regarding the Red Robin incident. Haven’t eaten there for a while, but I did love their bottomless fries. Tweeting this now 🙂

    • Hey, thanks Lafemme! Yes, that dude was a true schlong. May he rest in peace. Oh wait, he’s still alive…oops! heh
      While ’tis true that there is a lot of management traffic in and out of fast food joints, and that certainly does help the chain franchises stay on their toes, the truth is they can’t afford to have incidents of food poisoning–lawsuits and reputation.
      Jack in the Box took a terrible hit in 1993 when it was discovered that it had delivered E. Coli-laden hamburgers to kids and regular people in several states, (primarily Washington), four of whom died. Presto! Immediate infamy. It took years for them to recover, and cost them over 50 MILLION dollars in lawsuits. And counting. And that doesn’t count the money they’ve had to spend to rebuild their image through advertising and so on…Ah, yes, filthy lucre.
      Always at the bottom of things…Which…strikes me as odd… 😉

      Thanks for following me, too, you crazy chick.

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