Friday, October 28, 2011

Arizona Stories, The day I lost all my facial hair...

I ended up taking a lot of 3rd shift work at the resort during the end of my externship.  Part of my contract specified that if a manager got a hold of me personally or via phone and asked me to work a shift, that I couldn't decline... even if I'd already worked a 16 hour day.  I'm not saying that I hated this, but since the night shift had the most no-call-no-shows or other bullshit excuses, I often found myself working with little sleep and having to strain stocks at 4 in the morning.

The best part about night shift was the lack of supervision and the freedom to do things in any order I thought would be the most efficient.  I was always looking for ways to get done faster, especially if room service was picking up due to high occupancy.  The night shift person was responsible for staff meal for about 35 people, mainly security, night cleaners, and over night bakers/pastry cooks.  You had to strain and cool all stocks, prep anything the executive sous dropped onto your plate, handle room service, grind meat for the butcher, and set up breakfast for the 175 seat dining room. 

Breakfast prep for the dining room entailed breaking down a few cases of eggs for omelets, dicing and par-steaming potatoes, setting up bacon, sausage links, and patties, cooking steelcut Irish oatmeal, clarifying butter, and getting all of the ovens, flattops, etc. hot for morning service.

One morning I had gotten towards the end of my shift at 7 am, when I went to light the old school flattop on the line.  It was an old model, and the pilot was about eight inches to a foot under the griddle.  You'd light a wooden skewer to light the pilot, and turn the gas to light the damned thing.  This morning was different.  As I got on my knees and lit the skewer, I reached under the griddle and triggered and enormous blast of flame that engulfed my head briefly.  I immediately shut my eyes and hit the ground.

Apparently, one of the nightcleaners had used the stove as a ladder to reach the hoods earlier that morning and had turned the gas on slightly with their boot, much to my dismay.  I lost a few eyelashes, curled my eyebrows, and burnt off part of my sideburns.  To this day I have difficulty growing hair where my ears meet my beard.  I also looked sunburnt for about a week. 

So the first cook comes in, an old asian dude that rocked the omelet station as if he was twenty years younger.  With one look at me, all he says is,

"That's why I don't light the pilot anymore."

Go figure.  Now I always let someone else deal with pilots and gas first until I'm comfortable with the machine or conduit in question.  I saw a chef friend of mine once light an easy release hose on his fryer on an open burner by accident on his line.  He set his sleeve on fire and it looked like a flame thrower until the grill cook closed the release valve.  Scary, scary stuff to see.

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