Jill of All Trades…Sort of
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my few days as a kitchen hand, it’s that you should never underestimate the power of steel wool.
That was, of course, until the Filipino chef, Jon, saw it and said, “You know that’s illegal here, right? Where did you get that?” I shrugged and pointed to a tub below the sink. “It was there when I got here,” I said, and when he walked out I continued to use it on a giant cauldron used to make mushroom soup for 200 people.
The next day I when I came in. Just as I was tackling a very sticky situation –literally- of dried up chocolate cake on a steel pan, I went to reach for it. And it was G O N E.
Sadness aside, I carried on just like the previous days. Because the other kitchen hand does most of the food prep, I spend the first half of my shift organizing and restocking the dining room and then spending the last five hours getting soaking wet and peeling off my fingers trying to clean pots, pans and dishes. No gloves nor waterproof apron seem to do the trick.
My days of being called “grasshopper” are gone. That’s been replaced by a new, more appropriate nickname, “dish b*tch.” Thanks, workmates!
The four people in the kitchen- the head chef, Eric, another chef, Jon, the kitchen hand, Karen, and myself- float between the freezers and cool rooms, prepping and dishwashing stations and the dining room. Even though I am mostly in the back, I run new food out and still get to greet and chat up some of the miners I met while working as a mine site cleaner.
The head chef, Eric, is calm even when he’s stressed. He speaks smoothly and without tones of angst, even though his concerned eyes and sighs say a lot more than his words. He gets through the day by finding dad joke-like memes and sneakily including them in the menu PowerPoint that the miners see on their way in. I am usually in the middle of a pulling out my wrists on a heavy pot when he says “come here.”
Dropping the pot, I follow and we stand in front of the flat screen, waiting for the PowerPoint slide to change. When the meme appears he gets really excited and points to it, saying, “Look!” Yesterday it was of minions and it read “My Saturday was going really great until I realized it was Sunday.” I started to laugh and he nodded and squinted his eyes in delight.
Karen, the other kitchen hand, is a “machine” as the head chef likes to call her. She and one of the chefs worked an entire previous swing with just two of them (instead of three or four) where she successfully worked two roles at once. Her diligence shows: just as soon as I finish scrubbing one pot she’s already made ten salads and put up all the chairs and mopped. She often encourages me saying, “It easy! When you know job it easy. No worry, when I start they say ‘you no know nothing’ but I learn!”
Hailing from Thailand, she’s one of the many Thai wives found in the small town. Even though there’s many, she told me she keeps her distance from the others. “Maybe she come ask me something, I give her, but not talk too much, too much trouble,” she explained to me. She also later told me “too much friends too much talking too much trouble,” but has emphasized that she is friends with Sam, the cleaning supervisor that almost no one likes. They “have dance party” in her house.
When she’s not online gambling on her phone, she’s joking around with the Filipino chef. He often screams at her in Thai. And Every time he does something wrong she’ll scream “baaaaaaaad LUCK!” She often throws up the middle finger at him and when she does something savvy she’ll yell, “See, Jon, I not f*cking smart!” with a lot of sarcasm.
Another one of her favorite past times is singing and dancing, and when she’s not singing along to Thai pop ballads, she’s dancing to her English music from her husband that accidently automatically downloaded on her new IPhone 7. The playlist includes Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night,” Christina Aguilera’s “Dirty,” and a number of Pink songs.
Jon and Karen have a special bond. It’s partly because they worked long hours, two weeks straight together. It’s also because they’re both smokers and spend a lot of time at the designated picnic bench for smokers. I often go sit with them, you know, for team bonding purposes but I usually sit in silence as they tell each other to ‘f*ck off’ or play gambling games together. On occasion Jon will tell a story from his past experiences as a chef all over the world, such as the kitchen hand in Maine who took MDMA before each shift. “His food came out f*cking spot on each time,” Jon said.
While Jon speaks almost flawless English, I’ve began to notice that whenever he speaks to Karen he loses all grammar and English pronunciation. Today I heard him say “Dis R&R me go Darwin, me pick up car in shop.” And I turned around slowly wondering if a recently arrived Thai man had just showed up in the kitchen to take his place.
During dinner, while I’m in between cleaning industrial cooking equipment and running out food, I stand in the cut out of the dishwashing station where the miners come to drop off their dishes. Thanking them, sometimes I can get in a quick conversation. I try to always be a good listener, to greet everyone with a smile and ask creative questions (Thanks, Kimberly!). It’s for their benefit as much as it is mine – there is little inspiration in putting away 150 plates.
Their news usually has to do with the fact that they thought dinner was “just okay” and “not horrible like it was the other day.” Either that or that their day was “boring” or that they’re “just surviving” or that it’s “another day, another dollar.” I’m starting to see why everyone says miners are whingers.
But while some might be sick of me, others have warmed up and started to ask me how my day was, how am I liking the kitchen and when am I coming back to the mine site (*AWWW*). There is one scaffolder who is always witty, kind and willing to chat. He’s around 50-years-old and rides his bike leisurely to and from the mess. Last night he said, “It’s nice to see you happy. There are a lot of grumpy in this world. And, – old guy here who has been around for a while- you’re going to spend a lot of time at work, most of your life even. It’s much better if you enjoy yourself while you’re working.”
“Great advice,” I said.
In other news
Today in Aussie lingo: Flat out is really busy, as in, “Ah, last night we were flat out, we didn’t even clean all the areas we were supposed to.” Shocking is used to as an adjective to describe a situation that was serious in a bad way, as in, “The plane up from Melbourne was shocking” or “I’ve got a shocking burn on my back.” Saturated is used instead of soaking wet, as in, “Uh, I don’t want to go outside until the storm calms down, I’m going to get saturated.”
Today in small town realizations: I went to the post office to send some postcards. While I was addressing them, I ran into the woman at the mine who rehabilitates wallabies, the camp boss, the cleaning supervisor, Sam, and another miner. As Carla warned me, you really can’t do anything here without everyone knowing.
Featured photo taken at a local aboriginal festival. No, you can’t know the name because that would give everything away!
Didn’t read “It’s Round Three And These Chicks Are Crazy, Part 1” or “Part 2”? Well, get on it! Missed the Mine Camp Diary before those? Here it is. Read the rest of the diaries here. Very confused? Read the first Mine Camp Diary entry!