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Firstly, here was the week.  Started off Monday with a booking for a funeral cater.  Yes, hereabouts people have their funerals catered.  That is if your anyone of import.  This person was.  Buildings named after him, testimonials from congressmen and senators...the whole thing.  Anyway the booking came in for Wednesday and the number was 350 people attending.  But let me back up the bus a minute.  Over the weekend - last weekend - we get the call that Obama is coming into town later in the week (Thursday) to visit a factory in town that builds batteries for electric cars. We get the nod to do the catering.  We put ourselves on Defcon alert and started making preparations.  For me that meant having a cold and a hot menu in the can, ready to go and calling my purveyors and putting them on notice that I could be asking for anything from hot dogs to fois gras.  On Saturday we fed the advance team breakfast when they got to town.  There are 6 advance teams orbiting out there at various strategic points in the country, ready to move should the prez decide to visit their assigned neck of the woods.  So we have that event on the front burner when the funeral call comes in.  Then the advanced design team for one of our clients, Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI), decides they're going to be in town most of the week for meetings and they'll be needing breakfast and lunch.  Now, most any button or widget you push or pull in your car interior was likely designed by JCI. HVAC system in your high rise office building?  Johnson Controls.  Battery and electric control systems in your Prius/Leaf/Volt car?  JCI. Thermostat in your house? JCI design and patent.  Needless to say these design team guys stomp upon the earth like they are the Lords of Creation - not unlike hedge fund managers or bond traders or professional CEOs.  They are one of our high maintenance groups to say the least and it was soon decided that I would be the one to mother hen them whilst splitting the POTUS duties with another corporate chef that works out of our kitchen.  In fact - Johnson Controls is his account, but well...its complicated. 

So at the start of the week we have a funeral for a deceased local Brahmin, a feeding frenzy for the divas at Johnson Controls, and a Rolling Thunder state brunch for the Leader of the Free World.  And then the fun began.  In came a booking for 100 box lunches every morning until Saturday.  Then the number for the funeral doubled the afternoon before the service, which was to take place  at lunchtime the next day. We get a call from the Maintanence Dept. on campus.  They want a picnic for 150 on the same day we're feeding POTUS and 350 of his friends and neighbors. Absolutely, we say before scrambling back to our offices and kitchens to figure out just how the fuck we're gonna pull this off.

Then the Secret Service decide to show up for breakfast and lunch every day.  Nice guys - simple needs, easy to please.  On the flip side, on the day before they arrive for their meetings, the  JCI DemiGods decide to throw out their set menus and go with something new. They want Vegan one day, Italian the next, Mexican, Thai...and so on.  I inform M, the catering coordinator, that these guys need to have it stuck to them and to double the price on the billing.  I'll worry about any screaming about the bill later.  They are now paying $40 each for catered breakfast and  lunch. Fifty people for five days - do the math.  Still a great deal for them - they all have expense accounts.  The next time you wonder why a replacement car battery costs $150 or why a shitty new Chevy Impala costs 30K  - I think I have an answer for you.

The week grinds on.  I'm going in to work at 4 am and leaving at 7 pm.  I'm cranking out some stellar food for the Pontifs at JCI.  The Vegan menu was exceptional, I thought, but when the catering staff came back from the event site that day I get told that the head of the group, a VP of Operations, and a vegan, took one look at the main lunch item (Korean BBQ portabella tacos) threw up her hands and growled, "I hate mushrooms!" and stormed out of the room. One of my staff, a cheerful, bubbly woman with a perpetually Pollyanna view of things told me she felt like slapping the bitch silly.  I needed the laugh at that point.  Of course, the VP bitch is one of the persons who blessed off on the menu to begin with.  She must have missed the part that said "Main dish: Korean BBQ Portabella Tacos" in bold Verona font.  Probably didn't realize it was mushrooms.  Too bad.  Life's so unfair when you know everything then find out you don't really.
 

By Monday afternoon - just at the beginning of this vortex of hell week - I was looking forward to my half day on Wednesday like an itch looks forward to a scratch.  That was the day I insisted that I absolutely have time off to take the Z-girl into Grand Rapids for her senior pictures.  I've vowed that no matter how all consuming my work becomes that I will stop everything and get off the hamster wheel if my kid needs me or if I want to be there.  Senior pictures was just something I wanted to be there for.  Its a milestone of sorts.  So after Monday's Vegan Debacle with the JCI Masters of the Cosmos I came back with a vengeance on Tuesday, cooking like a demon possessed.  No complaints and no food came back. We get the final count for the Wednesday funeral (750) and the POTUS visit is still on for 350 Thursday morning.  And then our main purveyor calls to tell us that the main ingredient for the main brunch dish at the POTUS event is "temped out".  The production manager runs interference for me because I'm so enraged that I spend 15 minutes screaming my head off at him in a walk-in cooler about how I'd like to drive to each one of those fuckwits houses and burn the fuckers down and how the FUCK do you not have 200 pounds of chicken thigh meat available in your warehouse when you're the largest food distributor in the tri-state area. And if they call I want to talk to those dogfuckers about the meaning of customer service. Wisely, the production manager says nothing and lets me wind down before asking me about what my plan B is. I always have a plan B. And C. And D, if possible and I have time.  But goddamn it, using a plan B for an event attended by the President of the United States just galled me.  If I'm on point - I expect everyone else involved with me to be there also.  Anyone in the food biz knows that purveyors always put on a show about being your "partner" and "helping" you do business when their real feeling is that they got you by the nuts and can squeeze you into unconsciousness while humiliating you in front of  your customers any time they want.



Wednesday comes and I spend the morning helping a pinch hitter make Mexican for our Overlords at Johnson Controls.  I make breakies for them...huevos rancheros that I make in French style rolled omelets with queso fresco, fresh Pico de Gallo and fresh chorizo from the Mexican taqueria down the street.  Nothing comes back.  My pinch hitter is  one of our cooks we had on voluntary summer lay off that I brought back because she's a great tex-mex cook and I needed her to make lunch on this day so I could make sure the POTUS event food was being prepped without problems.  Did I mention that the other chef was basically checked out because he was mad that my boss brought him in from vacation for the POTUS event that was being held at his account?  Seems he has a hate on for Obama and wasn't thrilled about having to cook for him. So although he was present - I got no help from him and had to put up with his scowling, pouting face during the two days his presence was required.  My boss, who makes no bones about his own hatred for Obama, made himself scarce during this whole thing.  A total turn-around from the time we had Dubya here on a campaign stop...of course then many people were all excited and hands on.  This time many of those same folks look upon this president's visit as a chore and inconvenience.  Me?  The prez is the prez - I'm geeked and whether I voted for the bastard or not doesn't mean a thing.  You're cooking for the man occupying the most legendary political office of our time and its not something many people get to do, so yeah, as corny as it sounds - it's an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity.  

So Wednesday mid morning it all hits the fan at once and somehow everything goes off without a hitch. The prep for the prez event the next day is ready to go and soon I'm off for an afternoon with my kid.  I let her drive while I sat watching the landscape fly by and letting all the crap swirling around in my brain disappear into the wind whipping by outside the window.  I found myself wanting a cigarette very badly.  I haven't smoked since 1990, but I still get the jones once in a while.  The feeling soon passed as we came into town and made our way to the photographer's studio in downtown Grand Rapids.  We're early so we walk around a little - I take pictures of the new Urban Institute of Art building that has an attached parking garage which is encased in a wire frame that supports vines that grow to cover the structure in greenery.  A clever disguise for an otherwise ugly building.


Soon its time for the appointment and we meet Kelly the photog in person.  She is friendly, but all business.  I think she looks just like the mermaid on the Starbucks logo.  While Zoe gets dressed for her first shoot, I ask Kelly if I can take pictures while she shoots Z-kid.  She tells me no one has ever asked her that and she doesn't mind having her picture taken although she's worried that her hair's a mess.  I tell her I think its fine and that I think she looks like a mermaid.  She laughs and says no one's told her  that before.  And it goes back and forth like this in between her shooting Zoe.  Kelly's half my age, but I flirt with her anyway.  I need the practice.  I'm guessing guys her age don't know shit about flirting, or at least the guys she knows don't.  Zoe doesn't make many requests or demands during the shoot and I get worried so I take her aside and ask her how it's going for her.  "It's perfect dad - just how I wanted it to go. No bullshit props or anything. Kelly's cool."  Well good enough then.  The shoot goes on for about 2 hours.  I notice the contract says 90 minutes, but we lose track of time.  Kelly seems to enjoy Zoe as a model and we bond over our shared love of photography.  We trade journalism school stories. We joke and flirt some more.  Then Kelly calls a halt to the session.  She gives us a time frame for when she'll be done editing the session and when we can see the finished product.  We say our goodbyes and leave.



  We have another stroll down a few blocks and I take Zoe to her favorite Chinese restaurant - a throwback sort of place where you can still see entire Chinese families eating dinner and the menu is dotted with old school dishes like Peking Duck, Thousand Year Old Egg, Mu Shu and Hot Pot.  It reminds me of the Chinese restaurant I worked at many decades ago when I was Zoe's age.  I love to come to this place for lunch on my own once in a while - its comforting.  But its fun for dinner also, just to see how much the kid loves it.  We spend a leisurely hour or so eating then its time to go home. The prez is coming the next day and my work will begin at 4 am.









Thursday is barely news as I'm walking to work in the pre-dawn darkness.  It's just me and the silent streets.  Its very peaceful and I tell myself I should do this more often, but I know that's not gonna happen.  My solitude's interrupted by some random guy on a bike sailing out of nowhere.  He's towing a Burly with God-knows-what inside. There's no kid in there - it looks like a jumble of junk or garbage.  The guy's a mobile hoarder.  He brakes a little right before he passes me on the sidewalk and the screech of his brakes makes me jump.  The Zen of my walk is ruined.  I tramp the rest of the way to my kitchen.  I know the bike hoarder is riding aimlessly around the streets because every once in a while I hear his brakes in the near distance. Then I hear him getting closer and about a half block from work I sense he's right behind me.  I resist the urge to give him the clothesline as he whooshes past me once again.  Its a reminder to me that the world is full of lonely, half crazed people.

  I get to work and the place is humming with activity.  It's 5 and the president's food is nearly done and arranged on platters ready for transport across town to the venue.  I help load it out while I do quality control and counting.  When the truck's loaded we all gather for a huddle to go over the check list.  Some have a prayer - I silently thank and entreat Lord Ganesh to insure our success in this endeavor.  I also send a shout out to Carl Sagan and Richard Feynman wherever they may be - two of my personal patron saints.  The front of the house crew going out to the factory have to be there by 7 with everything they need.  They will be locked in and essentially trapped there by security at 9 a.m.  The president isn't set to arrive until 2, but this is the way things go for the Leader of the Free World these days.  With all the hatred, desperation and confusion amongst the populace - its best to take no chances.  Our crew arrive and the catering manager texts me that there are snipers on the roofs and men with automatic weapons wandering around.  Soon there is no more communication from the venue.  Secret Service has blocked all cell phone and internet traffic for the duration. I'm reminded that I recently read that Michigan, according to the ATF, has over 50 active citizen militia groups.  When the shooting part of the class war begins, my state will likely be a flash point. We're a cradle for domestic terrorism.  Grim thoughts for such a great day.


While my bit for the prez is done, I still have plenty to do this morning.  I help my sous chef prepare the picnic for  200 hungry maintenance staffers.  Because of the heat and threat of rain they have decided to have the picnic inside which makes things much easier.  I help J, my sous, get things set up and then I go focus on the last two meals pf the week for the Johnson Controls divas.  Today is Italian theme so I make a  spinach, and tomato frittata with fontina hollandaisse for breakies and a rustic baked chicken dish called Santori with chanterelle risotto for lunch.  My vegan person is not here today so I don't have to worry about her throwing a fit about the chanterelle mushrooms in the risotto.  Not to mention all the dairy on the menu for the day.  The food goes out and I spend the rest of the morning and lunch putting together an order and getting some prep lists done for my sous who'll spend the next day chopping and slicing product for the wedding coming up on Saturday.   Soon I'm home and basking in the glow of a job done well for the prez.  Lots of compliments on the service, food, etc.  A brief pat on the back, a celebratory glass of sweet tea and falling asleep while episode 37 of Mad Men plays out.  In this business there is very little resting on the laurels.  The next day brings on the next client's event and another day of challenges to be met, people to please, money to make.  The week is capped off with a wedding reception for 300 people.  A simple affair.  The groom is a former employee who has a penchant for barbeque.  So its a picnic menu set up at Windmill Island, one of our approved catering venues.  The party is pretty laid back with the guests wandering around the beautiful gardens on the island eating barbeque, drinking micro-brew and admiring the the De Zwann windmill from which the island received its name.  De Zwann was imported from the Netherlands as a gift to the city and I was there to cater it's rededication years ago after it had been painstakingly re-fitted for actual use as a working grist mill.  But that's another catering story....

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
mallorys_camera
Aug. 16th, 2011 01:14 am (UTC)
This is the exoskeleton. Flesh it out a little bit w/True Life Dialogue From the Trenches (that conversation you had with Vicodin Boy about casting cats in a YouTube History of the Saints was classic) and you got yourself a food memoir!

They sell pretty well.
chezsci
Aug. 16th, 2011 03:44 am (UTC)
Yup - just a framework. Getting the facts down. Going to cannibalize and sanitize it for the corporate website. Then carve out a version for the Rest of Us.
basefinder
Aug. 16th, 2011 04:44 am (UTC)
What an amazing week!
crookedfingers
Aug. 16th, 2011 02:56 pm (UTC)
work
sounds all so exhausting! lovely pics of your daughter-peace
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )