This week’s installment of Fast Food covers thoughts on white wine and tough working hours. If you run a restaurant you better organize your itinerary tight—before you disappear into the loaded night. Fast Food is a weekly blog about cooking and the micropolitics of dining by Thomas Schoenberger and Max Dax. We pick up the conversation where they left off in episode 18. The photo was taken at Harry’s Bar, Venice.
Photo: Max Dax
Dax: Let’s imagine it for once: what would happen if you acted against the philosophy of the restaurant?
Schoenberger: You’d lose your identity. And if this happens, people who are also lacking identity will feel invited to enter your restaurant. Within no time you will not recognize your restaurant anymore. First step is ordering a latte macchiato. Second step is two guests sharing one salad. Third step is ordering a latte macchiato and a fruit juice at the same time—for dinner. As a caterer you have to absolutely keep people like that away from your place or you are doomed. Point is that not every waiter thinks holistically. That’s why they are waiters or cooks and not lieutenants or even the boss. It’s actually simple arithmatics.
Dax: You mean discussions with the waiters and the cooks have to be avoided too?
Schoenberger: Absolutely. That’s why gastronomy, like the arts, can never be democratic. To quote Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and Charles Saatchi: “Everything is connected to everything else.” Waiters can’t understand it.
Dax: But you cannot run a restaurant without discussing anything. Even if you believe in chains of command, you have to have an open ear for your people as they are your antennas.
Schoenberger: That’s true. Like Macchiavelli suggested, you have to gather people around you—people you trust, consiglieri. Of course I’d discuss with my head chef what to purchase on a daily basis. Who’ll drive to the fish market? Who’ll get the meat? Of course you discuss topics like that.
Dax: OK. And the quintessence is…?
Schoenberger: There has to be an infinite supply of beer and white and red wine and schnapps. If you run out of that, you’re done. And, of course, the food has to be good—according to the philosophy. If you can guarantee these two basic rules, you’ve already scored.
Dax: Why are you using a football term?
Schoenberger: Don’t they say “a game lasts 90 minutes”? We’d always say “The game starts at seven.” That’s when we’d open the doors. It’s all about the daily grind—and about tactics.
Dax: Everybody knows the rules…
Schoenberger: You better not debate with the referee. To this day I’d say that this moment of opening the doors at 7 p.m. was a magic moment. Always. Because it would set the man-machine in motion. Nobody would talk or discuss anything—until the last plate was served.
Dax: I remember the moment after very, very well.
Schoenberger: The last plate was always celebrated. The crew knew once again that “Now we’re talking”—in the very sense of the phrase. We’d drink for an hour or so. And then everybody would go their seperate ways and disappear into the loaded night.
Dax: I always loved to listen to you guys discussing what went wrong and what could be improved at the next round-up.
Schoenberger: Yeah, I remember. If you happened to sit with us, you were always listening. The discussions often went like this: “Why didn’t you bang out the bisteccas when that huge order came in at 9.30 p.m.? We had to wait for an hour!”
Dax: Weren’t you prepared?
Schoenberger: Don’t you work in an office yourself?
Dax: How do you mean?
Schoenberger: Don’t you encounter situations such as staffing shortages? How do you react if your printer runs out of toner? Do your people communicate via ESP? Or do you have to tell them? Why didn’t anyone call the technician when the stove broke?!
Dax: I sometimes have to tell them. But I actually do experience situations of telepathy quite frequently. Still I do agree, it’s key to sit down together on a regular basis, be it a lunchbreak at the Electronic Beats office or the pre-battle dinner at the Restaurant Schönberger.
Schoenberger: If you don’t solve problems at once they tend to pile up. That’s why the midnight dinner at the Schönberger was so important for everyone. We’d eat what was left and discuss strategy and tactics. We’d have some pasta, some meat or fish—and white wine.
Dax: Why always white wine for the crew, never red?
Schoenberger: An ice-cold, light white wine picks you up. A well-tempered heavy red wine makes you lush. White wine kicks in faster than beer. You can savor a good bottle of Niebaum-Coppola by the fireplace in the drawing room, but as a waiter, after a tough working shift, you’ll probably prefer a white wine.
Dax: What about the cooks?
Schoenberger: Show me a chef who wouldn’t drink a bottle of ice-cold white wine after his shift. I don’t know any cook who’d leave the restaurant to read his Peter Handke after work and who’d wake up early in the morning to jog. That’s bullshit. To cook in a restaurant means you crave a tough lifestyle. It might not be a very healthy lifestyle, but it’s certainly exciting. Due to your extreme working hours as a cook or waiter you are excluded from the outside world. You work and live with the people around you. You don’t enjoy concerts or theater plays, you don’t go to the movies or to museums. You drink when others sleep and you sleep when other people work.
Dax: What was your most extreme experience in that regard?
Schoenberger: Probably when I worked for Sabatini in Florence. The shift there would start at 9 a.m. to prepare lunch, sometimes even as early as 8 a.m. We’d have lunch at 11 a.m. and down half a liter of white wine each. Just to get started. And from then on we’d execute the pranzo. We’d have two hours of leisure time during the afternoon hours—if everything was well-prepared. If not, we had to work the preparing shift until 6 p.m. and to cook and serve until 10 p.m. A late supper afterwards, a liter of white wine—and then we were free to leave into the loaded night. Or to put it into more precise words: we were spat out into the night.
Dax: For the second time you use the term ‘loaded’? Why?
Schoenberger: If you cook in a kitchen for days and nights, shift after shift, the crew usually starts to become tight. You’d leave the restaurant to move on to a dark corner of the city where you’d continue to drink and play cards or whatever. And from there you’d go home—probably not alone. It didn’t matter if we were doing shifts in Florence, Tuscany, or in Hamburg St. Pauli—the night was always sexually loaded.
Dax: And what happened then?
Schoenberger: We’d go to work again. Feed the people. Six days a week. We’d stay in bed on our day off.
Read Fast Food 20 next week.