Friday, August 31, 2007

Good News, Bad News....

What a week.....
For all those who wrote, called, prayed, etc. for Brendan: thank you. He is reasonably fine. Let us just say that he worked four hours on Monday, eight on Tuesday and Wednesday, fourteen on Thursday and fifteen today (Friday). Since this is only at one job instead of his normal three, that is still at a recovery pace. His skin mostly grew back. We Irish are not good with ultra-violet....but are great with cuts, burns and whiplash. Please Sir, can I have another?
In the middle of this joy, we had a facilities inspection by the local health department. The timing was suspicious to me since I was on the radio talking about my health inspector, Roger B.....and about official corruption. Then: Presto!! We get inspected....
Wait, wait! That came out wrong.
Scott Dick and I were talking on 540 KRXA....the Tasty Planet Show....about the whole Chinese crappy shite situation.
I mentioned that some level of corruption in public service is not so bad....just so it is ethical corruption.
Example: I worked in New York City at the old Colony Restaurant. We had Jacque Kennedy, Truman Capote, Cordelia Biddle Duke Robertson, etc.....and we had rats. The building (667 Madison at 61st Street also housed John Springer....Elizabeth Taylor's agent. It also housed the apartment of my friend Eve Tartar Brown, who I did not meet until I moved to Carmel Valley twenty years later.
Anyway, the place had been built in 1900. It had three basements. And rats. The rats would invade the dry storage in basement 2, grab giant cereal boxes (Cordelia came in for Corn Flakes) and carried them up three storeys.....we found them underneath the banquets in the formal dining room. Our bartender used to go down to basement 3 and shoot them on his brake with his pistol (.38 short) that he always carried.
Marcel the Insane Waiter from Marseille....also always armed (.22 automatic) would sometimes join him. Marcel wore a tuxedo from the 20's that he found in the employee locker room in Basement 3. It had a human tooth in the watch pocket. This amused Marcel, and he kept it as a talisman.
I was the wine steward, at least at first. The wine cellar was in Basement 2. Being 22 and broke and overworked, I would sleep in the wine cellar. We had an exterminator that would come in every night at midnight and lay out crazy poison in the basements.
The poison was so crazy that legally he had to come back in the morning and take it out.
This was cool, because I had an alarm clock.
Still, we had rats. We would find the tunnels in the main kitchen. We would pack the tunnels with poison and steel wool, spackle over the gap, and put sheet steel over the whole.
The fucking rats would chew through it all. In a week.
So....the health inspector.
This guy could shut us down in a minute for the rodent thing. Meanwhile the kitchen was Swiss-run and spotless. We had Jacque Fucking Kennedy eating lunch every day with Truman Fucking Capote.
I refer you to "Invasion of The Body Snatchers" version two with Donald Sutherland.
Health Inspector: "It is a rat turd"
Chef: "It is a caper!"
"Rat turd!"
"OK, then eat it!"
The way it worked was the health inspector would come by. The entire restaurant would scramble. Delaying tactics ensued. Someone covered all the uncovered things in the walkin. Rat turds were hunted and swept. The prettiest cocktail waitress was sent in to Mimi for primping. The bookkeeper found $400 and a clean envelope.
We always left one egregious violation in plain view: the can opener was never cleaned.
The inspector would triumphantly write us up for a dirty blade on the industrial can opener.
We would offer lunch; he would reluctantly accept, given his busy schedule. The pretty cocktail waitress would sit with him to explain the menu (in French).
The inspector would mention: his Little League team; his involvement with the Alliance Francaise, or the Sons of Italy, or Irish Northern Aid. The envelope would be produced. The cocktail waitress would explain The Colony Restaurant's long term committment to Little League, Irish Northern Aid or whatever.
Café filtre would be served. Game over.
Meanwhile, it was not a bribe. It was the recognition of one set of professionals for the goals and dreams of another set of professionals in difficult circumstances.
If we had had actual dangerous health violations, the inspector never would have passed us.....or the donation would have been huge, and at a level much higher.
If we had not made a donation to whatever cause......the existence of a single rat turd would have shut down our entire operation....
A well oiled machine.
The problem with the Chinese is that the American inspectors work for a government that thinks that government oversight is bad. The fiction with our imports is that foreign governments will inspect any food sent our way to US standards.........standards of a government that thinks standards are bad. Wink. Wink.
In China, Mexico, El Salvador, Peru, Canada.....and everywhere else on the planet...the inspectors have gotten the wink. They are taking the evelope, groping the pretty cocktail waitress, ignoring the rat turds.....and the leaking cess pool in the back yard, the janitor spraying DDT on the meat, the rotting meat in the 50 degree walkin and the whole bit.
Bad corruption.
Our first health inspection in California was 30 years ago. We were fresh from New York.
We had just slaughtered two wild boar sows we were raising illegally and had the carcasses; tick, flea and shit lathered carcasses in garbage bags in our walkin at the place where Heller Estate has their tasting room.
The health guy stuck his head in the door at 10am and said: "Hey...I have to hit a couple of restaurants before lunch......I will be back about 2pm. OK?"
Shit. Valentine and I borrowed a truck, and loaded the wild boar into more bags and shovelled them into the back of the trucks and drove them away. We went to the bank, cashed in every nickel we had, and got $400 and put it in a clean envelope. We had no lunch or pretty cocktail waitress.
Al the Inspector came back at 2pm. Went through the place....and wrote us up for the dirty industrial can opener. We followed him around, giving him significant looks and asking about Little League, Irish Northern Aid and the Sons of Italy....all the while flapping the clean envelope.
We liked Al. We didn't want to insult him with mere dollars. He didn't seem to know anything about Irish Northern Aid.
California....who knows?
Anyway, we got inspected on Wednesday. Roger B was interested to meet us. He ingnored the lack of quarry tiled, coved floors with floor drains. He ignored the raw pine ceilings over the stove. He ignored the patently inoperable Ansul fire suppression system.
I told Roger my New York story.
He laughed: "We don't need an envelope here. We work in the context of a given place, and try to make each place better and make sure everyone is safe."
Roger knew what had been here before.....and how far we have come.
We got an "A". I just need to find my Serve-Safe certificate.....and the fucking flies.
Well, during get flies.
That was the second part of the good news.
The Bad News: The Carmel Pine Cone found us.
Now, my friend Mary does all the actual work at the Pine Cone, and comes does her Dad.
The food people had never been here, though.
We revel in having much better food than everyone, with more attention to sources, ethics and attention in detail.....and selling it for cheap, with a rude waitress on a cheap table with a plastic folding chair.
Anyway, the Pine Cone food lady loved her meal....and got it. The weird Cachagua Store mix of good food, camaraderie, almost bad music, rude but loving service......
She mentioned that we are the "best kept dining secret on the Monterey Peninsula". Where we are sold out two weeks in advance with just 659 phone numbers. Some secret.
Then she gave the URL of The Blog.
Awwww, shit.
So much for word of mouth.
The straightest guy we had reading the blog before was Mr. Reese.....who outed us to Mr. Hatfield.....
For all you new people.....I apologize in advance for the language.
Pretend you have been invited into the kitchen of a nice restaurant after hours. This is the straight poop, with real names, and the actual language of the working class. We work hard enough that we don't have time or energy to filter our language or politics.....We don't hold anyone's politics against them....we just want the discussion.
Or not. Some of our favorite people we NEVER talk politics with. We love them too much.
If you think that our attitudes are important or have something to do with our skills or ability to take care of you as caterers or in our little restaurant......don't hire us and don't come out here.....please.
Honesty and Irony are in shorter supply than spotted owls....
"Live is Too Short to Drink Bad Wine."


Blogger Brian said...

Glad to hear Brendan is on the mend. Don't work the boy too hard now.

If it weren't for the recent accident somehow I expected a comment or two from you on the recent passing of one of your earliest celebrity catering clients, Merv Griffin.

11:06 AM  
Blogger charyn pfeuffer said...

Hey Michael,

Sorry to kiss and tell about the Store, but I don't get moved too often by the meals I eat on the Peninsula and the feast you prepared sent me to some mighty fine places I'd like to revisit. You're the one who gets it and as someone who travels around the world and eats for a living, discovering what you've created in Cachagua has made Carmel Valley an even nicer place to come home to.

Thank you,
Charyn Pfeuffer

3:08 AM  

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