The first time I cried at my job as a front–of–house hostess, I was already four months in.
I set down the iPad with the screen frozen on Yelp guest manager, stuffed my face into my palms, and slumped over the host stand with no regard to the customers enjoying their brunch four feet away. But rather than the guests at the tables, I felt more conscious that I had caught the food runners and our trainee hostesses off-guard. The mood would turn grey and it was all my fault. If my life were The Bear, adapted for a uniquely front-of-house hell, this was my "Sydney walking out."
Everyone who has worn black non–slip Skechers and waddled across a greasy dish pit floor could recite their own seven–minute Carmy monologue—one’s love letter to the fiercely astringent purgatory of food service on the other side of the check—and likely go on for much longer. There is a page to be written about every day in a food service job; books to be told of everyone’s careers.
Cheers to Jeremy Allen White, who was frustratingly spot on. His role as Carmy presents a young, compelled star chef as a personification of the intensity and fragility of men in a commercial kitchen: an undeniably captivating maelstrom to spend time with, either in person or through the screen.
His persona speaks eloquently to those who live the real lives behind the kitchen double doors, who participate in the unspoken solidarity on the 7 a.m. public transport commutes, where almost half of the feet planted on the floor are the same kind of black shoe.
On one particular Sept. 11, when the trolley to work was unusually empty, looking for those black shoes felt like safety before I unboarded at 19th Street station, where a man was shot and killed the afternoon prior. The march up the stairs of the station was like any other. Tumult is written into our job. We continue, because to choose otherwise is a luxury we can’t afford.
But we don’t have to tumble alone.
My rose goes out to the scrappy line cook with sleeves sketched in ink who carries heaping portions of ego. You’re not bothered by his peppery attitude though, maybe because he's wearing black non–slips instead of suede beige Madewell's. Sometimes I tiptoe and peer through the kitchen window for some extra chipotle mayo—takeout, por favor. But most of the time I’m just curious about the ballet occurring on the line, his hate steaming against the hollandaise.
Here’s another rose to the food runners who know every delivery guy asking you for the cellar keys, although they never remember their names. Even the stranger who's not one of the usual Sysco drivers, and is likely the plug in the back alley, but who always unloads the Giordano truck the quickest. Almost every restaurant has a side hustle happening behind the bins, but we keep it hush–hush because we like each others’ company almost as much as we hate being there.
And they will exit your life by disappearing. Six months later you’ll learn through the grapevine that they’re geeked out on staging at some pompous brasserie. Four dollar signs on Google reviews, and a menu no longer than a one–page tasting list. White tablecloths instead of screechy chairs. Utensils set by bussers, instead of napkins rolled ferociously by the closing hosts. He’s moved on to fine casual; an oxymoron like himself. From their hands erupt only the magic of gastronomy, but they feed their own gut biome the diet of a middle school lunch.
Hollering on expo while teetering on the brink of a meltdown, as tickets continue to spit, never looked as attractive until Jeremy Allen White. Or maybe it always has. How many crushes on the kitchen have been shamed, and how many have we talked ourselves out of? The tattoos are coping mechanisms and red flags. The short–fused frustration isn’t worth the fixer–uppering.
Seeing it through a screen turns it tasteful, enough that those not in our world pine for the turbulence of food service as romantic. Our in–the–weeds panic looks romantic in 16:9.
I don’t remember how many people saw me crying at the host stand besides my friends. But just like the shoes I counted on the 7:30 a.m. SEPTA trolley, there was safety in the tumult, and humor in our shared frustration. The mood wasn’t grey, but rather colorful with support.
After unrolling half a roll of toilet tissue to tap at my shiny nose and lashes, and catching my breath in the walk–in next to the beaten eggs and pico de gallo, I stood near the back of the kitchen, near the habitually ensuing Sunday brunch storm. I sliced lemons and vented. My Carmy listened and cursed out hollandaise.