Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favorite establishments.
I had been cooking at a lodge in a national park a year before I got that job. When I returned from Alaska, I worked for some big-name chefs around town. I got this call from an old friend of mine who was opening up a new place, a burger bar, that involved big money and benefits. I quit my jobs—all three of them—and worked like crazy: I was sleeping in the restaurant and drinking a lot. I was 25 years old, doing blow and everything, but this was my first real job as a chef.
We got great reviews, which made us even busier and kept me there longer than before. Eventually, I just kind of lost it.
It was a Thursday night, specifically, when that happened. There was this vegan woman who was a friendly regular, and I'd made sure to make her something really special every time. Her name was Pam. That night, I punched something nice through the ticket machine for Pam while we were getting crushed. I was busy making something for her while we were in the weeds. There was a bartender upstairs who I didn't really know but seemed like a nice guy, or so I thought. We didn't interact much other than when I asked for him to make me a shift drink at the end of my workday. I had been obsessed with the stupid salad that we had on the menu at the time, and if people ordered dressing on the side, I thought it looked clunky, so I made sure that the restaurant staff understood that you couldn't order the salad dressing on the side. Our kitchen was in the basement, so when the food runner came down to tell me that there was a problem, she was kind of sheepish in relaying what that bartender had said to her. I told her to explain the policy to him, and she responded, "Uh, I think you should go talk to him."
I walked upstairs to talk to him, and he told me something along the lines of, "You need to do exactly what I say, you need to learn how to be a chef, get your ass back downstairs, and do whatever the fuck you need to do to get the job done." I was horrified. I just saw red. When I walked back downstairs, my friend, who is the current chef there, was busy filling up gigantic bottles of brown mustard. I grabbed one, walked into the completely full dining room, made my way over to the bar, and projectile hosed this guy with a bottle of mustard. When I looked over, Pam was standing right next to me, and all I could think to ask was, "Pam, how was your vegan sandwich?"
I went back and cooked on the line, and an hour later, I got canned. That was a good thing, because I probably would have been dead if I continued working there much longer.
The story traveled around our restaurant community, and somehow ended up on NPR's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" which was pretty embarrassing. I also picked up the name, "Colonel Mustard," a title that has followed me around ever since.
I was young, dumb, and full of cum.
I couldn't keep working like that. Luckily, by the time the story had circulated, I had already returned to my old jobs and had kept up a good rapport with my former bosses, so it didn't affect my job status. They, of course, were probably chuckling in the corner about it for a while, and probably still are. I get it.
Every time I went to a restaurant for two years after that, restaurant staff would set a bottle of mustard on the table and ask, "Can I get you some mustard?" There's even a shot special in a bar in town that's called "Colonel Mustard." A bartender squirts mustard into your mouth with a shot of Old Grand-Dad whiskey. It's $1. I'm a tequila drinker, so it's not for me.
I'm not sure what I learned from squirting mustard in someone's face, except that it's important to forget about talent, because talent means nothing. Being a cook is really all about hard work.