I worked at a little cafe in college. It was a run by an odd man, who was largely absent, with questionable ethics and strange business practices. Which all ended up working to my benefit. I was young and slightly lazy, as long as I showed up for my shift and turned in the appropriate amount of money every day, I was lavishly ignored. There were no comment cards, focus on customer service, or unnecessary protocol, I did what I wanted. And what I wanted, other than giving out free muffins every time I forgot to ring in an order, was to spend time in the kitchen.
It was a small, poorly run brunch spot in Old Town Pasadena, right on the Rose Parade route. Our biggest draws were Granola French Toast with Vanilla Bean Sauce, Sour Dough Toads in A Hole With Chorizo Gravy, Pumpkin Pancakes year round and fantastic cappuccinos as well as a kitchen expertly managed by our overworked chefs Nacho & Sergio.
I take pride in the fact that I was one of the few waitresses that they liked. I brought them “water” when we were busy, made runs to our inappropriately far away walk-in and took the blame for spoiled food when the boss would eventually show his face. The cooks, after all, were the heart of the place. I could be replaced in a heartbeat, but the entire restaurant pulsed through Nacho & Sergio.
Late one afternoon, as our new and overly ambitious new manager-of-the-moment decided to dust off the chalkboard sign to institute a Daily Specials program, I begged Nacho to teach me something. He laughed. And then put me to work making Red Snapper packets with parchment paper, butter and some vegetables. To this day, I still make these. Easy, healthy and ready to adapt to in-season produce.