Cannon FodderWith a grimace I plate veg ribbons, the wrong side
of hot. Courgette, carrot and parsnip, thirty seconds
on the boil, fingers shot through with pain.
The waitress, JoJo, says, Why not use a spoon?
Chef replies, He doesn’t need one, he’s a chef.
A badge of pride, and yeah, okay, I feel my ego rise,
one of the tribe. A globe set askew, every service
a skirmish, each seventy hour week a battle
survived, no wonder burnt wrecks litter this field.
In our heads we are warriors,
but come payday there’s the downgrade,
foot soldiers in a trench that’s minimum wage.
And yet here’s the rub, when you’ve no need
to talk, when you know which gap to fill,
when you’re buzzing with the thrill.
Six things held in hand, catch the sauce
before it catches, pivot just in time, watch it all
reduce down to that moment where we break into flight.
Butcher’s KnotI debone and fold the roll of flesh,
make that switch from free to form,
carcass to joint, all trussed and tied.
Take a standing end and a running end.
On the kill room floor, my noose
pulled tight, options narrowed,
windpipe crushed, I thrash and gag.
Loop the runner over then around.
Did we turn ourselves domestic first,
your tether always shortened,
my spine removed by expert hand?
Slip the knot, loop again and finish it off.
A self-laid trap, hamstrung
in this butcher’s garrotte, the true mark
of a chef, all trussed and tied.
edged, his mouth a pink scowl. My mind stalls,
edged, his mouth a pink scowl. My mind stalls,
Regimental AnarchyThe Sous comes for me, all bluster and blame, his lips
spittle edged, his mouth a pink scowl. My mind stalls,
scatter gunned and strung out to dry. After, he makes
to deny, claims I got it wrong; and memory fractures,
the first marble of doubt as adrenal shot lances each thrust
and parry. A bad day, just got worse, a mountain of checks
to head a roll of mistakes. So, while all this is true,
I’ve no idea how to tell cause from effect.
Do I blame the man who set the section? Escoffier
made a roux, the mother sauce from which all this flows.
Turned cook to chief, put a bayonet on every station.
Or is it the Sous, that practiced wanker, his recipe book
a compendium of power plays? He rounds on me,You think
I’m a piece-of-shit, chef? For duck, what did I say? I want the pan
to smoke. My insides burn, my mind cartwheels, but I clamp my tongue,
I need this job, Yes chef, no chef, what option but to suck it up?
Maybe scale the summit, one rung at a time. Pot Wash, Commis
Chef, Demi Chef, Chef de Partie, Demi Sous Chef, Chef de Tournant,
Sous Chef, Chef de Cuisine. Escoffier, who wrote this code
by which we cook. Dismantled and streamlined: the tasks split,
the labour divided, the parts replaced, the methods of science hung
from a military frame. Another flurry of checks, another duck comes on,
another smoking pan and one more chance to redeem,
but he changes tack, Look at your fucking section, chef.
You call that clean-as-you-go, chef? I’m grafting to teach you.
Is it worth it, chef, what with you being such a messy fuckwit?
He keeps on and my lidded fury jumps and rattles, Well, as a teacher,
it ain’t as if you got the chops. He comes, pan raised and swung, connects
with the shelf behind, as I step forward, put us nose tip to nose bridge.
I tower over him, laugh, say I’m done, with this service, efficient as war,
with this kitchen, systematic as slaughter. Done with the way
the world gets broken, the way empires are won.
Orders followed, treasure stolen, always one piece at a time.
An Elegant SolutionThe American Diner, it’s location a glass fronted prime,
convenience under cover, the known variables of a revolution
that shops. The tables exponential, burgers, steaks and pancakes,
workers and suits on a fifty minute clock. How we floundered and failed
to keep up, all our phrases in a different base. Each dish a composite,
every party a square root, each factor placed in a specific bracket.
Table four delayed by an egg not fried, table ten a salad forgotten,
as sixteen and twenty ask how much longer?
Then the day it changed, convergence, I spoke my expressions,
brought the equation to balance. Drop those fries now,
how long on the burger? Is that calamari battered?
The surge of raw joy on finding coherence, value multiplied
as we became one. And I remember my thinking, idle and curious,
imagine a life where we did this with things that mattered?
Si Griffiths is a poet, chef and community activist living in Machynlleth. Raised in Walsall, in the West Midlands, and from a working class background, his poems, essays and short stories have appeared in Spelt, Lumpen, Sarai Reader, Unthology, Permaculture Magazine, Flesh: Bodies and Technology, Clean Slate and Sparks. He has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa and has worked within a variety of editorial collectives and publishing projects.
He’s recently been commissioned by the Arts Council of Wales to produce Poetry Gym, a series of videos to inspire NHS workers in Wales to write poetry. These poems are taken from a pamphlet in progress, ‘Debone and Fold’, which focuses on the catering industry, exploring our relationships with what we eat and those who produce and serve it. Twitter: @ontheoutbreath
Art: Table Service, (banner, collage and text fragments): A VISPO Glitch by Robert Frede Kenter (c) 2022. Twitter: @frede_kenter. Robert Frede Kenter is a widely published writer and visual artist & the publisher & EIC of Ice Floe Press.