Back when I was still young enough to do such a thing, I spent my summers on the Eastern end of Long Island, cooking at various restaurants in East Hampton, Amagansett, and Springs. I got into restaurant work for the usual reasons, which didn’t include becoming a brilliant chef. What I wanted was to spend nights chasing experiences (and girls), days chasing waves (and girls), and show up for a dinner shift un-showered and wearing whatever happened to be lying on whatever floor I woke up on without drawing odd looks from the miscreants I worked with (and girls).
I loved working at restaurants. It seemed like every kitchen I ended up working in came with flying pans, crazy chefs, copious alcohol and cigarette consumption behind the line, and creative kitchen staff-only dishes like clams oreganata marijuana (great stuff if I recall correctly, which I almost assuredly do not).
With my priorities where they were, I didn’t learn as much as I wish I had in those kitchens, and my memories don’t go much beyond two simple rules: everyone that doesn’t work in the kitchen (besides the bartender) is an enemy, and don’t put good knives in a dishwasher. But not everyone I knew was more interested in hanging out than cooking. My friend Andrew, whom I met at a French bistro where we both worked, had gone to cooking school and actually knew something about food.
Andrew wasn’t in East Hampton that summer just to drink, chase girls and inhale the nitrous from all the whipped cream chargers in the walk-in. He could certainly down more than his share of Slivovitz (which I found rank) and Elephant beer (7.2% alcohol), and he’d wrecked a car or two and passed out in some odd places, but Andrew was there to cook. And the girls thing, too.
Andrew, I, and a lesbian chef whose name eludes me all shared a house that summer (hilarity ensued as we all chased after the same girls), and it was at a poker party in that house that Andrew hipped me to what I thought at the time was a odd pairing: chicken and sausage. He combined them in couscous, got me wasted on swine and poultry, and proceeded to fleece me at cards. It was that good.
I haven’t seen Andrew since his wedding party over 15 years ago (a party at which I reconnected with the lovely woman to whom I’m now married) and I haven’t worked a shift in a kitchen in a lot longer than that, but I still have three great things from my days cooking in the Hamptons: my Ludwig Schiff offset serrated knife, a love of chicken and sausage snuggled into the same dish, and fond memories of pastry chefs screaming and winging dead whipped cream chargers across the kitchen after very un-whipped cream poured out and ruined a beautiful desert.