Three years ago we did A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Sprite. It was the tenth show and final show in the grounds of Ripley Castle, and utterly joyful. I miss that company every summer. The last show, as was customary, was a Sunday matinee and then I jumped in my car and drove to Liverpool. I had three white shirts I’d borrowed from the costume store, and a black suit off the peg at Tesco. I was off to manage a restaurant at The Open Golf Tournament.
I know it’s a cliché of the actor’s day job, being a waiter, but I was an actor that had never set foot in a kitchen. I’d never bussed a plate. I had no clue how silver service works apart from occasionally having received it. My friend Tristan knew how broke I was and had persuaded them I was an experienced manager. I got added to the list and panicked when I got the email. I called him up and he assured me I’d be fine. “I’ll be managing the bar in your kitchen. Anything you don’t get just ask me. It’s common sense and hard work. You’ll be fine.”
Then two weeks before we were due to start, Tristan booked Three Musketeers filming in Prague. Bastard. I finished Midsummer Night’s Dream having spent a week on the internet googling “how to manage a restaurant” and “silver service place settings.” while cursing Tristan under my breath. I frequently considered emailing them and telling them I couldn’t do it. But I wanted the challenge. By the time I got to Liverpool on Sunday night I was both excited and terrified.
Tuesday morning a team of 18 waiters descend on me and I’m having to tell them what’s what with very little practicable knowledge.
“Al, Where’s the slop bucket?”
*What’s a slop bucket?* “Where do you think it might be?”
“Next to the KPs”
*The what?* “Let’s have a look shall we. You lead.”
“Ah here it is.”
*Ah that’s the slop bucket. So they’re called KPs* “Yes. Right where you said it would be!” *Phew*
I got on well with my team, who thankfully all had more experience in kitchens than I had. I felt like one of those aristocratic officers with no combat experience.
I’d have been fine if I hadn’t had to double as kitchen manager. I had to call the pass.
“How do you want me to call the pass?” (The pass is the interface between floor and kitchen).
The head chef smiles and looks me full in the face. He’s old enough to be my dad and he knows his job so well. “Ahh just do it like you usually would, mate.” He says with a twinkle.
“Yeah, but, you know it’s it’s probably best you tell me the way you like it done. You know, different chefs different preferences. Just talk me through what you’d expect…”
He was wise to me. Came up to me on the third day and slung his arm over my shoulder. “You’d never been in a kitchen before had you. Good job. You’d never know it now. But I had you on the first day.”
“I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“That’s right, mate. Course you don’t. Now it’s been a long shift and it’s a hot day. Me and the lads are thirsty, if you know what I mean…”
I can be honest about it now as they’ve asked me back. This time I’m definitely on the floor and not on the pass. Hopefully it’ll be a different head chef… But this week I’m going to be very very busy in a hot kitchen. And occasionally looking at horses.