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Kitchen Magician

Someone's in the cocina with Jason.

He bases this businesslike conclusion on the following hard data: Any restaurant person who sees the book will buy it.


Westword tests this theory at the Morton's of Chicago in LoDo, putting this question to assistant manager Anthony Anthony:

"Do you have any Spanish-speaking workers in the kitchen?"

Affirmative.

"Do you own a copy of this book? Have you ever seen it?"

Negative.

Anthony examines the book, then takes it back to the kitchen, where he amuses various employees by saying "Never put your hands in the disposal!" "Don't put anything wet near the fryer!" and "You will also owe me a case of beer if you make this mistake!" -- all in perfect, if oddly accented, Spanish. It occurs to him that, in a less lighthearted moment, he might want to make use of such phrases as "What hours can you work?" and "Green card."

His conclusion: "I have to have a copy of this book. Actually, I need several."

Sold -- to the man in the crisp black tuxedo, and to his corporate office.


Since 1997, Stainless Steel Translationshas sold more than 10,000 copies.

Now 31 and on his tenth printing, Holben has discovered that he doesn't do well sitting at home waiting for orders; through his window, he has too perfect a view of a certain neon tavern sign. So he's taken a flexible day job: He's now paid not just to deliver flowers, but to serve as a perp for hire, so private detectives in training can follow him on his delivery rounds, which are full of tight turns and unpredictable destinations. When Holben gets home, he sends out books and deposits checks.

His publishing inspiration didn't end in the kitchen. He's also published Spanish Phrases for Landscaping Professionals and is planning Spanish-to-English versions of both books. Although his idea of selling raucous Hawaiian shirts from alcohol-themed fabric didn't work, he's put that failure behind him (or will, as soon as he unloads the shirts on www.drinkingshirts.com).

The best ideas are simple, he says. Like his book.

"I knew everything that needed to be said," he explains, "and I said it."


Westword Exclusive!

Jason Holben's Kitchen Definitions, in Plain English

Assistant Manager: The worst position you can possibly have. Ass Man for short, appropriately. The minute you sign up for his salary, your hours double.

Bilingual:You know a little kitchen Spanish; the amigos know a little kitchen English. The kitchen is macho, male-dominated, ball-busting. Therefore, you know enough of the other language to give each other shit.

Dishpig: Dishwasher. Not a bad thing to be. Nobody fucks with you, and people are glad to have you around.

Monkey:Appended to the end of any kitchen job description -- cheese monkey, salad monkey, prep monkey.

Owner:Not worth demonizing. Profit margins are tiny. You have 25 employees drawing out a free pitcher of beer every night, you go broke.

Scrub: Cooks are scrubs. If you got a hot pan in your hand, you're a scrub. If you got a bankroll, you're a chef.

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