real life

"Diary of a dish pig: My week as a kitchen hand."


Any terrible experience we have in life is fondly billed as ‘resilience-building’.

Getting locked out of your house arms you to face the world’s troubles; missing a train provides you with an opportunity to practise stress management; liking an ex’s four-week-old Instagram lets you preview the sensation of cardiac arrest.

For whatever reason, we like to put a positive-spin on the seemingly valueless.

I will argue the following, however:

The week I spent playing kitchen bitch in one of Sydney’s most punishingly gourmet (read: wanky) deli/butcher/food stores was without any redeeming qualities. Whatsoever.

There were none. Not one.

Here is a pie chart.

I know. I drew it myself. Thank you.

To say I was treated 'like dirt' would be unfair. On me.

We ignore dirt. Dirt harms no one.

I was treated like the wiggly worm inside the dirt - the one everyone is afraid to touch and when you do touch them they die because of the acids in your skin or something.

Then they're inevitably eaten by a bird.

Kate de Brito discusses what to do if you land your dream job and it just doesn't feel right, on Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues after audio.

The kitchen wasn't a regulation one.


It was a gourmet, French-run kitchen within an upmarket chicken shop/butcher/deli/food store. Not a restaurant. Four chefs, but they didn't all work at once.

It made pretty much everything you'd expect from a gourmet deli: gourmet sausages, potted sauces and dips, roast chooks, duck fat potatoes, creme brulée, strawberry tarts, duck liver pâte... with the only catch being it was all for takeaway.

No diners.

How hard could the job possibly be?

Day 1

9am - Outfit thrown at me. "Wear this." I feel like it's my first day at new school and I'm nervous but also excited.

9.28am - Introduced to Head Chef Remy. Remy is French. Qualities that describe Remy: short, French, angry. Qualities that do not describe Remy: tall, forgiving, tall.

10.41am- Led downstairs to my 'work station', which I had no idea was French for 'sweaty dungeon'. Shown how to work a tap. Right cold, left hot etc.

My face after finally figuring out which tap is which. Supplied.

10.45am - Asked by Head Chef to peel brown onions. Asks me to fetch bags from cool room because they are bigger than him and he cannot carry them. Count number of onions to peel and there are approximately infinity. Begin.

11.56am - "Lucas zis iz not how you peel ze onion, euh?" Unsure if question or statement.

"Oh um... what was that?"

"Lucas. Zis. Iz not. A good way to peelin ze onion..." Proceeds to show me how *correctly* to peel an onion.


"Is there something wrong with the way I was doing it though."

"Was wrong, uh?"

He misplaces an upward inflection on the end of every sentence which makes everything sound like a question. Also he definitely thinks my name is Lucas.

12.46am - Peel onions. Sob onion tears.

2pm  - Finish onions. Lunch break. Told to "bee bek wissin alf an our" which in English means "be back within half an hour".

2.28pm- Return to work station. Dirty pots and pans stacked. Big ones. Big enough to cook meal for small country. Clean.

3.01pm - Cleaaaaan.

4.41pm - Mop kitchen. Head Chef angry because he is short water is 'too soapy'. I AM MAKING THE KITCHEN TOO CLEAN.

6.11pm - Change out of chef uniform. Home.

Day 2

8.49am - Arrive. Mop kitchen. Empty bins.

9.30am - Spot Remy. "What do you want me on this morning chef?"

"You put garlic butter in ze snails Lucas."

The three questions that spring to mind, in no particular order, are:

  1.  Where is the garlic butter.
  2. Where are the snails.
  3. Do I have to catch them.

Head Chef gone before I have chance to convey apprehensions. Sous Chef (second-in-charge) shows me upstairs storeroom where garlic butter kept. Also, snails.

Like this, but dead. via iStock.

10.16am - Garlic butter into snail shells.


11.40am- Clean. Pots, pans, spatulas, pots, spatulas, big spoons, small spoons, wooden spoons, plastic containers, square plastic containers, oven trays, deeper oven trays.

1.22pm - Sweat. At cleaning station. No fresh air. You know those lightning-fast industrial dishwashers where you slide a tray in and pull the top down and everything is clean in 25 seconds? It's broken.

2pm - Lunch break.

2.30pm - Clean.

3.15pm - Sweat. Head Chef clomps down stairs to cleaning station.

"Lucas you need clean faster uh?"

I mean... do I? Is he telling me to? Unsure.

3.45pm - Clean. Think back to job description...

'Successful candidate will work beside chefs in day-to-day operation of kitchen and food prep...'

Have been cat-fished. Thought would be Junior Chef. Am really dish pig.

5.50pm - Kitchen clean down. Bleach table-tops. Mop floors. Dismantle sausage machine. Move parts downstairs. Clean parts. Move parts upstairs. Assemble sausage machine. Question purpose of life.

Day 3

9.20am - Hot day. 35 degrees celsius. No where I want to be less than in dark sweaty clean-up station.

9.50am - Introduced to many fish. They are dead. And also cut up. Instructed to "put all ze salmon sides into ze white tub uh?" which,I've learnt is an instruction rather than a question.

"Imma show you how to cure ze salmon uh Lucas?"

"Okay great."


"Pfft. Lucas. What is zis, 'Okay great'...". He mimics me saying 'okay great' with a face I will describe as 'offensive', and leave it at that.

"Um. As in like 'great let's do the salmon now'. I'm on board."

"Lucas. Zis is not how you respond if I ask you ze questions. If I say a question you say WEE CHEF."

Consider for some time. Conclude he probably means 'Oui Chef' - as in 'Yes Chef', but French - rather than 'Wee Chef' - as in a very small chef.

9.55am - Fetch 36 sides of salmon from cool room. Struggle, given one single salmon is approximately this big...

Did NOT know salmon was such a hefty fish. via iStock.

10.10am - Remy teaching me how to cure salmon. Mostly in French. Something about oil. Nod convincingly.

2pm - Clean.

2.21pm - Lunch break. Emerge from sweat dungeon. Sunlight blinding.

2.40pm - Consider not returning from lunch break. Shall I run? Could they find me?

2.48pm. Return. Am coward. Carry dirty stuff downstairs. Clean. Return clean stuff upstairs. Repeat.

6pm - Home.


Day 4

7.20am - Wake up. Skin pale. Face white. Body drained. Mind broken.

7.34am - Mental list of things I'd rather do than go to work: stick fork in eye; pash great white shark; gnaw off own finger.

7.55am - Text Head Chef.


Hi Remy. My cat passed away overnight, can I please have the day off? Thanks.

Send text. Feel guilty because cat has not passed away, and also because don't have cat.


Day 5

9am - Arrive. Everyone staring and WHAT IF THEY KNOW TRUTH ABOUT CAT.

9.16am - Sweep. Mop. Clean kitchen equipment. Look sad (because of fake dead cat).

10.30am - Head Chef clomps downstairs.



"Do ze salmon. Like I show you ze other day." Clomps back upstairs.


10.51am - Struggling to remember process. Put salmon fillets in white tub. 24 of them. Fill with 100 litres oil. Spill oil. Try mopping oil. Spread oil. Panic.

10.55am - Knee deep in oil and also tears. How... how does one clean oil? Hot water? Fire?

1pm - Finish cleaning oil from floor, walls. Lunch break. Form plan to quit.

1.40pm - Head Chef finds salmon. "You done ze terrible job Lucas. Is not good enough, uh?"

2pm - Clean cool rooms, store rooms with hot water and industrial soap (normal soap in big tub). Peel onions.


3.31pm - Head Chef sitting in office near staff room, facing computer. Knock on door. Give pre-rehearsed spiel about 'not being right for the job'.

"Uhhh Lucas okay, uh?"

He doesn't turn to face me. Says nothing more. Should...should I go? Does he understand I quit?


4pm - Clean tentatively. Still covered in oil. I smell like fish but most importantly am unsure if I quit or not. Is he expecting me to come back tomorrow? Should I leave now? Ugh.

5.21pm - Head Chef Remy walks past my sweaty dungeon. Ask for clarification.

"Excuse me Chef."

"Lucas. What?"

"Do you... should I leave now or...?"

"Why you are leaving, uh?"


" I... I quit before. Upstairs. Is that still okay?"

"What you mean you 'quit', uh?"

"Quit. Leaving. Finished. Not returning."


"Yes. Exactly"

"Au revoir."

That's it. Done. That's how he chooses to leave it. He walks upstairs as if he cannot get away from me fast enough. As if I am infected swine.

Joke's on him though. I kept the chef's hat from my uniform.

And I wear it around my house out of spite.

You can follow Luca Lavigne on Facebook, here

What's the worst job you've had? How long did you last? Let us know in the comments section below.