By MEGAN MACKANDER
What’s a good-old-fashioned recipe for a bitter, passive-aggressive waitress?
Take a bowl of frustration, add some pessimism and just a dash of finger-clicking customer rudeness before garnishing with revenge. Serve immediately or until otherwise fired.
Larissa Dubecki is the first to admit she was never a good waitress. In fact, she says she was downright terrible.
And after more than a decade facing demanding customers and filthy kitchens, she has moved to the other side of the dinner table to become a sought-after food critic.
The 43-year-old has put down the napkin and put pen to paper to spill the beans on the hospitality industry in her memoir Prick with a Fork.
From dingy internet cafes, to her first job at a restaurant she affectionately dubbed the ‘Il Crappo Italiano’, Dubecki has experienced it all.
The Melbourne-based writer says if her bad attitude could be subject to copyright, her 12 years as a waitress would have left her “obscenely wealthy”.
“Sullen insolence was my personal trademark, diligently honed and perfected over time,” Dubecki says.
Prick with a Fork explores the ins and outs of what she says it’s really like in the restaurant kitchen. Dubecki dishes up the dirty secrets of the hospitality industry, and not everything comes up as sweet as chocolate cake.
If you have ever considered ordering the steak, think again.
“If a chef is asked to cook a steak more, I have seen them throw the steak on the floor first, then put it back on the grill. I don’t know why they do it,” Dubecki says.
“Steaks are the most common thing to come back to the kitchen – everyone thinks they are an expert and that they know better.
“In one of the gastro pubs I worked in, I once had a bartender pee in an espresso of this regular customer who was really rude and never said please or thank you. Be kind to your server, you never know what could happen.”
‘There’s a lot of cockroaches in kitchens.’
Her best cringeworthy dinner table tale comes in the form of a cockroach baked into a pizza.
“The cockroach just crawled from the prep bench onto a pizza before it went in to the oven,” Dubecki says.
“It could have passed for an olive if not for the legs sticking feebly out of the congealed mire.
“There’s a lot of cockroaches in commercial kitchens – more than you think.”
When the dodgy hygiene habits and long hours are swept under the rug, Dubecki says waitressing can be an emotionally draining job.
“You are not you when you are serving people,” she says.
“It is like being an actor because your title is waitress, it’s not Larissa.
“You are this person who has to recite lines and say the right things at the right points and observe cue marks.
“I was passive aggressive because I needed to put on some sort of emotional armour to be able to cope in a job where you do get confronted with the best and worst of human nature.
“You are dismissed as someone with no feelings and it was hard to be dismissed so lightly, so often over the course of a shift.
“People who don’t say please or thank you and click their fingers at you might not sound like anything, but over the course of a year waiting tables, it really adds up and it can chip away at your self-esteem, especially when a lot of these staff are in their 20s and are grappling with their identity and trying to become an adult.”
‘Waitressing is like going into battle.’
Dubecki says waitresses are “the angry sandwich” of the hospitality industry, caught between hostile customers and even more hostile, busy chefs.
She peppers her tales with horror stories from other waitresses, chefs and restaurateurs in a narrative style similar to John Birmingham’s He Died with a Falafel in his Hand.
Dubecki likens waitressing to going into battle and says revenge is a necessary part of the armoury that helps redress the power imbalance between server and served.
Ask for a “hot, but not too hot, skinny latte with a side of full fat cheesecake” and Dubecki says a customer can expect a full fat latte made very, very slowly.
She says intolerable foodies who insist they know everything about every dish can expect similar treatment.
“The number of hours spent debating whether a steak is rare or medium-rare could solve the whole Israeli-Palestinian conflict with time left over to catch a movie afterwards,” she writes.
“And so what if you could make the dish at home for a quarter of the price? Maybe you should.
“There was a woman … who complained the bouillabaisse was too fishy.
“It was indeed fishy, because it’s a fish-based dish. Then she complained the onion wasn’t cooked enough…it was fennel.”
On eventually becoming a food critic, Dubecki says “all she can do is laugh”.
“I never thought I’d be a food critic… the world works in mysterious ways.”
This post originally appeared on ABC News.
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