Tales of a Former Kitchen Bitch

Everyone had a hideous first job, right?

I was thinking about mine yesterday, as I tend to do whenever I hear the phrase “Holy mackerel!” {Which, thankfully, is not often.}

Because — and you can file this under Sad But True Facts About Me — that is the name of the little seafood restaurant where I was first gainfully employed.  Oh yes, the now-defunct-but-once-legendary-in-North-Jersey Holy Mackerel Seafood House.  Complete with a fabulous cartoonish fish logo sporting a halo.

My official title:  Kitchen Girl.

My unofficial title:  Kitchen Bitch.

I had to wear a paper hat shaped like a sailor’s cap, coupled with my oldest, grungiest clothes and an apron. It was very glamorous.

Basically, the other Kitchen Bitches and I had to ensure that all of the items were prepped for the cooks and the wait staff.  Here is a list of my job responsibilities in the kitchen, to the best of my recollection.  I may have blocked some of them out.

  • Open huge barrels of pickles (about knee-high), fish out said pickles from freezing and stenchy pickle juice.  Slice into spears and store in fridge.
  • Get yelled at by the cooks.
  • Clean, peel and de-vein hundreds and hundreds of cooked shrimp.
  • Get yelled at by the wait staff.
  • Prepare all desserts.  This entailed hanging by one’s waist over the side of an industrial freezer to scoop out hard ice cream from the bottom of large buckets.
  • Get yelled at by anyone who hadn’t yelled in the last five minutes.
  • And my personal favorite:  On an as-ordered basis, retrieve live lobsters from the tank with bare hands without sustaining a flesh wound.  Deliver to chefs for impending death by boiling water.  Let’s not forget prepping the butter and lemon on the side, along with the dignified lobster bib.

In sum:  I smelled like fish, ice cream and pickles.  While wearing an apron and a paper sailor’s cap.  Oh, and it was about 129 degrees in the kitchen, which gave my skin a nice sheen.  You know, I was basically living every 16 year-old girl’s dream — especially when all of the bus boys and dish washers in the kitchen were my classmates.

But there was an upside (besides the free seafood dinners):  I was friends with the other Kitchen Bitches.  And there were two of us working each shift, so we had a great time in the midst of pickle-slicing, shrimp-cleaning, ice cream-scooping and lobster-chasing escapades.  It’s a good thing we got along, because I can assure you that none of our friends outside of The Holy Mackerel Seafood House wanted to see us after we got out of work.  We just smelled.  Despite our very best efforts with a change of clothes and copious amounts of Aqua Net and Love’s Baby Soft, the scents of The Holy Mackerel were not easily shaken.

So we worked hard in that sweltering kitchen.  We made minimum wage, of course. We built up a unique yet freakish ice cream scooping muscle in our wrists.  We learned the words to Led Zeppelin songs that the cooks would play over and over.  We ate free stuffed flounder for dinner.  We chased the occasional fugitive lobster across the dining room floor while patrons were looking the other way.  We rubbed lemon all over our shriveled up fingers in a futile attempt diminish the fish smell.

And, best of all, we picked up the phone and said, “Holy Mackerel! How can I help you?”  

As bad as all of this sounds, I can honestly say I enjoyed my time as a Kitchen Bitch.  Maybe it was because of my secret  romance with the older bus boy who had a mullet.  Or maybe because I was nearly in the running for the Shrimp Peeling World Record when, on Christmas Eve 1989, I was called in on a “special assignment” — and spent all day peeling 3,000 shrimp for a private party.  Because I had talent.

I did parlay the skills from my first job into some real valuable life experience that I carried with me.  For example, I was well-prepared for an unfortunately long string of sitcom-worthy waitressing gigs in my college years. And if you’re having a lobster bake and need someone to handle your crustacean guests of honor — well, look no further.  I’m your girl.

Don’t be jealous of my rite of passage.  Not everyone can look good in a paper sailor’s cap while sweating profusely and handling shellfish.

In my next life, I’m getting a newspaper route.  If there are still newspapers.


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  1. Meredith says:

    My days as a server at Friendly’s (so, so skeezy “behind scenes”!) were some of the most-fun-ever of my high school days. Thanks for the happy blast back to my past 🙂

  2. Ed says:

    Thanks for the Love’s Baby Soft reference. That stuff was mesmerizing. BTW, the Mackerel is vacant yet again.

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