Years ago, at the restaurant where I met Alex, there was this other cook named N. N had been working there for a couple of months before I began and he seemed to flit in and out of the kitchen. I didn't even realize that he was supposed to be a full time cook in the beginning because he wasn't around very much. He usually worked the middle spot on the line, supporting Grill and Saute. He seemed to operate on this special plane that I simply couldn't comprehend, one with many days off and seemingly few responsibilities. There were rumors that he got the job as a favor to someone or another. He seemed somewhat clumsy but I was too caught up in learning my own station to pay him much attention. That is until a couple of months later when he started working garde manger.
At this particular restaurant, garde manger produced the cold apps and cold garnishes, and plated all of the desserts. It was a two person station in a small area and the partner cooks needed to work together well. N. was a slightly heavy set Nordic type, blond, blue eyed and well over six feet tall. He tended to move slowly and own the space where he was standing. On the nights we worked together I would have to do laps around our station to get to mise en place because I could run around the table faster than he would move to get out of my way. There were moments when we found common ground and could share a smile or a brief conversation. Most of the time though we made quite a pair, the small Asian woman and the large Nordic male snapping and snarling at each other all evening long. I thought he was sloppy and lazy and slow, he probably thought I was a bossy, know it all bitch. We were stuck in this spinning canoe unable to to synchronize our paddles.
My perception was that he had more experience than I did, because he normally worked on the line. I couldn't understand why he moved so slowly and seemed so disorganized. Even our plates reflected our differences. My plates tended to be much tighter and daintier than his. We quickly realized that we would have to divide up tables rather than plates because otherwise the discrepancies would be glaring. Yet somehow Chef never pointed out the differences. He would comment on our plates individually. He would occasionally tell us to shut the hell up and stop fighting, although he never said a word (that I know of) to either of us about the fact that our plating styles were so different. This only fueled my fire because how could we figure out who was doing it correctly if Chef never commented either way? Whenever I worked with any of the other guys our plates tended to match up much more closely. Eventually N. was moved off garde manger and soon after that he left the kitchen entirely.
Recently I was reminded of this old partnership. I've been witnessing something similar, although not exactly the same. It brings back all of those unpleasant memories. We all want to get along with the people we work with and it's just not always possible. There are many skaters in the world. They build themselves up by telling everyone how much work they do while close inspection shows the water flowing in through the holes in their canoes. We've all worked with these kinds of people, whether it be in kitchens or out. We've all silently cursed as we cleaned up their messes or bailed out their canoes, while they earnestly explained all of their hard work to whoever happens to be in charge. Often their propaganda is believed, at least in the beginning. All you want to do is shine a spotlight to expose the rickety structure behind their extravagant showpieces. There's no way to do so gracefully. You just have to wait for things to crumble on their own. Or not. I feel that I've been singularly unhelpful lately, trying to counsel someone on how to deal with this kind of situation. I just didn't have any good answers. So I'm appealing to all of you, any advice out there for dealing with Grand Masters of the flash in the pan? Has anyone ever resolved a situation with someone like this successfully? Any and all responses will be greatly appreciated.