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Everything including the kitchen sink

By By Robert St. John / food columnist
March 17, 2004
I have seen many strange things in my 22 year restaurant career. In the kitchen, I have seen a cook slap another cook upside the head with a ham steak. I have seen a dishwasher pull a knife on a kitchen manager. I have seen a dozen fistfights. I have seen the emergency fire-extinguishing system activated in the middle of a busy lunch rush.
In the dining room, I have witnessed exploding ketchup bottles, food fights, toddlers sailing salad plates like Frisbees, hostile break-ups, romantic make-ups, passionate marriage proposals, violent divorce threats and more broken dishes than I ever care to remember. I once employed a busboy who cost our restaurant more money in broken dishes than he earned.
In the bar, I have witnessed grown men fighting over women, sports, cars and women in sports cars. I have seen customers in various stages of dress and undress. I have seen patrons on top of tables, and I have seen patrons under tables. I have actually seen grown men fight because they couldn't agree as to "why grown men fight."
I have seen a lot.
Never, I repeat, never, have I seen an employee take a bath in a prep sink. Thank the Lord for small favors.
The Associated Press reported earlier this week that Davie County, North Carolina, health officials investigated a report in which two employees of a nationally known fast-food restaurant were photographed taking a bath in the prep sink in the restaurant's kitchen.
Let's pause a minute and let that one sink in. Two fast-food employees were taking a bath in a prep sink, in the kitchen, in the restaurant just when you thought you had seen and heard it all.
The restaurant one of the nation's top five burger chains had no comment. Now, there's a shock. What would they say if they were to release an official statement?
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: "Burger Chain X would like to officially announce that we do not condone the activity of cooks taking Jacuzzi baths in our prep sinks. However, our managers and executive board may choose to take a dip as long as the restaurant is closed for business."
The two men were not bathing together; they were taking turns in the sink which was filled with bubbles. The AP noted that they were wearing bathing suits (once again, those small favors). I am a fanatic when it comes to employees washing their hands at work, but this is taking the food service-cleanliness issue a little too far.
Question: Why did humankind ever feel the need to put soap on a rope? Never mind, that is another column for another day.
Back to the hamburger-hamlet hot-tub chronicles Davie County Health Department Director Barry Bass said that the act didn't pose a health hazard. Wow. The health inspectors in North Carolina are much more lenient than the ones we have in Mississippi. Around here, our inspectors get irate if a cook leaves the top off of a plastic food container for a few seconds. In North Carolina they're letting them have a California-hot tub party in the kitchen sink.
Before reading the full story, I assumed the pictures were taken by a security camera in the kitchen. Actually, the pictures were discovered by a photo technician in the film processing department of a CVS Pharmacy. The alert pharmacy worker reported the event and turned over the pictures to the health department.
At first read, this might seem like a logical component of this story. What I realized is that the two idiots who were caught taking a Jacuzzi bath in the prep sink, are the ones who actually took the pictures. One can only imagine what their scrapbook looks like.
Just when you thought you had seen and heard it all, the restaurant business goes one step further. What's next? Pastry chefs using the dish machine for a steam bath? Waitresses getting pedicures in the walk-in cooler? Hostesses giving massages on the prep tables? Busboys using the convection oven as a sauna?
Robert St. John is the executive chef/owner of the Purple Parrot Caf and Crescent City Grill in Hattiesburg and Meridian. He can be reached at robert@nsrg.com.

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