Goodbyes are never easy. They're also never very convenient. They never come at times when you're ready for them. You can prepare all you want for it, but inevitably there will be some heartache, some inconvenience and probably some tears involved. I had prepared myself as much as possible for Louie's departure from the Farmhouse, but of course I was not ready to say goodbye. And unfortunately for Louie, his last week at the Farmhouse was not a smooth one.
During the summer months, the Farmhouse ran food booths at many of the festivals throughout the city. This meant that a TON of food had to be prepped for these weekend events. Many Fridays I would arrive at the kitchen to find all of the counter space consumed by prep for these events. One weekend it was vegetable lasagna made with eggplant instead of noodles. Another weekend it was fajitas, another it was tamales. During Louie's last week, it happened to be doughnuts.
Now, the making of doughnuts is simple enough if you have the right equipment and a good chunk of time. Unfortunately for Louie, he had neither. Consumed with the daily tasks at the Farmhouse, he had little extra time. He also had little support from the existing staff - we were shorthanded. He had been trying to hire additional line cooks for the Farmhouse for several months with no luck. And since the fryers were under steady use for the cafe, the doughnuts had to be fried after hours. That meant a late night with some dough, hot oil and Louie's vitality.
When I saw him the next day, a frazzled Louie informed me that he had spent most of the night in the kitchen, finally worked out a system of shaping, cutting, frying, repeat and then gone to sleep for a couple hours on one of the cold, dirty cement floors in the back office before starting his shift the next morning. I knew doctors pulled those kind of shifts, but chefs?
Then there were the food deliveries. I had experienced on several occasions, a shortage of something-er-other. Butter, eggs, molasses, carrots... I had learned to make substitutions and work around these things. But unfortunately for the cooks, if we were out of buffalo burger, there was really no substitute for that.
The last Friday shift I worked with Louie, an important food delivery didn't happen. They were supposed to come before five but their other deliveries ran long. And because of union rules, they would not deliver after 5 o'clock. That meant no food delivery until sometime the next day. No food delivery for the Friday dinner rush and no food delivery for the Saturday brunch rush. We were out of everything from burger, to cucumbers, to tuna. The '86' board was filled with items on the menu that we didn't have. Servers would come in with an order, only to be told, 'We don't have that'. It was chaos.
And there was Louie, furiously working the line through all of this. I had never seen him so angry. I can only imagine how frustrating it was. He had been the chef there for over a year. And no matter how fed up with everything he was, how ready he was to leave, I know there was still a part of him that was attached to the place. He had been there through the renovation, through the improvements to the space and to the food. It was his baby. In every chef there is a strong desire to excel and make good food. It is fundamentally why we choose this line of work. We want to make people happy through their full bellies. Unfortunately, without the ingredients, that is nearly impossible to achieve.
Fortunately for Louie, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. In a few days, he was on to a job at a high-class restaurant with better pay, better support, more time off and health insurance. He just had to jump this one last hurdle to get there.
At the end of the night we said our goodbyes and I thanked him for this incredible opportunity he had given me. Despite my doubts, he assured me that Pam would keep me on board.
"I told her you're like a sponge and you'll take on anything. She told me she figured she'd keep you on and see how things go. But if anything happens, let me know. I know people in the industry and I'll do what I can to help you find something else. And if an opening ever comes up where I am, I will let you know."
I wasn't exactly comforted by Pam's idea of 'seeing how things go'. But I was honored that Louie had my back. This may have been goodbye, but a small part of me believed that it wasn't permanent. Maybe our paths would cross again somewhere down the line. One thing was for sure though. I would never forget that he had taken a chance on me and forever changed my life.