N exercise 2.5 – workplace people using tools
The dough guy comes in before me every morning to shape balls from a huge wad of pink-grey dough. He slaps each around in his hands and then dumps it onto an old-fashioned scale with a spring in its neck. He must be a pro because he nails the weight every time, scooping the mashed ball up without modification, adding it to its tray of fellows. This all happens in the back, near the dish pit. Later, the front-kitchen dough guy will roll out a stack of trays, each filled with a flattened ball of dough, and he’ll use a tool from a hardware store, some kind of metal scraper with a plastic/rubber handle, and with one decisive motion chop the dough ball from its place and scoop it onto the marble working surface, where he’ll use his hands to smooth it out into a working pizza crust. Depending on the day, the same guy, or perhaps someone else working alongside, will use a metal scoop to spoon a hit of tomato sauce into the centre, using the convexity of the tool to smooth the sauce out, spreading it around to within whatever regulation distance is from the edge of the dough. The exec doesn’t like toppings or sauce or cheese to get onto the crust.
Once the toppings have been hand-spread onto the pie it’s time for the oven, and yet another chef uses a long tool that looks like it came from a public pool – it isn’t the worn-smooth all-wood construction of the commercials but an elegant and machined piece of metal, a long tube of metal, with an intricate pad at the top, smaller than a pizza, with almost a filligree pattern within the pad. The tube-pad chef then uses his tool to slide the pie in beside the flaming wood, and it sits there for a hundred seconds or so until he slips the tube-pad back underneath the pie and rotates it, the pizza spins and whorls on one edge, to even out the blackening that the crust is undergoing. If this isn’t done then one side of the pizza will be markedly blacker than the next, and sometimes customers will complain. The technique looks simple enough but is rather difficult to master.
From there the pizza is dropped onto the top plate of a stack that’s been waiting adjacent to the oven since the service began, and as such the plates themselves are remarkably hot – especially the quarter or so that has been touching the outside of the oven. Many a burn has been sustained on the forearm and fingertips when carrying a few of these pizzas, hot off the presses. Some clever servers put a linen down on the forearm where the second pizza rests, to minimize the burning. This causes worries about friction in those who are newer to the game, but the pros know what they’re doing.
Alongside the pizzas go the chili oils, narrow bottles with drizzle-nozzles, each bottle filled with an incandescent orange-red oil, olive oil infused with paprika and cayenne and whatever else. The chili oil lives in the prep fridge on the main floor in a giant vat, from which it is difficult to refill the tiny containers. Sometimes it’s poured directly, resulting in a mess; sometimes a Pyrex measuring cup is used to dip directly into the vat, resulting in a mess. The stuff is a gorgeous, vibrant colour, and it gets everywhere.
The heavy ceramic plates and empty chili oil bottles get dumped into a bus bin at the front or right into the dish pit at the back, and either way, they’re rinsed by a potent hose, and loaded into a square plastic rack of a dull flesh colour. When each rack is loaded it rolls on into a dishwashing machine with one lever, all it needs, and the dishes are usually sparkling inside of a minute. Nothing to it but to stack them where they go, polish where needed, and send back the dirty ones. Front kitchen chefs grab a stack of pizza plates, stand them beside the oven, and the cycle begins anew.