Life in Ireland has taught me that working in a food business can be full of surprising characters; customers, colleagues, bosses and … Suppliers. All actors play their unscripted part in the big theatre that are restaurants, cafés, shops, and productions of all kinds, it sure is a lot of fun. The myriad of Nationalities play a big part in the colorful landscape of the workforce; everyone have their own cultural backgrounds and beliefs so it would give you a wonderful sense of travelling through your colleagues, at least for me, the reluctant rambler yet cultural migrant in a search of adventures that would feed and nurture my measured curiosity, quench the thirst for self-asked questions. They helped me to travel the world in my younger years on the Island; without boarding a plane – and to this day- I manage to jet off to most countries in Europe, Scandinavia, several States of the USA, Australia, New Zeeland… There was also that cool guy called “Naked Mike” who earned his wonderful nickname for having the habit of streaking at parties. He was from Serbia. Well, San Francisco really, but his dad was from Belgrade and his Mum French, illustrating my point somehow, right there!
Mike and I worked in that “restaurant”, with Sergio who I had recently hired from Brittany to finance one of his multiple trips in Tibet; to Mike’s surprise, we knew a few swear words in Serbian which we randomly threw at him to make him feel comfortable on his first day. Looking back now, most normal people would probably be offended as I believe they were pretty bad obscenities, still not knowing the meaning of them to this day which is just as well I suppose. Nonetheless we had Mike laughing for a solid ten minutes; there is no real textbook way to break the ice it seems. It had done its trick.
My job in the kitchen was cook and manager… How did I get there? I don’t really know as three years earlier I could barely make an omelette, but I seemed to have good people’s skills, so I was given the title and I took it seriously; cooking, managing staff, planning/ juggling the schedule for day and night shifts, ordering supplies, and making sure our customers had a pleasant experience. We used to drive at least once a week to the wholesaler “Cash and Carry”, known as “Promo-Cash” in France, daily and on foot to the local bakery for the heavy bags of flour but most of our other suppliers would just call in for the fresh stuff, like the milkman and the egg lady in her 1980’s Nissan Van… All this and for that was normal really, until one day.
After one lunchtime shift, my boss asked me if I was free for a couple of hours: “We have to get some wine for the restaurant, we are running low for the weekend”. It was going to be a busy Easter Bank Holiday and at the time, lent was still a thing. It was banned in Ireland to purchase alcohol on Good Friday so she knew that the following three days would be hectic! “Let me finish the oven and I’ll be right there” I said, thinking of a small trip to the wholesaler; items which somehow was never on my shopping list before, but I tagged along happily, thinking naively that the young man I was, could make the chore of picking the wine off the high shelves and wheeling the trolley much easier. I am a gentleman you see…
I jumped in her brand-new Mazda Astina, kind of sporty yet kind of practical and we headed west. I wasn’t driving at the time but I thought that she was taking a strange route to what I thought was our supplier’s; after 20 minutes driving, we were outside the city’s outskirts; staring at the window I could see green fields and grey stone walls full of sheep and young lambs, I didn’t want to ask any questions, but it didn’t feel quite right.
We eventually parked outside a small woodland, enjoyed by the locals at the weekend. For obvious reasons, it was a lot quieter during the week. Slightly worried, I asked my boss: “What about the wine?” she simply replied: “We’re here, put your shades on!” Since I have a very sensitive condition to winter and early Spring sun, I always carry my favourite pair of Persol sunglasses in my inside pocket, one can suffer, but suffering in class is always better. She turned off the very painful post lunch radio talk show and before we waited too long, a Nissan van pulled in, next to our vehicle. “Damn!” I thought, it’s the egg lady!!! It all made sense; we were all so busy that we had to meet halfway to pick up extra eggs before heading for the wine! Of course!!!
The egg lady got out of her van and we synchronically got out of our vehicles and without a word being spoken, met at the back of her van, which, now I think about it, also looked like an egg. She turned her head left, right and behind, towards the high Scott Pine Trees murmuring a soft Springtime melopée before opening the back door of her small transport. I expected some gruesome parallel deal, to be asked to tag along, just to test my loyalty, my Breton omerta…. Nooooo! In fact, and to my surprised disappointment, the van was full of eggs, which for an egg lady supplier is pretty normal. The usual wooden fitting inside, bottom to sides, nothing to see there, we are just picking up some eggs, what was that self-inflicted drama all about Franckie Boy?
The egg lady looked behind her one more time toward the woods, with her 1990’s over sized shades before flicking a switch near the door. A false floor, a hidden compartment under the plywood casing, full of 6 bottle cardboard boxes of Frascati white wine and barbera d’Alba reds… I was a bit shocked, yet amused by the over the top set up… Cash was exchanged against goods and silences, liquidities for the vino, the once thought innocent egg lady was a smuggler and my boss who often lectured me about foreigners “screwing the country” for hand outs, was in fact a tax dodge…
A few short months later, I was drinking a pint in an Irish Pub with Quentin Tarantino, but I swear, I never told him that story…
And Eat Happy