Excerpt from: The Culinary Chronicles

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Excerpt from: The Culinary Chronicle by Spencer Wile 

The main kitchen on the second floor had a walk-in cooler and freezer, one full-sized professional gas grill, a flat grill, a 4×4 ft. rectangular boiler, two full gas ovens, a full-sized fryer, a cooler for the sauté cook, two reach-in coolers for the grill cook, a cooler for the desserts and salads guy, a full steam table in which you could keep prepared foods hot for service, two gas ranges with six burners, a pastry area, a huge-ass mixer, a dishwasher that necessitated two people, a dish pit with sinks and racks for cooking utensils, a wait station where the wait staff picked up food, made their drinks, and flapped their gums; a small elevator called a dumbwaiter that could transport dishes, supplies, and hot food.

There were four entrances: an employee entrance opened on the first floor next to the loading dock and trash bin. It smelled unbelievably horrid—always nice to have the smell of rotten food and moldy beer as you roll into work. This employee entrance opened into the break room and punch clock. If you continued up the stairs from there, you would hit the kitchen. The florescent lights illuminating, cow bones roasting, desserts baking, and the smell of bleach in a futile attempt to mask the smell for which there is no adjective or term besides kitchen funk.

Kitchen funk is the unholy amalgamation of all things that have entered a kitchen. Bleach will not neutralize it, just kill bacteria and burn your skin. Soap will only add to the shitty stench. When Orwell wrote that the more expensive restaurant you dine in, the more spit and spittle the food has to go through, he was writing about the funk. I believe that kitchen funk is both solid and liquid form, and could be vaporous. The funk would reach high on ventilation fans above the fryers and grills. Climbing up there to clean with kitchen funk on your shoes is asking for an injury. The funk built up in dark greasy stains around the bottom of my pants—that is why there are those stupid looking chef pants, so you don’t muck up your own threads—it got inside my shoes and made them stink to high heaven.

The more solid contribution to the funk would gather on the place known none other than the line, the line of cooks and industrial appliances, the place where heat meets meat, and meat meets plate. On the floor of each line are rubber mats with holes, so as to allow the food to drop in and ferment into kitchen funk. Reactions to kitchen funk usually went something like: What’s that smell, boy? Something stanks up in here! Dude, what the fuck is that smell? Is that coming from me? Someone let something raunchy out. He needs to wash his ass! Seriously, that is really bad. Did you shit yourself? My dog really likes you. What crawled up his ass and died? ‘Bout time we cleaned the floors boys, etc.

The rubber mats on the line were easy on my knees to stand on but were a bitch to clean. They weighed about twenty pounds and were in six feet sections. I’d have to lift them up, sweep up all the tasty tidbits that were left behind, spray out all the potential kitchen funk candidates, and put them back. It’s really not that bad, but after a long night in battle, wrangling with those mats seemed to weight a ton and reeked of decaying matter. The line might be the epicenter of the funk, though there are others places I imagine it could originate.

The three other doors of the main kitchen doors opened right into each respective dinning room: to the east was the Magnolia room, to the north was the Pecan Ballroom, and to the west was Murphy’s Bistro. Main dinner service was served in the bistro while events could be held in the others. And we did do multiple events, even one US  Women’s Golf Open tournament—I would’ve loved to meet a celebrity, you know, receive that wowing hundred dollar tip to the cook who busts his ass so hard, bullshit with Brett Farve about the Bulldawgs, get a golf tip from Tiger, but no, mostly the funk. Each area had exits that led down stairs to patios, paths, and gardens, which were cultivated and manicured by the house interior designer, who supposedly worked for Bill Clinton.

The décor and motifs that ran through that place were impressive. The owners of the place were from Scottish decent, and you wouldn’t leave there without knowing it. Scottish flags hung in the entrance with Celtic lettering and Scottish plaid. The golf pants and vest of a 19th century steel tycoon was whirled together with some rustic oak and Old South aristocratic pride. High vaulted ceilings, supported by oak beams, met walls hung with Southern and Scottish art. A portrait of the owner’s Scottish Terrier Mackie, which was once flown to a specialist in Atlanta for surgery, hung facing the dinners like royalty in the Magnolia room. An array of seasonal southern flowers were all over the club at different times; perennials and magnolias filled empty spaces with purple and yellow.

It was a horrific pig camp; trailers of them could be seen rolling down the highway, standing inches away from each other on their way to be reeducated. Half-obscured by metal slats, you could see their sparsely growing course black hair and discolored skin. Bradley foods sat on a pile of mud overlooking Egypt Hill. It was a behemoth of a plant. They must have had employed over two thousand employees. I had the pleasure of going there once when I worked for Grampy’s Foodorama, I had to pick up some mother fucking bacon. Men and women in white cooler-jackets, wearing plastic shower caps and rubber boots lined with plastic, walked around dismally like uninspired umpa lumpas. It was the life force of the town. Bradley foods supplied incomes for a lot of people in Egypt Hill and the surrounding areas. It was a piggy processing plant, running 24 hours a day pumping out processed pork products. Bradley Foods was the only name in swine. If you ate pork, you ate Bradley foods. If you didn’t eat pork, you were just plain crazy. If you bought another brand, you insulted another man’s livelihood.

The odors that emanated from the factory are indescribable. It was hard for the stench to travel away from the town with it being in a low valley. On summer days, not even an inkling of a breeze would help move the malodor; it fixed itself on the town as an uninvited guest with no plans to leave. Next to Bradley Foods, there was a small research company called Flav-o-Tech that researched and designed flavors. On slaughter Tuesdays, if you were lucky, you could smell fruity flavors coalescing with death and feces. It was enough to make anyone gag. The stench was a dark smell that pervaded throughout. One time, driving past the plant in a green 1978 micro-bus, my friend James rolled down his widow and let out his lunch on the road. Vegetarians be warned, you will wither here in a twisted horror version of Charlotte’s Web. Breathing in the odor is the closest I’ve ever come to actually eating shit. I smoked tobacco in an attempt to mask it. If you accidentally took a left to avoid the piggy pungency, you would go towards the heart of the town passing by its graveyard. If you drove straight on past the plant, you would hit Old Shaddock road– take  a right and you would be on your way to hog heaven, the golf course and the sultan of swine, Mr. Bradley.

The plant was the lifeblood of the town. They allowed entry-level workers to receive a decent income and provide for their families, not eating duck confit or eggs benedict but not starving. The Bradley Public library boasted a selection of literature, excluding one copy of 1984. A Bradley strip mall was built with pork money on the south end of HWY 35.

Mr. Bradley and his family constructed the course in the early 80s. I have no idea about how he came to wield the power of the pig, but I soon learned he had two twin daughters and a son Brice, the playboy prince of pork. His daughters lived with him and his wife less than fifty yards from the club house in their manor. Brice had his own bachelor pad away on the other side of the main lake. A view of the both lakes could be seen from Murhpy’s dinning room, reflecting a mirror image of the clubhouse, a giant white plantation home with prodigious white pillars in front. They entertained guests, played golf, and ate barbeque. His daughters traveled to Africa, skied in Aspen,  milled about Memphis, and had a good ‘ol down home swamp-boogy time on Beal Street. They swam, played tennis and golf, ate, and fucked on the course.

The Bradley twins were a super set. Julia, the oldest by five minutes, was caught by some young buck, a lucky beau  marrying into millions, maybe a billion dollars in pig fortune. We were planning a wedding reception for over three thousand people to celebrate the communion to the hog money.

Julia and Lina were twenty nine. They had firm tennis bodies, supple breasts and dark black hair. They both had southern refinement and were polite; they had been taught proper etiquette but had a rowdy country kick. Julia was marrying some guy that had to do with golf; I can’t recollect what he did, as it really didn’t matter to me or anyone else. Three thousand people would show up to drink and eat their way to hog heaven, one pork loin at a time. Lina had a thinner face than her sister and would probably be called the hot one because she was hickory smoking hot. Single and free, Laura waited for the right suitor.

Brice was the oldest child. He liked to party, fish, and hunt. He was a Mississippian. I often saw him out with their dog Mackie, fishing on the lake in front of the clubhouse. The Scottish terrier would be out swimming around assaulting the ducks. I didn’t know any other profession he had other than working on the green and getting laid. He was a tall, good-looking southerner, and I’m sure that he had his share of ass. He had some of the same anal-laid back attitude as the clubhouse manager Mark did—polite and generous but sometimes curt and condescending. He freely went anywhere he pleased. The club was his home and we were working in it, serving our lord. Appearing suddenly in any room of the club, he would assert his presence, making it known to any of the staff. The club was a fun place to be, events and guests filled the rooms at different times of the day and year. Brice was invited to any event on the roster, though he never stayed long anyway, like Gatsby retreating to his silent quarters. He loved to drink and smoke it up. Lines of coke and strippers would have been fun to do with him, but it never happened for me. His was a charm composed of warm sincerity that made it easy for people to talk to him.

Hitting the gravel lot, my car bounced; and I spun my wheels to the right and pulled next to the little shack. And it was a little shack but with big fuckin’ flavor, massive flavor, right from the heart of flavor country. Next to the tin and pine structure, silent and still, the smokehouse puffed clouds of hickory, the meat inside absorbing the sweet smoke.

Beef ribs, pork ribs, half-chickens, polish sausages, and pulled pork were the meat items, and could be accompanied by coleslaw, corn on the cob, potato salad, mac and cheese, and of course, the godly goodness of mutha fuckin’ BAKED BEANS, the sauce from which is the ambrosia of Dixieland. Grisly chunks of beef and pork were abundant in the molasses, brown sugar, and other secret ingredients.

His was a sweet and tangy red barbeque sauce, thin. Anyone with a good barbeque sauce will never tell you exactly how much and exactly how to make their sauce; which is a healing remedy for the soul, and represents who they are as a person. Dry rub style is fine, but real ribs have sauce, and real sauce is emotion. Barbeque sauce is a component of baked beans. A truly American hand-crafted delicacy, barbeque is unique. It comes from love, and gives unremittingly. Smoking meats takes time and care; the preparation of the wood also takes consideration. Some soak their wood in water and other liquids before throwing them in the smoker, others combine dry and wet wood. The smoking process can be down in a myriad of ways. After smoking the ribs and chicken, they are usually placed on a grill or in an oven to be sauced and further cooked. This is barbeque—I’ve heard of flashing ribs in salted boiling water then smoking them, but never seen it, probably because it’s just hogwash. If meat is properly smoked, the outside will turn light red, about a half centimeter. When you break apart a rib or slice through pork loin you, you will see where the smoke penetrated the meat. Smoking times vary from person to person and region to region, yet it’s widely agreed that longer and slower is generally better.

A makeshift Kitchen Smoker

First, soak you wood, hickory, mesquite, or whatever you fancy for at least two hours.Then, take a four inch hotel pan or deep metal pan and line the bottom with tinfoil.Next, place the soaked chips in the pan and place it on a preferably gas range where two eyes will heat both sides of the pan. Set the eyes on medium to low heat until you see smoke. The trick is to adjust the heat to allow smoke without starting a fire. If the wood chips are soaked enough, it will be fine. You’re taking your chances doing this with dry wood. After you get some smoke going, place a perforated pan on top of the deep pan.Then, place your bacon, beef, poultry, or vegetables inside.Finally, cover with a lid and smoke. Smoking time varies according to taste.

I ordered a pulled pork barbeque sandwich with coleslaw and cheese, and a side of baked beans from Billy. After handing him my $6.75, I waited hungrily. He took out the bun, slapped the pulled pork, which is usually pork shoulder, on it. Already lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, the pork was sauced, then, topped with the slaw and cheese, and wrapped in wax paper and tin foil. The steaming pork did a damn nice job melting the cheese. Billy threw it all in a brown sack and thanked me. I ducked in the benz, tucked the sack in the console, and continued my country commute to Old Shattocks.

Waving to a guard I’d never seen before, I pulled past the gate and up the hill to the clubhouse. With a half an hour to burn, I threw my sack of goodies on the break room table and proceeded to eat. The sandwich was a blessing, and the sauce was magical; the baked navy beans had a deep rich smokey flavor.

“Is that from Billy’s? I can smell it. Damn whachu git?” Dave, a short order cook asked as he walked in.

“Yeah.  And it’s pretty fuckin’ good,” I said.

“Whachu git?”

“Pulled pork sandwich and a Side of beans.”

“Damn! You din bring me none? Bastard!”

“Sorry, I wasn’t thinkin’ about you when I ordered.”

“Gimme a bite.”

“You seriously want a bite of my lunch?”

“Yeah.”

“Fine fucker, here.”

He managed to bite off a large portion of the sandwich, and I cringed. If he went for the beans, the situation could have escalated. He punched in, and made his way over to the small take-out kitchen on the north side of the clubhouse. I found a coat, punched in, grabbed my knife case and headed for the main kitchen.

 

 

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