I thought about Jim the other day as I was picking the last details of meat off a chicken carcass. I can still see his long-fingered hands at work with that boning knife. Jim never wasted a scrap of food in the kitchen. His frugality and culinary tricks made such an impression on me, that I have practiced some of his lessons for more than 40 years.
Jim was the head chef – the only chef, I think – at the Hof Brau where I worked. Mostly I sat on a stool at the end of the counter and ran the cash register. Jim sliced roast beef and turkey onto plates or sandwiches as customers made their selections. Between the two of us we served salads and side dishes.
Jim stood well over six feet – a white pillar in his long chef’s apron and tall hat. I remember that he was quiet and kind, with an incredibly lined, and character-filled face.
When it was slow I would watch with fascination as he carefully removed turkey skin, or a sliver of pastrami fat, and placed them in a “scrap pan” which he kept in a little fridge under the counter. Those scraps were later roasted and made into the most flavorful soups and au jus.
I often thought of how much Jim’s frugality helped the restaurant’s bottom line. Everything was tasty and servings were generous, but there was not a bit of waste in that place.
That had to make Mike happy. Mike was the owner, and he ran a “tight ship”. (Those were actually his very words, which is kind of funny as you will soon find out.) The place was always gleaming. Mike’s eagle eye was everywhere as he strolled from table, to table joking and slapping regular customers on the back. He personally checked in the deliveries and took readings from the cash register. Sometimes I heard him ranting and berating the dishwashers and busboys in the kitchen, but we all admired his fairness and managerial skill.
In appearance Mike was as opposite to Jim as Mutt was to Jeff. He was about my height – a little over 5 feet. He was dark-haired and dark eyed, always elegant and impeccably groomed in a jacket and tie. And he had a peg leg. How that man could move on that peg leg was a wonder to me! Yes, he had a peg leg, and ran a tight ship, but you could not imagine anyone more unpirate-like.
I remember one Monday morning when he told me about his weekend of snow skiing. I couldn’t believe it! Since then “mono skiing” has become more common, but in 1972 I had never imagined such a thing! That was my first personal encounter with someone who overcame a so-called physical disability. That small round man was a marvel of discipline and determination.
A few feet from my stool at the end of the food line, the bar ran perpendicular down the length of the room. And behind the bar was Bob, who looked like a movie star. Actually he was handsome, but not so handsome that you would be uncomfortable. Just a very nice-looking man with a ready smile, and an other-centered attitude. He never flirted with me but he always made me feel like he had been waiting all weekend to hear what I did on my two days off. People would sit at the bar and talk and talk, and Bob would nod or smile. If his shift had not started yet, people would invariably ask me if I knew what time he would be in. There were a couple of other bar tenders, but everybody liked Bob.
Now, standing well within the second half of my life, I’ve been thinking about the people and events that have shaped me into the woman I’ve become. I’m probably older than Jim or Mike or Bob were when I knew them, but I’m thankful for Bob’s example of listening; and Mike’s lessons in overcoming and working for excellence; and Jim’s awesome kitchen talents. Life lessons from three men in a Hof Brau.