The Observer restaurant critic is used to life on the other side of the kitchen door. So how would a hard shift on the hottest day of the year work out?
I am standing in another man’s shoes, and those shoes are moist. It’s nothing to do with the other man. Most of me is wet by now: there is sweat running down the small of my back and dripping down into my eyes; my trousers are clinging to my thighs, and the pads of my fingers have wrinkled, as if I’ve been in a bath too long, which is curious given they are inside elbow-length black rubber gloves. But the water they are plunged into is so hot my hands, like everything else, are sweating. I am pulling a shift as a kitchen porter at The Ivy, and I am quickly coming to a stark conclusion: these are shoes I am not fit to fill.
The kitchen porter – KP for short – is the foot soldier in the restaurant kitchen brigade that you never see. When camera crews go in to professional kitchens they focus on the polished, spot-lit pass, not the roaring sink tucked away in the corner. It is the chefs in their crisp whites at the front they care about, not the men – and it almost always is men – in their rubber gloves at the back. And yet without them the kitchen would collapse. A head chef could dispense with half the brigade or more and the food would still get to the table, slower than usual, but it would get there. But without the KP to make sure there are clean pans for it to be cooked in and clean plates for it to be served on, those diners would stay hungry.
I am to do the doors and stairwells all the way down to the staff toilets. And then I clean the toilets