Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Firey Truth

For about six months in the year 1996, I worked as a waitress at the India House Restaurant on South Clinton Avenue in Rochester, NY. It was (and probably still is) a family owned business. Two brothers and their sister, all possessing MBAs, if I'm not mistaken, went into business with their spouses and owned two restaurants and a store, all on the same block. There was the main restaurant, the vegetarian cafe, and the store that sold Indian groceries, clothing, and gifts. One brother actually worked as an engineer at Bausch & Lomb, if I'm not mistaken, one managed the main restaurant, one was the main cook at that restaurant, and her husband managed the vegetarian cafe. About a year later, the engineer ended up being my landlord, and I discovered then that the family also owned a number of properties in the area. When I got the job, I was badly in need of employment and knew that several of my college classmates from Eastman worked at the vegetarian cafe. I was told it was a good part-time job and that the food there was delicious. What is hilarious to me now is that at the time, I had *never* eaten Indian food before. There were no job openings at the vegetarian cafe, which is where I would have preferred to work, but the manager of the "regular" restaurant was in need of staff and put me on the schedule. Even though the work pace alternated between incredibly slow and way too fast and I was only paid $3/hour, so in order to take home any money (in other words, tips) I needed to hope for a super hectic pace, I have many fond memories of my employment there. First of all, it was my introduction to Indian food, which launched a lifetime obsession with its deliciousness and finding the best places to eat it. I remember diligently studying the menu, learning what all the different words meant, trying to get to a level where I could fake that I actually knew what any of dishes tasted like. There were many interesting personalities, the family who owned the place, the main cook's baby who liked to ride the vacuum cleaner during the otherwise painful clean-up period at the end of the night (rice is SO hard to pick up off the carpet!), the other waiters (who came from all different ethnic backgrounds), the cooks who were always yelling at us to work faster, and the manager who was always yelling at us to work harder, but who also had a lighter side and enjoyed making conversation. While employed there, I learned how to open up wine bottles really quickly on some particularly busy Friday and Saturday nights (as there was no bartender). I also became addicted to Masala tea (better known as chai) and the smell of certain curries, which would make me crave the food so badly, I would swear there were drugs in it. (I never understood before that how a potent spice could be medicinal.)

So, you're still wondering about the fire incident, aren't you? As a server, the cooks preferred that you stay out of the kitchen as much as possible. You had to be very careful not to get in their way while they worked. However, on the back burner of one of the stoves, there was a big pot of masala tea -- of water, milk, tea leaves, spices, and sugar -- that simmered there all evening long. Whenever a customer ordered the tea, it was the server's job to carefully weave between the cooks in the narrow passageway between two cooking workspaces, reach to the back of the stove to the burner simmering the masala tea and strain the tea through a filter into a small metal pot, either designed to hold one cup of tea or four cups. Although one had to work gingerly in order to accomplish this task, it normally went off without too many hitches. That is, until one day, as I was leaning around to the left of one of the cooks (Saul - sp?) to that back burner of the stove, something caught me by surprise. We all wore traditional Indian costumes. That is, pants and a matching top that hung long, like a dress. I never noticed that there was another stove next to the one Saul was working at, because up until that point, no one had ever been using it while I was working. But, when my dress caught on fire, I surely noticed it then! The stove was a short stove, so that while I was reaching around to get the tea, my dress was hovering directly over an open flame. Yikes!! Well, I put the fire out. I was shocked and dismayed, but no one was hurt and eventually went back to what I was doing. And, that's the whole story. My dress caught on fire! .... not my hair...

3 comments:

Ian said...

I think you need to make posts about the other two incidents involving fire...

Steph said...

Yes, this is a great story, but now I'm left wondering about your hair catching on fire in both a church and a bar. What other firey truths are lurking in your past?!

Andre said...

Ah, India House. . . .