FRIDAY 5 MAY – MONDAY 8 MAY LITCHFIELD
We were aiming to get to do days from 8am to 5pm, which would give us pay for 8.5 hours. However, I soon found that, once most of the kitchen work was left to me, that I sometimes needed to go longer to get it all done. My records later showed that, in the first two weeks here, the earliest I finished work was 4.45pm, the latest 6.15pm. Over twelve days, I worked 106 hours.
Boss 1 worked with me in the kitchen for the first three days I was there. Then he and B went off to Darwin for their half-week break. When he came back, he appeared satisfied that I could manage, except on really busy days, and left me to it. Boss 2 tended to spend more time in the kitchen on his half weeks at Litchfield. Then it was all a bit less pressured.
The days quickly fell into a routine. Into the cafe at 8am. Make sure there were burger rolls out of the freezer and defrosting in baskets by the stove – or that bags of fresh ones were filled into the racks. Slice a good number of these in half, horizontally, and put back in the bags to stay fresh.
Prepare the makings for the lettuce cups: grate carrot, slice the other items, assemble cups – two or three large trays of same, depending on how busy we thought we might be. Weekends were often busier.
Slice up the tomato, onion and cucumber for the bus groups – one large icecream container of each per thirty people. Take these to outside fridges once done. If – as occasionally happened – the mesclun mix kept out there was running low, or had run out, then I must wash and spread out lettuce to dry, on trays, instead.
A complication of the place was that they did not have enough cool storage. The cafe had only been going for a few years. So the stocks of salad and vegetable matter, and the large pieces of cold meats, and other bulk items like the big bags of minced beef, were stored at the Wongaling Community school coolroom – about 5kms away.
On a good morning, by the time I started at 8 am, or soon after, one of the bosses would have done the run down there to pick up what would be required for the day. On a bad day, kitchen work was put out of schedule by the supply run being done late. I soon discovered that if the one bad tempered boss was in a perverse mood, he would deliberately delay the supply run, to put pressure on me in the kitchen! Just because he could….
The hot water urn for coffees needed to be filled and turned on. Coffee beans must be taken from the freezer and ground.
Fridge stocks of things like pieces of defrosted fish had to be checked and replenished from the freezers if necessary.
When Boss 2 was on duty he would make a large tray of apple slice for the cafe, using canned pie apple filling.
Once the daily bus groups had phoned their numbers through, the cold meat platters had to be assembled, per group. I would set out the right number of platters, slice one type of meat and arrange on the platters, then do the second type and arrange, then the salami, to finish. Platters would be covered, labelled by group and put in the outside fridges. I would cut extra meat quantities to go in our inside fridge, to be used for sandwich orders through the day.
I would do extra containers of the tomato, cucumber and onion for bus groups, once numbers were known, if I hadn’t guessed right, earlier.
I did not like it that the meat slicing machine, which was manually operated, had no guide. It was broken off. One used their hand to push the meat piece down onto the saw. This needed considerable care when a meat piece was getting down towards its end. Otherwise, fingers could be lost! Either OH&S had different standards up north, or they were winging it!
Watermelon had to be sliced and the wedges arranged on platters that also went out to the bus fridges.
Some bus groups had pre-ordered sandwiches, rather than the buffet, and these had to be made ahead, in the quantities and varieties that had been phoned through.
By the time all this was done, there was usually a trickle of customers coming into the cafe, so there began to be cooking to be done and this would swell to a really busy time from about 11am to 2pm.
Orders were written down by whichever boss or B was serving in the cafe, and put on a slide. In the kitchen, I/we filled the orders in the order they had come in, and sent them out with their docket attached.
There were usually drinks to be made, as well, although a lot of customers bought wine or soft drink at the cafe counter. Sometimes B would help out by coming in and making the drinks. But one could be cooking burgers, making sandwiches, heating quiches, making coffee or milkshakes or iced coffee, all at once.
Generally, this period of the day seemed to fly by.
I would go to lunch once the cafe orders had gone quiet. My lunch was usually some of the cold meats, and salad. John quickly got into the habit of getting me to cook him a bacon and egg roll – or two – for his lunch. He had that well before I had time to go to lunch. There was a little roofed rotunda off to one side from the bus group area, and I would sometimes go and eat lunch there – if the bus groups had all finished and gone.
Once my thirty minutes of peace was over it was back to work. There were the three types of bulk salads to be made for next day’s bus groups.
The kitchen often needed cleaning up, too – there could be a small mountain of dishes, glasses, plates etc to be washed, from the cafe lunch trade. Sometimes, the part time lady came in and did some of this, before she knocked off at about 2pm.
The dregs of the coffee plungers that had been used in the cafe, and the larger ones that were used out in the bus area, were collected in old two litre milk containers, and eventually strained, to become the base mix for the iced coffees. These were then easily topped off with milk and a scoop of ice cream.
There might be quiches to be made, at some stage in the day. These were kept in the fridge and micro-waved as ordered. Puff pastry was filled into pie dishes, the filling was corn kernels, asparagus (tin), some grated cheese, egg and milk mix. These were vegetarian. Chopped bacon could be added to some, for the carnivore version. Usually, a dozen were made at a time, and cooked in the oven.
If the bulk mince meat and chopped onion mix that was used for the basic burger patties, had run low, a fresh lot must be made – involving several kilos of mince and a lot of chopped onion.
The last task for the day was to make the mango cheesecake/s for the next day. The most I ever made in one late afternoon was five of these. The ring tins used were quite large – each one cut up into sixteen good sized serves – so there was a lot of cream cheese, cream and mango involved.
When we knocked off for the day, it was into a shower, which always felt great, after the heat and greasy air of the kitchen. Then we would sit out under our awning, facing the creek and bush, with two or three cans of beer, for happy hour – or longer. It was very restful and a good way to unwind after the day.
Eventually, it was time to think about tea. We could scavenge food for our dinners from what was in stock in the cafe. It could be difficult, though, getting in there at tea time to get food stuffs, and even worse to try to cook something there, if one of the bosses was doing dinner orders for the cafe.
The dinner menu was a bit more fancy than the lunch one. Diners could have an upmarket open hamburger, or barra poached in cream and garlic, or steak, for example. The barra was served with steamed rice – done in an electric rice cooker. The bus group bulk salads that I would have freshly made in the afternoon, were raided for side salads. The dinner trade was intermittent.
I soon found that I tended to be so tired that all I wanted was a tub of yoghurt, which I had stocks of in the van, and replenished from Batchelor whenever I could. Since he’d had a cooked lunch, John was happy to have cold meats and salads, which were easy to collect from the cafe stocks.
We did not stay up late!