Thursday, 25 February 2016

Insult

I went back to Bandung to spend some time with my family a few weeks ago.  On the way back to Kuala Lumpur, the flight was delayed.  Fortunately I brought my laptop with me so I could spend some time working on my second book project while waiting.

I had never imagined that I would be able to write and publish an ebook, more so a book on how to open a restaurant in Malaysia.  I am trained as an accountant who is supposed to be boring and befriended with numbers. Typical accountants love numbers and hate letters. Yet, here I am making good friends with words and thesaurus instead of numbers and spreadsheet.  

I remember the first time I entered the F&B world as an "Indon" accountant. Being an Indonesian in the land where most of their illegal immigrants are from my country is not that pleasant.  While some Malaysians know about Indonesia and its people, a lot of people still have the thought that "Indons" are poor illegal immigrants who come to Malaysia because they can't find a job in their country.

When I walked into the office for the first time, a chef talked to me in Cantonese, thinking that I was a Malaysian Chinese.  When I told him in English that I couldn't understand Cantonese and I was Indonesian, he gave me "the look".  It's the look of insult.  "Ooh, Indon," he said.

He asked me what position I was hired.  I told him that I was an accountant, recently hired by the owner to fix the financial problem of the restaurant.  He was surprised but didn't say anything because his assistants called him to the kitchen.

While I was working, my colleague ordered a plate of Spaghetti with Seafood and Olives from the kitchen for lunch.  She was kind enough to share the spaghetti with me.  When I tasted the dish, I could taste that the spaghetti was still raw, not cooked properly.  I could see the white flour inside the pasta so it's definitely not al dente.  When the chef went up and asked how the pasta was, I told him that the pasta was undercooked.  I showed him the spaghetti and asked him to try.  Without trying it, he said, "You don't know how to eat pasta.  This is al dente in Italian."

It was my first day and I didn't want to pick a fight with a 28-year-old executive chef who had been with the company for four years.  I let it go.

The next day, the chef came to my office asking me to order a jar of winter truffle. I could not understand him as his Chinese accent was very strong.  It was very difficult to understand any English word coming out from his mouth.  When I asked him to write down the brand he wanted, he became furious and asked," You Indon, go to school or not?"

I was beyond furious.  I don't get offended easily but that remark really set me on fire.  I could feel my face turning red. People can call me fat or ugly or unsophisticated or poor but I am most offended when they think I am stupid.

I tried to calm my tone and asked again properly the brand that he wanted. He repeated the same question, "You go to school or not? Until standard what?" 

I don't display my certificates nor boast my degree to anyone but his insult just pressed my snob button.  Since I was also managing the HR department, I read all the staff files, including his.  I read his file that he finished his elementary education in Singapore then went straight to work in kitchens of several restaurants and hotels in the republic.

"Just so you don't ask me again, I actually finished my high school in Indonesia then completed my bachelors in accountancy in US before taking a master degree, also in US. So, if you think I don't know pasta or Italian food, you are so wrong. I had eaten pasta and cheese before you could even spell your name in English."

"So, please write down the brand that you want so I can order it. Or actually, do you even know how to write English?" I stared at him with burning fire on my eyes.  

He was shocked. I could see he didn't expect my response.  He then wrote down the brand of truffle he wanted and left.

I was also shocked.  I never thought I would be able to speak as loud as that. But that moment, something in my brain lit up.  I had to prove to everyone in the company that I was not dumb. I may be wearing high heels and lipstick but I can still kick some ass. I had to learn everything about the F&B industry and work very hard so nobody would insult me any more.

Although I was hired as an Accountant and Human Resource Manager, I volunteered to do other things in the company.  Within six months I knew everything about the restaurant operation, from purchasing, costing, stocking, bar operation, arranging wedding and company functions to managing frauds.

When I looked back, I had to thank that young chef for pushing my button. Because of his insult, I pushed my self to excel in the F&B world. Because of his insult, I fell in love with the industry. Because of his insult, I forced myself to accept the challenge of (financially) managing a few restaurants at one go. Because of his insult, I could write my ebook on restaurant business.

After a few years working together with him, I understand better how chefs and cooks think. I understand why he was always grumpy.  I understand why he was always irritated when things were less than perfect.

Fast forward to now, I made peace with that young chef.  We became friends who could talk about food for hours. He knows that I am not "just an indon" but a woman who will kick his ass when insulted.   I learned a lot from him.  He taught me the difference between a cook and a chef. He made me understand the importance of discipline, hard work, attention to details, system, cleanliness and shouting in a restaurant.  He even shared some of his recipes with me.  I owe him my skill of making a perfect steak.

Thanks to the Food Network, the restaurant business looks glamorous from the outside. But when we are inside, things are not as glossy as it looks. Same thing with life.  A girl may look pretty and glamorous from the outside.  But she still farts smelly gas.



People say when life throws you lemons, make lemonade.  I say when a guy throws you lemons, squirt them in his eye..!!