When I told Gabe Barker, the young chef-owner of Pizzeria Mercato, that we’d be focusing Dish on the back of the house, his reply was deadpan: “You mean the people who actually do all the work?”
Many of us have had these gigs. We know what’s it’s like to ache in our shoulders for weeks. We know that a three a.m. nightcap and a cigarette are sometimes necessary. And we know a bunch of curse words in Spanish.
But with dining culture on the rise (the fastest growing retail sector, in fact), most people are just eaters at the table, sheltered from what goes on behind the kitchen door—and from the people back there hustling.
Restaurant work may seem thankless, but it’s still a source of pride for so many, while opening up different worlds to different people. As a teenage immigrant, my grandfather found work as a dishwasher in the segregated South, a formative culture shock that shaped his early understanding of America. Until the end of her life, my grandmother was fixing breakfast sandwiches at our family’s diner for mail carriers and Harlem Globetrotters alike. And my father, at seventy, finally retired this year from frying the hushpuppies that put me through college.
This Dish issue peeks into the personalities behind our most visited restaurants, with quirky discoveries and surprising kitchen rituals. We also talk to the chefs accustomed to the spotlight about how they got their start, whether on the cook line or at the sink, and the life lessons that followed. And, of course, tattoos are a thing.
To everyone in the back of the house, thank you. Y’all run this town.