Tuesday, June 22, 2010

In the heat of the kitchen

By Bracinda Blum, Sam Bidleman and Clarence Hooker

The cooks who stand in front of the ovens, steamers and grills of the Taylor Place kitchen, a facility that serves over 800 students during the regular school year, have to deal with temperatures that can easily reach 425 degrees in the middle of a city that brags of being the hottest in the nation.

The thermometers around Phoenix normally register 100 degrees during the summer months, but that is just outside. Inside the efficient kitchen, the shift manager of the four-man crew describes the conditions in just two words.

 “It’s hot,” said Chad, the kitchen’s executive chef who only used his first name, as did all the other employees interviewed for this article.

 But temperatures alone do not tell the whole story. His chefs are in constant motion preparing three meals a day in the downtown Phoenix campus.

 “It’s organized chaos,” said Chad, who has worked for the Aramark company for over 10 years. “A lot of things going on at one time,” which only adds to the workers’ discomforts. But each one has a personal survival technique.

 Jake has been a cook for over ten years, five at Taylor Place, so he has several personal solutions. “It gets pretty hot, so I tend to drink a lot of fluids, a lot of water.”

 “We step outside every chance we get, but when it’s 105 outside, it doesn’t help too much,” he added.

 How does the outdoor temperature compare to what Jake deals with every day in the kitchen? “It’s a lot more direct heat here. Like if I’m opening an oven, all that heat is just coming out and hitting me in the face at once. If I open a steamer, it’s the same thing.”

During the summer months with fewer students on the ASU campus, the cooking staff prepares meals for a variety of other venues including a busy catering service, so the work is different but not cooler.

 Ruben, who moved to Arizona from Alaska about seven years ago, constantly moves from ovens to grills to preparation tables, so he doesn’t have much time to consider the room’s heat.

 “I don’t even want to guess,” he said about how hot his cooking workspace can become during the day. “If I guessed it, it would scare me.”

 The expert advice from this temperature-tested crew is to take the heat in stride.

“The best way to deal with the heat is to just deal with it because there are not too many things you can do in the kitchen to get away from it,” said Jake as he wipes his forehead and checks the settings on another oven.


(Right) Taylor Place cooks Rubin and Jake prepare breakfast for the Reynolds High School Journalism Institute participants. They were video profiled to compare the heat while working in the kitchen and outdoor downtown Phoenix.
Photo by Sam Bidleman

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