Gus

March 9, 2008

My staff here is great.

They want to learn so badly, that I’ve commanded a role of executive chef, teaching them American food. One of the stewards is is very vocal, but sometimes can’t wrap his mind around what he wants to say in English. Or maybe he gets nervous when he addresses the boss. Whatever it is, when he stumbles in ellucidating his thoughts he will mouth words, staring persistently in the distance and and flap his arms until he gets it right.

I admire such persistence and dedication.

They are hard workers, at shifts for 12 hours a day or longer.

Despite their determination, every now and then they do things that boggle my mind.

We received a couple bunches of fresh asparagus in the other day. It wasn’t the the half inch thick organic gus we uses to serve chilled with vinaigrette and parmesan shavings at Houston’s, but it was good enough. I showed my chef and sous chef the proper method of snapping the stalks at their natural break point and stripping some of the bitter skin at the bottom.

“Sawa?” I inquired to see if they understood. They both nodded vigorously in assurance of their comprehension.

“Then,” to explain the cooking method, “we cook just like french beans.”

They both nodded in understanding and started jabbering in Swahili. Most of my professional Sudanese staff speaks Arabic and Swahili—as well as English—as so many of them grew up in Kenya o Uganda while the war was going on. It helps, cause my head chef only understands English when it

is

spoken

very

slowly

and

succinctly.

I returned to my office to plow through a mound of paperwork, beads of sweat dripping on the trackpad as the afternoon sun poured through the window.

Before dinner I usually do a walk though, complaining how filthy the place looks, no matter how clean it usually is, and washing my hands at least three or four times to make set an example.

“wash these dishes. . .clean the burners when ever they’re off. . .we need a sweep, a mop, and another mop after that. . .I want every horizontal surface wiped. . .how long has this meat been defrosting. . .”

On this particular afternoon’s walk through, things were good. I marveled at how slowly the dishwasher managed to wash dishes. The staff cooks, two little ladies with big smiles were chattering in some language but stopped as I walked by. I decided not to ponder the possibilities of the topics of conversation.

Staff cooks. God damn. We have maybe 25 employees on the compound and I employ two ladies just to cook for all of them. We go through 24 kilos of maize meal a week.

I saw the young man peeling carrots for the fresh steamed vegetables of the evening. I look at the prepared vegetables. I saw tiny little nubs of something, shaped like baby carrots, but much skinnier

“No way. They didn’t,” muttered the InMo.

“What is this?” I asked picking one up.

The chef walked over grinning. “As’gus,” he said.

I couldn’t hold in the laughter. They had taken the ‘as’gus’ and peeled off everything—everything–including the little fragrant buds at the top, and cut them into little sticks about the size of, oh, I dunno. . .haricôt verts, to be steamed with carrots.

Just like green beans.

I explained it a little better on the remaining stalks, so my cooks learned how to properly prepare gus.

I learned I had only a vague idea of the meaning of the word ‘succinct.’