In the summer of 1966 I worked as a dishwasher in a summer camp near Hunter Mountain in upstate New York. This was in the pre-automatic dishwasher days meaning dirty dishes were dumped in a super hot sink of soapy water and washed and dried by hand. I used to come in around 6 a.m. to clean the breakfast pots and pans. Henry, a very tall, rail thin man who had been a cook in World War II in Europe, had gotten there at least an hour before me; I usually found him smoking a filterless cigarette and slowly beating powdered eggs and water in a huge stainless steel bowl or ladling out pancakes on the football field - size griddle.
Though he was cooking for well over 150 people every morning he never seemed to be in a rush. Though there was no air conditioning and an eight burner stove going full blast, Henry barely broke a sweat. I started sweating from the moment I got there; and being a not very bright 14-year-old, I often compounded my problems by forgetting to use an oven mitt when picking up a hot pan or getting scalding hot water in my rubber washing gloves.
But it was all worth it, because right around 7 a.m. before the onslaught of the hungry brigades, Henry would crack some fresh eggs onto the griddle – none of that powdered crap for his crew – and throw on 8 or 10 fat Italian sausages. Next he would take a bowl of left over baked or boiled potatoes and diced them up.
The potatoes would go in a deep skillet of bubbling melted butter along with a couple huge handfuls of sliced onions. Then he would shower the mixture with salt, pepper, garlic powder and a hefty pour of cayenne pepper. When the potatoes had developed a crackling crust he took them off and set the pan in the middle of the stainless steel work counter.
Henry would sit in the only chair in the kitchen leaving me and my co-worker to eat standing-up. I would take Henry’s lead by cutting up the sausage and mixing it with the potatoes and eggs. We usually ate in silence until we heard our cue - the slap of the screen door, the pounding of feet against the worn wooden floors and the screeches of the ravenous masses. I shoveled what was left into my mouth and threw the plate in the sink. If I was lucky, I got to the potato pan before the other dishwasher. The real prize you see were the burnt scraps of potato skins and crispy onions that to this day I can still taste.
Paul Mones is nationally recognized children's rights attorney specializing in representing sexual abuse victims and teens who kill their parents. He is also a published author and most importantly an avid chef who won the 1978 North Carolina Pork Barbecue Championship.