Chutzpah and the Mayonaise

So, I got good grades in Hingham’s high school and a spectacular score on the SAT Exam, interviewed at colleges around Massachusetts (I was going to need a lot of scholarship help), and got into a couple of good places.  Among the interviews was one at Brandeis University and my mother, who was high up in the administration at Boston University, noted that I would get the best education of all the schools at Brandeis.  I started in 1958 and Brandeis was then less than a decade old. There had been only a handful of classes graduating before I entered – but there were teachers of undergraduate courses like Leonard Bernstein in Music, Henry Levy in Constitutional Law and History, John Roche in Politics, Heinz Lubash in History, Richard Smith in Child Psych, and Eleanor Roosevelt in … Eleanor Roosevelt.  The competition was fierce and the change in culture was dramatic.  I was an ace in Chemistry in my high school and a babe in the woods next to students from Peter Styvesant High School in New York.  My first year I studied hard but got mediocre grades. I then studied nights that summer while working days for the Trees and Parks Department in Hingham, riding my scooter at nights into the Quincy Public Library where I could listen to classical music while reading what I bought would help me in my sophomore year.  I was Deans List from there on out.  I was desperate to live and work away from home for my second year summer. I consulted with my Dad who said, “well you know something about the restaurant business.  See if you can get work in a resort kitchen, maybe in the salad bar.” I wrote 150 letters (on a manual typewriter), got 5 responses, and motorcycled up to Marblehead Massachusetts for my only interview.  I overdescribed my skills to the Owner of the resort, was hired as the salad chef at Lakewood Inn in Skowhegan Maine, that is french-speaking Northern Maine.

I reported for duty after an 8-9 hour rainy hair-raising motorcycle ride there and the Chef, just in from Florida met me as I parked the bike and stiffly walked into the kitchen of the large resort hotel.  “Tierney”, he said, “get 2 heads of lettuce from the walkin cold-box refrigerator.  I want to show you how I expect every salad to look.”  I exited the cold-box with 2 heads of cabbage in hand and the chef said:  “Tierney, it is gonna be a long summer.”  At 6am the next morning I was in the salad bar ready for work in my newly starched whites… We were to do the breakfast service, fruit, cereals, etc. then gear up for a house count of 240 plus a buffet add-on of about 80, then dinner for 240+.  I had 4 helpers, all of them Harvard kids, and I was the head guy, although just as young and inexperienced as they were.  The chef called me in and said:  “Tierney, make 30 gallons of mayonnaise.”   I left without a word, waited 10 minutes, thought to myself Helmans small bottle with a blue cap,  and went back and said:  “Chef, do you have a particular recipe that you want me to follow?”  He had expected me to have my own…  He handed me an index card, with not a lot written on it.  I went to the salad bar area, started up the big power mixer with the wisk mounted in its arm, cracked and separated 200 eggs, got 4 large cans of dry mustard, about 6 big square cans of salad oil, salt, pepper, a few listed spices, and about 3 tall square cans of vinegar.  The recipe card said nothing about the order for mixing the ingredients so a few minutes later I looked in the rapidly turning 30 gallon bowl and saw the wisk chasing around the bowl a late ball of eggs affected by the vinegar..  The Chef came over, looked in the bowl at the ball of 200 curdled eggs and said “Tierney, it is gonna be a long summer.”  And it was.  My chutzpah for trying for the top spot as salad chef had landed me in that job in a locale where there was simply no way they could replace me… They simply had to teach me every thing that a salad chef would have to know…  We (me and my 4 guys) would make 25 pounds of potato salad, 30 pounds of chicken salad, serve them plus cold meats and made to order salads and cold plates for 300 by 1pm – and be getting ready for the dinner crowd at 5pm.  It was 18/7 hours for the whole of a “long summer”.

A few days into the start in June, the Chef called me into his office regarding the noon buffet, saying,”Get a 25 pound ham and meet me in the kitchen.”  With ham in hand, I met him at the range before midmorning.  He carved on the ham a little bit then said to the head cook, “Put it in at 450 degrees, about 10 hours.”  Nine hours later he called me over and had me watch as he glazed the ham heavily before its final hour at 450 degrees.  I thought to myself, what the heck is he doing! This ham is going to be as hard as a rock, overcooked by a factor of 3…  Next day, the chef explained that this same beautifully glazed ham would be cooked for several hours and reglazed once every week for the rest of the summer.  Each day when the 80-100 noon buffet guests came to the buffet, there would be 20 different dishes and one would be a huge platter of fresh ham slices around this massive and beautifully glazed ham,  But after each noon buffet, the ham sat untouched on a shelf in the walk in refrigerator until the next noon when it would get just 2 hours of exposure before returning to the refrigerator.  In late August as the season came towards its end, I asked the chef if he had any plans for the ham.  Puzzled he said, “no plans”.  It was an exhausting long summer with a hundred things to learn and relearn every week.   There was no social life.  On the last day of the season, about August 29, 1960, my assistant and I took the ham “out” – in a rented canoe.  We paddled to the center of Skowhegan Lake, on the shore of which the hotel was located.  After a few appropriate words, we dropped the ham in the center of the Lake, where it rests today on the bottom.  It is an artifact that will confound anthropologists in 2160, an ossified ham perfectly preserved in the Lake.

I was a salad chef for one more year, on the Cape in Massachusetts at the Cape Codder Inn in 1961.  The chutzpah stuff had served me well and had passed. I never had to make mayonnaise that summer.   It wasn’t nearly as long a summer that year, in 1961.



2 thoughts on “Chutzpah and the Mayonaise

  1. Sean Tierney says:

    Equally important as the chutzpah developed was perhaps the refinement of “the gift of gab.” To this day Connor and I still believe that if you leave a garden hose out in the yard overnight a grinch living in the bushes may eat it. Along with “the bones of the little birds he had eaten.” 😉

  2. Merry says:

    Uncle David — I see an artisanal mayonnaise product line in your future

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