When I eat out I think of myself as a customer of a particular place that serves some food. But according to the jargon of the restaurant industry, I’m a “feeder,” says my passenger Matt Carosi.

“I’m sort of a culinary jack-of-all-trades,” Matt says. “I’ve lived and worked in food industry for about 15 years now, starting as a dishwasher ranging now to restaurant design. So I guess it’s the stories in between.”

As his stories unfold Matt’s father was a great cook who instilled in him appreciation for a well-cooked meal: “I come from an Italian family. Growing up we always sat around the table and shared meals every night and broke bread and discussed the days events.”

Today Matt’s well-versed in the world of food service and feeders. For him it begins years ago in the basement of a small but busy restaurant in Pittsburgh, PA.

“I got a job through a friend at a restaurant washing dishes and it was certainly miserable at times and I questioned life every turn. After a few months of tolling away in a basement I was asked to start bussing tables. Tragedy struck one day though, it was my second or third day on the job, I had a big tray in the air, it was full of some lasagnas and it probably weighted about twenty five to thirty pounds. I had the tray all the way up in the air, another server bumped me and I lost the tray.

“The tray slams down in the middle of the table and this large dish hits this old woman in the head and she is just passed out. Face down. Yeah. And of course the entire restaurant stops and looks at me and it’s that busy that I have to just keep going. So of course they wheeled this woman out on a gurney. I am fairly certain that she survived the incident I actually miraculously was not fired that night.

“The subculture in the food service business is very militaristic. Usually in well-oiled kitchen at a high-end restaurant it’s completely silent. You just hear chef calling out orders and line chef’s calling back saying ‘Yes, chef.’ It takes a lot of discipline to be a good cook because you have to work clean, you have to look clean, you have to execute your dishes on time and to the correct degree of doneness. It’s not learning recipes, it’s learning methods and understanding the cooking techniques behind the method. It’s just chemistry really.

“So you have the chef who’s just like the general, as a line cook you’re on front lines. You’re a line cook, you’re being yelled at, you’re being screamed at, you’re under immense pressure to perform. It’s mentally and physically exhausting. I can recall many Friday nights where you’re in the midst of service and you have to just walk off the line for a second because it’s so intense. You go splash some water in your face and you have to get back at it. There’s no excuses. You have to perform or you don’t.

“Kitchens today tend to be more open because people want to experience sort of the thrill of live cooking. People want dinner and a show.

“We operate in sort of an upside-down world. When you’re working we’re off, when you’re off we’re working. So it’s night and day and after a while becomes unsustainable for health reasons and mental reasons.”

listen to Open Conversation episodes also every Tuesday on KJZZ 91.5, NPR member station in Phoenix, Arizona, a bit after 9:30 am PST.

music by Loopstache
recorded, produced by Regina Revazova

note: this content is intended for listening. This transcript might not be accurate. We advise to listen to the podcast to get full range of emotional highlights and other story elements.

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