Story and photos by Vivienne Pearson
It’s true that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. I have never appreciated an electrical appliance so much until my dishwasher was out of action for three whole weeks. I did load after load of dishes. My entire kitchen bench space was draped with tea-towels, and they, in turn, were covered with a sculptural mass of glasses, plates, cutlery and pots.
My plight got me thinking about cafes and restaurants and the overwhelming number of dishes that they have to deal with, day in, day out. What about the people employed as dishwashers, who turn take the dirty dishes we leave behind and return them as clean, shining pieces of crockery and cutlery, ready for the next person. Are they appreciated, like I now appreciate my dishwasher? Or do the old days of kitchen hierarchies and ‘dish pig’ denigration still exist?
I visited a couple of local eateries to find out. In all three, I was happy to find a culture of respect between ‘dishies’, chefs, front-of-house staff and owners. I also found some fascinating stories
Stephen and Ayano – (Fins)
Steven Snow, owner and head chef at Fins Restaurant, has full respect for his dishwashers. ‘It’s a hard job, with lots of pressure,’ he says. ‘If a dishwasher is no good, everything falls over.’ He goes further: ‘A dishwasher is more important than a line chef.’ Steven learned this lesson very early – he was in fact a dishwasher in his first restaurant job. ‘I quit doing Commerce and Law at uni to make entrees and be a dishy,’ he recalls.
Fins employs a specific dishwasher for most shifts but Steven notes that apprentices and even fully qualified chefs are called on for dishes duty, especially during quieter mid-week nights. I meet Ayano Fukuhara, a dishwasher at Fins since June. She came to Fins with no hospitality experience; in fact she worked as a skateboard designer in her home country of Japan. She acknowledges that the job can be boring at times but says she enjoys working with, and being respected by, the Fins team. ‘Everyone is so kind and friendly. They say thank you,’ she says.
Sean, Miguel and Dan (Republik)
Another restaurant with a team who appreciate their dishwasher based on experience is Byron Bay’s Republik Restaurant and Bar. Dishwasher Dan Calvo spoke of the need to find a rhythm in his role as dishwasher. ‘It gets hectic at times – you need to have a regular inflow and outflow,’ he says. Like Ayano, it is the team that keeps him happy while at the sink. ‘We know how to crack down and get to business but everyone is goofy and a lot of fun.’
Republik chef Miguel Guardix started in the same building (under a different business) as a dishwasher and progressed through kitchenhand duties to cheffing. Head chef, Sean Meehan started working at age 15 as a… you guessed it… a dishwasher. Owner Steven Kirkpatrick started in the bar equivalent – as a ‘glassie’ (someone who collects and washes empty glasses). This is a team who truly know what it’s like to walk in each other’s shoes.
Benjamin and Eva (The Other Joint)
Other joint cafe
Another team with great respect for each other’s roles is at Mullumbimby’s Other Joint cafe. Benjamin Wajcman works three days each week as a dishwasher. He happily does tasks that are a far cry from his previous work – as a biosecurity officer. ‘Equine ‘flu arrived on my second shift!’ he recalls. Benjamin stuck with customs work for 12 years before taking a tree-change-enabling redundancy package. He credits the team for keeping him happy at work. ‘They are generous, passionate and happy,’ he says. He also genuinely enjoys the work. ‘It is consuming,’ he describes. ‘I’m in the moment – it’s mindful.’ Another benefit mentioned by all three dishwashers I spoke to is the food. ‘There’s coffee on tap,’ Benjamin says happily. ‘And I love taste-testing dishes – Chef Dave’s risottos are particularly amazing!’
The Other Joint co-owner, Eva Polo-Angeli, is happy whenever she needs to take a turn on dishes duty. ‘It used to be frowned upon but I’ve never had a problem with doing dishes,’ she says. ‘It’s kind of a refuge, it can even be therapeutic.’ Eva recalls a job she had in a busy Sydney restaurant: ‘The one day the dishy called in sick, the place fell apart.’
I can tell you that when my dishwasher ‘called in sick’, my house fell apart. The only upside from my three weeks of being dishwasher-less is that I dedicated some time to teaching my daughter how to wash dishes. It turns out that she’s good at it – methodical and careful. She’s a bit young for a paying job but I now suspect that a career in hospitality, starting with dishwashing, might be on the cards.