Not to brag but I am probably one of the three best washer-uppers in the world. First proper job at a fancy creperie in my early teens. Just me and a WinterHalter 2000 keeping the kitchen in business. I would work ludicrous shifts and then go home soaked, like I had survived something. Really it was the kitchen that had survived something – it had survived me. One of the three best washer-uppers in the world.
The KP life. Plongeurs. George Orwell and garbage disposal systems. So much potential here. For one thing there is a rich seam of strategy running through dishwashing. Loading the machine – that is a tricky business! Especially when you are dealing with industrial quantities of stuff to get cleaned, and especially especially when you’re dealing with things that have been burnt on hard during cooking. Cheese, when burnt, can become a whole different thing to the friendly cheese that hangs out in your fridge. I have a cut running down the side of my palm that looks really nasty. It is really nasty! Knife? People will ask. Broken glass? No sir. That cut is from a piece of cheese, that had been blasted until it was brittle and sharp. I swoon a little to think about it. To think of that day!
But the strategy and the danger is only a part of what makes dishwashing fascinating. Ditto the fact that dishwashers, like Samurai or whatever, like to live by a code. We are not ostentatious. We are certainly not highly paid. But there are good dishwashers and bad dishwashers, and the good dishwashers take a certain degree of pleasure in terms of what they can do with the sheen on a wineglass. The good dishwashers know which parts of a teapot collect tannin stains that most people miss – the spout and under the spout where there is often an ornamental ridge. (Also a funny little dot at the very top of the handle.) The good dishwashers know that bad restaurants can be spotted not by what’s on the plate but what’s left crusted underneath it.