Barcelona diaries 4 – back to school

by Oliver Benet

That Friday, March 13th 2020, was when my alarm went off. I could sense a strange feeling in the air as if something big was about to happen. The damn virus had spread everywhere, and even though we had been laughing about it four days before, we could now see that this was serious.

At around nine in the morning I opened the doors of the Arcano Restaurant. As the chef of the lunch service, I was about to start the mise en place. The number of reservations had plummeted. I could sense it was going to be a weird day. And so it was — no more than eight customers showed up for lunch.

The media news were saturated with reports of an impending lockdown and curfew. That same night, we did not open.

A year and a half later, I was still sitting on the living room sofa. A restaurant like ours, which depended 100% on visitors and tourists, appeared impossible to re-open. Especially after Barcelona was emptied of tourists.

During that strange stand-by time at home, everyone would brood about everything. And as a restless cook, I remember the maddening frustration.

I got a lot of job offers, but I hung on, waiting for Arcano’s reopening.

At a certain moment, a friend of mine, the head chef of a well-known school in the city encouraged me to become his deputy.

After weighing the pros and cons of being the sous chef of a large restaurant in Barcelona compared to those of becoming the deputy chef at a school, I decided to take the plunge. The change was profound; different waysof working, astronomical volumes, customers —the schoolkids—who, like drunks, always tell the truth, brutal schedules, and… free weekends… it had been years, since I had a free Sunday. I remember asking my wife ¨What do people do on weekends?¨

I set to work with humility, but the job seemed easy. The only handicap was that the head chef, “my friend”, was going to take a six months’ paternity leave.

And, my dear friends, that’s how, in just fifteen days from being asked, I went from lazing around on the couch with a cold beer in my hand, to being the head chef of an important school, feeding about 400 pupils and 100 members of staff.

In the next article I will tell you about my experience of working in a huge kitchen in a Catholic school in Barcelona.

*Oliver Benet is a Catalan cook and writer of the book “Per què odiava en Ferran Adrià?”

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