We were nine interns from all over the world that did our chef’s internship in the largest hotel in Southern America. To be more specific in Downtown Atlanta, Georgia. The hotel had eight different kitchens and throughout the year, every three months, the interns were rotated to a different kitchen.
For the last three months of my internship I was rotated to room service. And that’s where I met Mamado.
About 18 years ago he and his wife relocated to the US. He now has three children and is making a pretty decent living for his family.
Mamado is the manager of the servers in room service. Whilst I work behind the line, cooking up orders and prepping for the evening’s service, Mamado worked in front of the line. He would make sure that no order gets left behind. That the servers don’t get confused with the tickets, especially when it gets really busy.
I liked Mamado right from the start. I would jokingly refer to his wife as Papado and ask him how Papado and the kids are doing. He found it very amusing and even the servers had a bit of a laugh.
Mamado was a brilliant cook and we use to joke about the Americans who, to us, had no idea how delicious chicken livers was or a stew of giblets and hearts. And we used to laugh out loud when we saw the servers cringe when we talked about walkie talkies or pap and pote. They probably thought that we were barbarians on a food rehabilitation program in the great US of A.
Sometimes, but very rarely though, room service could get really quiet and slow. This mainly occurred on national holidays and when the hotel was only between 15% and 20% full. Then Mamado would fall in line beside me. Something that would definitely cost him his job if he were caught. But on those days all the big shot chefs and managers would be at home with their own families.
But Mamado wouldn’t do the orders. Nope, he would start up a chicken curry that his grandma used to make years ago when he was still a boy back in Ghana. And whilst he prepared the chicken and the onions and garlic, the curry and cajun pepper we would talk about Africa.
He use to tell me how he helped his grandmother to slaughter two chickens behind the hut in the village where he grew up. How he would pluck and clean them while she prepared a fire. How the family arrived and everybody would sit in a circle, chattering about whilst grandma prepared a chicken curry in a big black pot on an open fire.
O, how I would long for Africa during those slow evenings in room service with the smell of the cury and garlic and onions.
And whilst I was doing an order that just came through the ticket machine, I would tell him about my Oupie in the bushveld. And an open fire with a black pot and a rich stew of oxtail cooking away for hours.
And we used to get so home sick that we sometimes had to stop talking for a couple of minutes.
When Mamado’s chicken curry was ready all the servers would line up and wait their turn for a helping of deliciousness. And Mamado would plate me a big serving of this distant memory of his.
Nowadays when I make Mamado’s chicken curry at home I don’t think of Africa anymore. I think of America. And a slow night in room service. And Mamado.