To be a dishwasher in a top restaurant, you need a "heroic" work ethic, says Tom Sietsema. That's just one thing the Washington Post food critic discovered after spending seven hours doing that very job. Taking a shift at Caracol, chef Hugo Ortega's 250-seat Mexican seafood restaurant in Houston, Sietsema learned to dodge "hot pans, broken glass, or sharp knives," and that shooting water onto a plate means much of the food left behind ends up in your face, he writes in a feature. Other lessons learned: "Hot water on habanero oil creates tear gas" and "unlike at home, the five-second rule does not apply." (Even a dropped mixing bowl goes into the dishwasher instead of back on the counter.) But perhaps most importantly: Restaurant dishwashers are "some of the lowest-paid workers with the most responsibility."
Without pots and dishes, food obviously can't be prepared or served. So dishwashers work tirelessly with their hands—gloves are "too cumbersome"—to do what machines can't. To Sietsema's dismay, that includes scrubbing rock salt off pewter platters torched in a 600-degree wood-fired oven. Dishwashers—who make $10 an hour at Caracol, plus perks—also load dishes into washing machines, then remove and sort them. "The slightest pause in the action, and they're looking for something to do, whether it's returning a 40-quart, half-their-size mixing bowl to its proper station or taking out the trash," writes Sietsema. By the time he's hit with garbage tumbling from a slippery trash bag, he's about had enough. Read the full story, which discusses the healthy respect chefs have for dishwashers—mainly because many of today's top chefs once did the grunt work, too. (Read more restaurants stories.)