When I was in college, I got a job working at a local diner. A lot of my friends worked there, and going in I thought it would be an easy way to make money for college.
I quickly learned the the food service industry is, in many ways, a total nightmare. I saw things there that haunt me to this day, and I very rarely eat at most restaurants because of the PTSD I still suffer from.
I saw food handled in ways that would make Gordon Ramsey explode, and that was just typical day to day stuff. The real pain, and the source of much of my anxiety about it, is how the industry destroyed people.
Most people who go into cooking do so because they have a creative passion for food. They usually start off as talented home cooks, and then move into the professional world. The problem is, this world does not usually reward creativity. You’re told what to cook and how to cook it. Things that would make you gag would happen, but because the margins were so narrow they were forced to turn a blind eye to things that would never fly at home, and would shut a restaurant down if people saw it for themselves.
I saw a lot of people who started out in the food world with passion end up depressed line cooks at that restaurant. Alcoholism was rampant, as was chain smoking and drug use. I learned very, very quickly that a lot of restaurant workers were undocumented, and were being paid less than minimum wage under the table to help cut down on costs. It was a bleak and depressing lesson in how the world worked, and, as I said, had a pretty major impact on young Uncle Mac’s formative political years.
I’ve also become pretty wary of people who have no experience in this world writing about it, and didn’t have high hopes for Short Order Crooks. I am pleased to say I was very very wrong. This is an excellent story told by people who have done their homework, and also have told a heartwarming, funny, and downright fantastic story.
So let’s dive into this book today and see if you agree!
Here’s the blurb:
Rockwell Granger put his misspent life on the line in pursuit of cooking for a living…and it’s not going well. In debt to the notorious Bardem Brothers — who control the Portland food cart scene with an iron fist — he struggles to make a profit and fights with the few customers he has. When the Bardems call in his marker and force him to track down a rogue food truck invading their turf, Rock has no choice left but to say yes. Meanwhile, Rock’s taco truck has been invaded by his newest (and only) employee, Harper Marbury who took backseat driving to a new level, replacing his menu with her vegetarian agenda.
As Harper polishes her cooking skills, she’s thrown into the chaotic food cart underground, helping Rockwell on his morally grey mission for the Bardems. With two jobs on their plate, Rock and Harper will have to learn how to get along and, even harder, how to cook together as they navigate a world of food pirates, evil hippies, and irate foodies before Rock gets 86’d forever.
As per usual, I have to start off by praising the art of Short Order Crooks. It’s colourful and kinetic, and just perfectly fits the tone and mood of this book. Jim Gibbon’s does a masterful job of creating scenes that are as eye catching as they are dynamic, and he deserves all the praise in the world for the job he has done on this book!
Short Order Crooks is penned by Christopher Selba, and as I said, he clearly has done his homework. Watching Rockwell struggle in this world, from dealing with debt to sinking further into depression, all of it rings very true to me, and that’s both sad and impressive. Sad because I knew people like Rockwell, and impressive because this might just be the way to get more eyes on this part of the industry.
The real heart of Short Order Crooks is the relationship between Rockwell and Harper, a kid from the bad side of town, in an equally crappy place in her life, but with a passion for cooking, a passion that Rockwell himself has seemingly lost at the beginning of the story. For her, cooking is not only a way to feed her adopted family, but also a ticket out of a bad life.
A lot of people don’t realize this, but a number of ex-cons work in food service. Working in prison kitchens, a lot of criminals learn how to be very good line cooks, and for many, it’s the only marketable skill they come out of prison with. I have family that has been incarcerated who have gone that route, and I know it can be a life saver. I also know a lot of kids who had a hard shake in life, and for whom this world might be their only lifeline, so seeing Harper succeed and be successful rang very true.
There’s a lot of action and intrigue in Short Order Crooks, and you’ll learn more about the seedy underbelly of the food truck world than you might ever have known, or wanted to know before. It’s a fascinating and interesting book, and get’s my highest of recommendations! The trade comes out mid October so tell your LCS to add it to your pull now!
So until next time, stay safe, and tip your server in cash so they don’t have to declare those tips!