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Food Critic Flies to Houston, Learns That Dishwashing Is Hard

The Washington Post's Tom Sietsema worked in the kitchens of Caracol

See those plates? Sietsema washed some of those plates.
Amy McCarthy is a staff writer at, focusing on pop culture, policy and labor, and only the weirdest online trends.

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema traveled all the way to Houston to discover something that probably won’t surprise many people — being a dishwasher in a restaurant kitchen is really, really hard.

In the story, Sietsema details his experience in the kitchen at Chef Hugo Ortega’s Caracol, one of the chef’s busiest and biggest restaurants. As Sietsema scrubs oyster platters caked in salt and find himself doused in food refuse alongside the restaurant’s team, he realizes that dishwashers are a truly crucial component of the kitchen.

“My colleagues’ work ethic is heroic,” writes Sietsema. “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, which involves maneuvering plastic bins full of solids and liquids through the confines of the kitchen, through a cooler and a storage room and the rear of Caracol.”

The Post story came about not long after vaunted chef Thomas Keller presented a porter with his organization’s highest honor, the “Core Award.” His investigation is surprisingly lacking in commentary from Ortega, who began his award-winning restaurant career as a dishwasher in Houston nearly thirty years ago. Ortega does, however, offer Sietsema a few crucial warnings — watch out for “hot pans, broken glass, or sharp knives.”

Perhaps the most revelatory part of this investigation is Ortega’s idea for a much-deserved new title for kitchen dishwashers (or porters) — “the finishers.”