munching on “Short-Order Cook” by Jim Daniels

“Man who invented the hamburger was smart; man who invented the cheeseburger was a genius.” ~ Matthew McConaughey


“Cheeseburger” by Tjalf Sparnaay (oil on linen, 2012)


by Jim Daniels

An average joe comes in
and orders thirty cheeseburgers and thirty fries.

I wait for him to pay before I start cooking.
He pays.
He ain’t no average joe.

The grill is just big enough for ten rows of three.
I slap the burgers down
throw two buckets of fries in the deep frier
and they pop pop, spit spit  . . .
pssss . . .
The counter girls laugh.
I concentrate.
It is the crucial point —
they are ready for the cheese:
my fingers shake as I tear off slices
toss them on the burgers/fries done/dump/
refill buckets/burgers ready/flip into buns/
beat that melting cheese/wrap burgers in plastic/
into paper bags/fried done/dump/fill thirty bags/
bring them to the counter/wipe sweat on sleeve
and smile at the counter girls.
I puff my chest out and bellow:
Thirty cheeseburgers! Thirty fries!
I grab a handful of ice, toss it in my mouth
do a little dance and walk back to the grill.
Pressure, responsibility, success.
Thirty cheeseburgers, thirty fries.

~ from Places/Everyone (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1985)

“Bakje Patat” by Tjalf Spaarnay (oil on linen, 1999)



Nothing beats the good feeling of a job well done. As Philip Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield once said, “Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.”

Flipping burgers, a minimum wage job — nothing out of the ordinary. Yet it’s not every day one is asked to fill a thirty cheeseburger/thirty fries order, and I like how this particular short-order cook pulled if off with such aplomb.

Not letting the counter girls distract him, keeping his nerves in check, orchestrating every move as he jockeys burgers, cheese, buns, fries, wrapping and bagging — quite a feat. He had a system and it worked. Yes, he should be proud, munch on that ice and do a little dance!

There is no job too small to warrant our full attention. We make our own rewards. Chances are, none of the counter girls could have done what the short-order cook did, or as well. Sure, he had probably cooked dozens of cheeseburgers before, just not thirty all at once. But when the need arose, everything he had done up until then prepared him to meet that challenge.

The masterful cheeseburger and fries paintings in this post were created by Dutch megarealistic artist Tjalf Spaarnay. Yes, they look like photos, and give us the chance to re-examine ordinary foods we take for granted. I love how he has elevated fast food, showing it off in beautiful, meticulous, mouthwatering detail (french fries just happen to be Spaarnay’s favorite).

In his poem, Jim Daniels gave the often overlooked or undervalued fast food worker a moment in the spotlight, a good reminder to relish small victories because they keep us going and growing.

Okay, now I really want a cheeseburger with fries . . . and a little dessert, of course. 🙂

“De moorkop,” by Tjalf Spaarnay (2009)




We are pleased to announce the following giveaway winners:

For a copy of DREAMING OF YOU by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater and Aaron DeWitt, the winner is:


And for a signed copy of DUMPLING SOUP by Jama Kim Rattigan and Lillian Hsu-Flanders + a $50 Amazon gift card, the winner is:

  🥢 KELLY D! 🍲

WooHoo! Congratulations to Diane and Kelly!!!

Thanks to everyone for all the great comments. Especially appreciate all the nice Happy Anniversary wishes. 🙂

More giveaways coming soon, so stay tuned!


Erin is hosting the Roundup at The Water’s Edge. Twinkle toe on over and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week. Happy Reading!


Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

30 thoughts on “munching on “Short-Order Cook” by Jim Daniels

  1. Wonderful poem! The celebration of a job well done in any endeavor is worth it. But, I do like this particular accomplishment. I would like to think that my burger would be made by someone like this. Nice choice of topic, photos and quote today. They connect very well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was nervous for him while he was making the burgers/fries. So hard to get that timing right! Sometimes the cheese slices just won’t separate. Glad there was a triumph here — thanks for sharing the little victories with us, and the tasty art!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As someone who cools a lot – and has worked in restaurants and smaller venues – I can completely appreciate the 30 burger & fries scenario. And I didn’t realize that burger was a painting until you pointed it out – wow!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it would be good inspiration and incentive for all short-order cooks. The dessert “photo” is also one of Sparnaay’s oil paintings. 🙂


  4. I think one day last week was national cheeseburger day (someone shared on FB) so it’s a delight to read about cheeseburgers (30) and an expert. I am in awe of short order cooks who possibly get no respect but they really do know how to DO! Love “when the need arose, everything he had done up until then prepared him to meet that challenge.” Yep, that’s life. Thanks, Jama!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Haha, I felt something was just a little off about the pictures. They look very real. Thanks for stopping by the blog this week and for sharing this poem. I suppose life has more mundane than grand moments, sometimes it takes being more present to be able to appreciate the little victories.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Just this morning I read about a Cosby Show alum, who was thrown into the media spotlight last week after photos of him working at a Trader Joe’s appeared on tabloid news sites. Made me so mad. Luckily celebrities came to his defense, followed by an outpouring of public support. But still. Why must some look down on others who are contributing meaningfully, no matter what they’re doing? This poem made me really happy today, Jama. And a bit hungry too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I read about that actor too. Shaming others seems to be a national pastime. People constantly have to put others down to make themselves feel better. And it starts with you know who.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Another delicious post–superb poem and wonderful art–I think maybe it’s real, but I couldn’t touch it, perhaps my portals not working. Nothing does beat “the good feeling of a job well done.” I totally agree Jama, it all came together in that moment, practice, practice, practice. Now, I’d like to either climb into your top image or have a little piece of that dessert, yum, thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love how it celebrates the ordinary, and makes it shine. And wow–that art is so hyper-realistic! I wonder how long it takes to create one painting, and to get the light just right. Thanks, Jama 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. i worked part time as a short order cook when I was in college, but never had an order such as this. Quite an accomplishment! The job taught me a lot about staying organized and focused , to be efficient and to stay calm under pressure. I have fond memories of those days. Needless to say, this wonderful poem really resonates with me. Very endearing character!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing that interesting tidbit. You are a woman with an interesting history. Len once worked as a short-order cook too. He still makes good breakfasts :).


  10. So pleased to have won Amy’s book. Many thanks! I have a new grandson arriving the first of the year, so, this as yet unnamed little boy has his first gift from Grandma!

    I’m drooling over those painted foods–especially the fries. And guess what, I think I can smell them, too, right through the screen!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Your poem made me think about my brother in-law who owns a diner in an old train car and is the cook – flipping pancakes to burgers and it can be quite impressive when the diner is humming. All jobs have value indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love the idea of a diner in an old train car! And I admire short-order cooks who work like a fine oiled machine during peak hours. 🙂


  12. I spent a year cooking in a restaurant in NYC, and I could relate to the tension in that order! Those paintings are amazingly realistic…just fantastic! Congrats to your winners.


  13. Wonderful poem with such wise reminders to take pride in a job well done–and that all work done well is worthwhile. And now I’m hungry for a cheeseburger and fries.


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