Palladium Dining Hall’s head chef, Filipe Flynn, likes to say that he’s just like every other chef. And in some ways, that’s true: he and his family grew up in close proximity to a kitchen, and he works at Palladium to provide for his dozens of children. But there’s one glaring difference between Filipe and the rest of Palladium’s kitchen staff: Filipe is a filth fly.
When I first see Filipe (“Head Chef Filipe,” he often corrects me) deep in the bowels of Palladium’s kitchens, I’m not sure if I’m at the right address. Instead, I am full of questions: Why is there a fly the size of a grown man in the kitchen? Why is it standing on its hind legs? Since when do flies have hind legs? Why is it wearing a chef’s hat? But quickly, I realize that the man I’ve come to interview is, in fact, not a man at all.
Filipe’s identity is a well-kept secret — at least it was until Palladium failed an inspection by New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The inspection gave Palladium 46 points for four different violations, one of which was the presence of filth flies in the kitchen.
When I mention the inspection to Filipe, he sighs; it immediately becomes clear that he’s spoken about this too many times.
“Everyone keeps saying these mean things about me as if I don’t read the newspaper,” he says, taking a seat on a nearby countertop. His eyes start to water, but he blinks the tears away just before a sous chef walks past.
“‘Pest.’ ‘Vermin.’ ‘Sewage-associated.’ It’s not my fault I live next to a sewage plant. Have you tried supporting a family on a Chartwells salary?” I tell him that I haven’t, and he groans; apparently, it was a rhetorical question.
“Even my name,” Filipe continues. “‘Filth fly.’ Why can’t I just be a fly? Nothing about me is filthy.” I point out that he’s sitting on a countertop, but mentioning this just aggravates him further.
“Listen.” He exhales, putting his head in his wings. “I have almost 300 children, and my wife is about to lay another 60 eggs. I can’t afford to lose my job.”
When I visit Filipe’s wife, Filicia, in their cramped Flushing apartment, she seems resigned. Their hundreds of larvae flit around the two of us, leaving no room for privacy, intimacy or silence.
“Filipe probably didn’t tell you how much he loves to cook,” Filicia says, cradling a maggot in one hand and a glass of liquified manure in the other. I realize that she’s right; Filipe didn’t mention his passion for cooking. I was too caught up in getting a good sound bite about the health code violations that I lost sight of what Filipe’s life is really about: a love for food, and the desire to spread that love to whoever he can.
It takes me some time with Filipe before I see his softer side, but eventually, his exoskeleton begins to crack. It comes slowly: an antennae bump with a sous chef, a joke told over a plate of waffles, a kiss to Filicia when he comes home from work. Though Filipe puts up a hardened exterior, it’s not hard to see beyond it — I just had to spend some time with him.
But NYU’s administration doesn’t want to see past the surface. In a letter posted outside Palladium’s entrance, Chartwells and NYU Eats executives said they’ll be “redoubling [their] efforts” to “take care of this issue permanently.” The issue, of course, being Filipe.
When I ask Filipe about the letter, he laughs it off.
“I’ve been here for longer than Chartwells has,” he says, shaking his head. “They couldn’t get rid of me if they tried.”
In fact, Filipe began his tenure at Palladium two years after NYU began its contract with its former dining provider, Aramark, in 1976. Though the lifespan of a filth fly is only one month, Filipe has been working at Palladium for 41 years. He swears that his secret to longevity lies in Palladium’s kitchen.
“At first, I didn’t understand how I was living for so long.” He laughs, and creases form around his enormous red eyes. “But then I realized: it’s our cooling method.”
I’m confused at first, but then Filipe shows me how they chill the food at Palladium. Though the DOHMH mandates that cold food items be kept under 41 degrees Fahrenheit, all food in Palladium’s kitchen is kept at room temperature. Since flies die in the cold, Filipe thrives at Palladium.
Filipe leans in, a sly grin spreading across his pincers. “As long as we keep the food at room temperature, I think I can live forever.”
And if NYU doesn’t stop him, perhaps he can.
Off-Third is WSN’s satire section. Try not to take us too seriously.
This article is satirical, and all quotes and events are entirely fabricated unless stated otherwise.
Email Abby Hofstetter at [email protected]