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The Head Chef at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey is a supporting character in "Battle of the Century" played by Samuel Ray Gates. He and his colleagues begin a strike over poor working conditions and pay that spreads to involve the whole African American community.


Season 2[]

On July 1 1921 the African American staff of the Ritz Carlton Hotel prepare food in the kitchen. Travis Elkins is chopping vegetables. Purnsley, still bruised from his recent incarceration and sporting a new gold front tooth to replace the one he lost, is washing dishes. The Caucasian kitchen manager enters and warns Purnsley to be more careful with the plates. Purnsley clatters more china as he works and the manager reprimands him, calling him “boy”. Purnsley tells the manager that he has a name and the manager responds that he does not have to remember it. The senior cook, Otis, calls for lunch reminding the staff that they have just ten minutes. The workers line up next to Otis to receive their meal. Purnsley looks disappointed in his food; a mashed potato and vegetable slop. While the others eat Purnsley loudly asks the chef if he has bitten him. The chef is confused but admits that Purnsley has not. Purnsley goes on to wonder why the chef is feeding him dog food drawing a laugh from his colleagues. The chef states that he is following instructions from management. Purnsley complains about the constant influx of appealing room service leftovers that they are not allowed to eat. Purnsley’s fellow dish washer Franklin reminds him that he is the new man on the kitchen crew; having been there just a week and nevertheless should know their rules. Purnsley decries the rules as racist – they consider the workers unfit to eat the leftovers of the Caucasian customers. Louis says that the food tastes good to him. This draws a sidelong glance from the head chef, who remains quiet. Purnsley derisively asks his colleagues to look at themselves calling them “Uncle Toms” (slang for an African American who will betray the interest of his people to maintain good standing with Caucasian masters, derived from the play Uncle Tom’s cabin). His rhetoric compares the workers to loyal slaves and the head chef tells him to be thankful that he has a job. The older workers echo the head chef’s sentiment. Purnsley recites their long hours and little free time and says that he has served easier time in prison. Purnsley ignores a warning from one of the workers that their boss is coming and his argument wins some of the workers back to his side. Purnsley says that he was fed better food in prison and Elkins says that he believes Purnsley is being truthful. The manager asks if the staff have a problem, now referring to them all as “boys”. The head chef denies an issue and Purnsley says that they are discussing their poor quality meal. The manager checks Purnsley’s name and Purnsley confirms it, calling the manager chief. The manager sarcastically calls Purnsley a lord, looking around at the other workers and warns him that if he continues then he will be fired. The manager instructs them to finish their lunches and return to work. Purnsley keeps silent allowing sympathy to build amongst his colleagues. When the manager is gone he tells the others to do as instructed and “eat it up.” ("Battle of the Century")

The staff at the Ritz Carlton eat their lunch. Purnsley looks around and then asks the head chef if he is happy with the meal. He counters that he is happy to get paid each week. Support is mixed among the other workers – some shake their heads while some vocalise agreement. Purnsley complains about the low rate of pay ($15 a week) and Travis guesses that the hotel manager makes ten times as much. Purnsley complains that they work harder than the managers and looks at his fellow dishwasher Franklin as he says the manager does not clean any dishes. Otis the cook adds that the manager does not have to stand over a hot stove. Another worker, Louis complains that the manager doesn’t have to gut fish until his hands bleed. Purnsley lists examples of the demeaning way they are spoken to and says that the manager does not have to kowtow to this. A buzzer sounds and the head chef says that they need to get back to work. Purnsley asks who says so and the head chef warns that the manager will be there shortly. Purnsley derisively repeats manager and asks how long they have been putting up with the poor working conditions. Louis says that he has been their almost four years. Franklin announces that he has five and others join in. Purnsley wonders if they have ever had a raise and Otis admits that they have not. The head chef stairs at the plate in his hand as the others vocalise support for Purnsley. Purnsley says that the hotel takes them for granted. Travis leads a murmur of agreement. Purnsley adds that they do not appreciate their hard work. The head chef says there is nothing they can do about it and that complaining will lead to them being replaced. Purnsley wonders what the hotel can do in the face of united action. The head chef is unconvinced saying that they might replace them all. Purnsley points out the logical fallacy in this, saying that if they all demand better conditions then their employers will have no-one else to hire. ("Battle of the Century")

The manager enters and claps, saying that the break is over. Purnsley sits down and the manager clicks his fingers and orders them back to work. No-one moves and Purnsley says that they have not had lunch yet. The manager asks what Purnsley has in his lap and Purnsley says that it looks like mule excrement. The manager observes that Purnsley is still complaining about the free food and Purnsley insists that they are not given food. The manager says that Purnsley can complain in his own time and fires him, shouting at him to get out. When Purnsley does not move the manager asks if he is deaf. Purnsley stands up causing the manager to step back in fear. He threatens to call the police if Purnsley does not get out. Purnsley asks for a raise and meals that the manager would eat himself. Travis stands up next to him. The manager instructs Otis to get back to work and Otis joins the defiant group. The manager says that Otis has orders to prepare and tells him to get on with it. Met with inaction he turns to Louis and tells him that he has a dozen crates of fish to scale. Louis stands up and folds his arms. The manager tells Franklin to get on with washing the dishes and he agrees to do so but is held back by Purnsley. The remaining workers stand up, surrounding the manager who shifts his feet nervously. The head chef slams his plate onto the floor at the manager’s feet as he tries a final warning. The other works join in, throwing kitchenware down onto the floor. Purnsley throws his plate straight at the manager and he ducks out of the way and responds with racial abuse. The workers then direct their aim at the manager, throwing produce along with crockery. ("Battle of the Century")


Memorable Quotes[]


Season two appearances
21 Ourselves Alone A Dangerous Maid What Does the Bee Do?
Gimcrack & Bunkum The Age of Reason Peg of Old Two Boats and a Lifeguard
Battle of the Century Georgia Peaches Under God's Power She Flourishes To the Lost