This episodic writing about a female chef brings you into the kitchen and her life as she navigates the many pushes and pulls in her life. I’ll be going back in forth in the timeline, so make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any updates!
The 2018 pinnacle moment…
Sweat and grease get under my fingernail as I scratch between my braid’s interweaves. Taught. Itchy. Sweaty. Gross. Chef closes the door and moves from behind me. I track his movements from the corner of my eyes as he settles in at his desk. His brown eyes searching me. Never a moment without evaluation. I readjust how I’m seated, trying not to look like I’m wiggling.
I hold his gaze. Blank. I strive for blank. No stress, concern, or fear. Don’t let it out, they can’t get in. Slow down my heartbeat so they won’t hear it in the dead silence of the kitchen, this office. When I can, I let out joy. Strive for joy. Smile, laugh (quietly), wink even.
Despite myself, I drop my gaze for a beat. My hands vibrate. They’re clutching each other and I hadn’t even noticed. Suddenly I realize my wrists are…skinny. So skinny the veins pop through. I thought that made me look strong. But I’m just…
I release my grip and yank at the bottom of my coat, still white. No. There’s a slight yellow dot on the sleeve roll. Butter sauce. My hand unconsciously runs across the top of my headband, smoothing out phantom stray hairs. I meet his gaze as my hand works. It drops to my lap.
“So,” he grins. “Are you ready for a new jacket?”
I lose my breath.
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It’s hot. Like, really hot. I’m pounding warm water out of a quart container just to maintain some level of hydration as it immediately extrudes from my forehead, back, armpits, belly button, just everywhere the minute it leaves my stomach.
“Order In: one tilapia, one burger, one Reuben no slaw.”
“One tilapia.” I call back.
“One burger, one Reuben no slaw.” Tony calls back.
I drop open the oven and with a damp stripe cloth pull out an skillet with an oil – or as we tell the customers, “butter” – soaked cod. I move fast. Damp rags + 450ºF steel skillet handle = burnt hands. Options: new rag or move fast. There are no new rags until tomorrow, so move faster.
The iron skillet clatters onto the burners.
“2 out on cod.” I call to Marco.
“2 out on cod.” Marco calls back.
Grab a plate. Slam mashed potato on it. Grab tongs from the spoon bane. Grab reheated asparagus from the skillet. Drop on plate at a 45º angle to potatoes. Tongs back. Spatula from spoon bane. Scoop out fish. Drop on plate between potatoes and asparagus. Spatula back. Pinch of chives from nine pan. Toss them on like Bobby Flay. BAM! Plate up into the pass.
“Cod.” I call.
“How long on spaghetti Marco?” Asks Rio.
“Spaghetti.” Marco says, tossing it up into the pass.
Rio nods, takes both plates and passes them to a server behind him. The swinging doors swish behind the server as he disappears. He scratches behind his ear and leans up onto his side of the pass. I wipe my forehead with my shoulder. Spatula from bane. Flip tilapia. Spatula back. Open oven. Heat blasts my face, stinging on my sweat and open pores. Slam! Oven shut. Again and again until I sway with the kitchen. My blood pulses hard in my arms, my sweat leaches from my skin, the heat blasts me again and again. Rio calls, Marco and I call back, I call, Marco calls, Tony calls, we swirl around each other. Open flames feel like room temperature and water warms my insides.
And then it slows. Everything. Five more orders. Three. Two. Done.
Brick slides down the line.
He eagerly lifts the tubs full of our skillets, delis, nine pans, third pans, sheet trays. They rack up as we desperately dump ingredients on their last night into the trash. I click off the warmers, start plastic wrapping containers. I run the line’s cutting boards to the dish pit – newest member on line gets the “honor”. I come back with little, square red buckets with sanitizer and steel wool scrubbies. Marco and Tony have pulled the rubber mats off the floor. I start scrubbing down every inch of the line while Marco follows me with an orange striped rag, rubbing it dry. Carlo, who works garde manger, follows us with the broom and Tony grabs the mop bucket and finishes everything out.
“Time!” Tony calls as he slams the mop back into the bucket.
“Thirty-six minutes boys.” Rio practically sings the words. Thirty-six minutes. A solid closing. We trudge out of the kitchen. Rio hits the lights behind us.