Hounds tooth…

I didn’t mind it tonight…the climma’ klamma’ of the kitchen.   It was a mellow night compared to last night’s wreckage.  The other night I had my first mentally challenging night.  I worked furiously and to no avail.  On the line by myself, with various mishaps.  Clearly it didn’t detour me.  I’ve been fortunate to come across some reliable and successful kitchens with patience.

Tonight I spoke with one of my sous,and as a student at UC Santa Cruz a professor told him, “When reading becomes a chore it’s time to move on.”  So that’s how he ended up in a kitchen…Santa Cruz…New York…Chicago…and San Francisco.

I’ve heard horror stories.  For cooking, to become a chore.  A haphazard mundane task.    So far, a pastry chef puncturing the nerve in her arm with a sharp German pairing knife (her right hand),  someone walking off the oven line in the middle of a busy dinner rush, slamming s hand in the walk-in then getting sent to the hospital also in the middle of a busy dinner rush, cases of ringworm, fingers getting sliced on the meat slicer, and this my friend is only the beginning of the cuts and scaring.  The other night a fire loomed just 3 doors down from the restaurant.  As the fire trucks came blaring down the street and the smell of plastic and burnt embers filling the air,   through the lights and sirens we kept working.   Mentors have even told me they heard a head cook screaming in the bathroom bloody murder in the middle of a hectic shift because of a kidney stones.

One night after a shift, a couple of us got together for a nightcap, and over a 40 oz and a glass of wine i heard a cook softly proclaim, “I just want to cook”.  Simple. His eyes nearly welled up.  It was the first time that I came across someone who feels that there is much more to cooking than just heat and chaos, the no frills. It is about nurturing a twisted instinct in us all to feed others, and to do it well.  I’ve always wanted to do that.

Maybe it was growing up in a bakery.  Maybe it was watching my mother cook. Maybe it was trying to cook for my brothers when my mother wasn’t home from a long work day.  Maybe it was that one time I made homemade pastries for my fifth grade class (Chinese crackers chocolate and butterscotch chips), or the other time I had to make my twist on egg rolls for an Sophomore English class;the topic, food from your culture (ground beef sautéed w/mushrooms, onions and garlic, along some spices rolled in won-ton wrappers).  I remember thinking, these kids definitely won’t like the grisly noodles and black mushrooms in my mothers egg rolls, so I’ll Americanize it!

In one of my first posts, I had mentioned that I carried my knives in a fancy bag. I no longer carry my knives in my calf skin Marc Jacobs bag.  I no longer feel the need really to get such material possessions when now I can’t even afford to think about such extravagances, even before, they were just window shopping dreams.  I can however think of foie grois, truffles, black-footed chickens, various charcuteries, cook books, a lovely dinner at Chez Panisse.

I now carry my knives in a fold-able black, hounds tooth lined knife bag.  In it I carry 2, 8 inch knives, one western one Japanese, a serrated knife, a 6 inch Japanese vegetable knife, a Japanese pairing knife, a small mandolin, measuring spoons, an ergonomic peeler, Sharpees, Neosporin, and a board scraper.   It’s exciting.  I find comfort in holding onto my knives… my toolkit.  Sometimes admitting that I throw in some chap stick, an eyebrow manicure kit, and even blush and a brush.  I see my hands aging and my bruises and scrapes becoming more common.

Maybe I am exaggerating, after all we all tend to become our worst critics clearly hoping that growth and maturing will develop.   It all pays off.   When you can learn someone new each day, and so far I’ve learned various techniques to cooking meats, pastas, and vegetables, various prep shortcuts, and most importantly appreciating what is immediately in front of you.  Focus and determination, just when you think your about to burst, you remember your ability to breathe.  The kitchen has revived my sense of self. The kitchen has also shown me how to keep up a sense of cool, and a bit of awareness and confidence.

Travel…ohhh travel is on my mind.  I have to admit I haven’t been able to travel much but I find it important for cooks to venture out to new territory, and to explore and cultivate their palate.  To be able to get inspiration from other restaurants and cooks.   To gain momentum by  gathering new ideas and ingredients from farms and purveyors but, to also be able to experience authentic regional cuisine.   Paris is currently on my mind…

Apples and Oranges.

Look…it isn’t glamorous who said it ever was. Today I sliced my finger. In an earlier post I had wrote about the beauty of a Berkel slicer and how the fat was “glistening” as I was slicing Salamis—Well today my finger felt what it was like to be a salami. Not as tantalizing as a savory piece of salami eh? But, I knew it would be for a good story.

Artistically I can say that the red was a deep red…a very deep concentrated berry red that dribbled down my finger–a deep blood red–almost like concentrated pomegranate. My chef whites acted like a blank canvas for the crimson red. Like a Jackson Pollock it unconsciously splattered all over my apron.

It all started with a hum. A Lykke Li song. When I slice I like to get into a rhythm and condense my thoughts into my own world, so that could immerse myself and concentrate on my immediate task. Happily humming along I was witness to my first finger slice! Something must have happened, another random thought must have weaved it’s way through my concentration. So I fumbled.

Oddly enough I HEARD the cut before I even felt it. It was like…well it sounded more like–Remember wood shop? It sounded like wood with a bit of pressure against the viciously moving saw blade . “HOLY (something)” — I proclaimed, as I grabbed my thumb and scrunched my face.. I think the cut was on a 1.5…so that means it was moderate. But, give me 2-3 more centimeters an it could have been a doooozy. Oh when I think of that sound it immediately takes me back to wood shop–at least there I never cut anything off. I did however, make a very beautifully detailed bird clock with a charming little heart.

I sqeeeeeeazed my precious thumb as if I were saying “I LOVE YOU DONT LEAVE ME!” My adrenaline was pumping…I had not felt the pain yet…and I remember the pressure.

My sous chef ran over and automatically knew what had happened…luckily “it wasn’t that bad”. Sure it wasn’t thaaaat bad but I would say I sliced a good portion of the end of my thumb almost off. The adrenaline lead me to a dark laugh that lead to a twisted joke to make everyone around me laugh. My sous (bless her heart) grabbed a kitchen rag and told me to “Go and sit in the dry storage…hold your hand above your head…apply pressure and don’t stop till the blood has lessened”… Chef came down and told me that he thought I was surely crying. “Your a strong girl”…and tried to calm my nerves. I was okay–I think. OH was my adrenaline pumping, my heart was beating and my leg was shaking. I just kept thinking about the rapidly turning slicer…and how much more could have been taken off. I kept on humming that song in my head.

I also noticed a bin of Romano beans. I also remember on the menu “Slow cooked Romano Beans”. I asked Chef, “how are those cooked?”. Two ibuprofens, 4 band-aids and one of those latex glove finger things and I was set. I went back to slicing and finishing up the prep for my station.

You know when I first stated I was hesitant to become a cook, I hesitated because of my mother. She cautioned me of the knicks, the cuts, the burns, the everything. My first burns came from baking cakes, or turkeys in the ovens, and, I still have the scars on my arms to prove it. I’ve splattered oil in my eye, frying eggrolls, or just being nosey–while watching my mother cook I would try to peak through the lids of a bubbling pot and burn my fingers. All this hurt…It’s intensified now. It’s no longer Mamma’s Kitchen.

This incident tonight reminded me of a few moments from my past. Like when I had my first wisdom teeth pulled. By the way, I was fully awake and conscious for the event . A couple of numbing shots of Novocaine and a few moments (more like hours) later I would experience my first traumatizing blood splatter–right ALL OVER the dentist’s pristine whites; that same bright red on his jacket was on my apron tonight. It also reminded me of PACO the parrot. Michelle, my hometown friend told me not to pet this bird…”harmless”, I thought. WRONG. That thing bit off a slice of my middle finger, and a straight line of splotches and splatters ran down those white mini blinds. It was as if I had taken a paint brush–dipped it heavily in paint–raised it behind my head and with momentum and a thrust whipping it onto the white blinds.

Apples slice differently than oranges. Sometimes you do not, need a sharp knife to cut through the crisp skin of an apple…but when cutting through the rough exterior into the flesh of an orange you need a sharper knife…well lets say a tomato. Sometimes it takes an extremely sharp blade to cut through something so delicate even though it’s skin is so thin, because any unnecessary pressure would bruise your produce. When you cut a finger it’s always better to cut with a sharp blade to lessen the pain. Well a sharp knife in general is ALWAYS a good thing to have. Just moments before I cut my finger I sharpened the Berkel.