A Lesson from the Chef, Courtesy of an Onion

A Lesson from the Chef, Courtesy of an Onion
Photo by Flicker user Bahman Farzad

Patty Canedo is a pastry chef at a famed, private country club on Palm Beach and writes weekly about her kitchen exploits.

A Lesson from the Chef, Courtesy of an Onion

The time clock beeps, taking my finger prints and snapping me out of a daze. "9:55 a.m." I quicken my pace up the stairs. I walk past the empty chef's office -- no activity before 10 a.m. is a good sign, because things are always more hectic when the boss is around. Into the pastry shop, I drop my knife roll and take in the pungent smell of developing yeast.

"I love when you are here in the mornings," I say to Anne, the baker, who's hand rolling today's bread. I quickly head to the main kitchen to sign in. The two sous chefs are passing jokes while prepping, working at a normal pace. Luke, the Chef de Cuisine, is not in the kitchen -- all good signs. Adam, the a.m. sous, greets me

and heads to the walk-in. I quickly sign the clipboard and make a bee line for the pastry shop.


Patty, did you forget something last night?" Peter, the p.m. sous, says

in a condescending tone with a large smirk on his face. I already don't

like where this is headed.

"What?" I grunt.

"The onions you were peeling yesterday."

"Onions? Sorry. Luke cut me early, and I got rushed out of here. They didn't put them away?" I ask, a little confused.

"Yeah, well, you still should've taken care of your station," Peter says, lecturing me now.

"Onions? I put those away."

"Well you forgot one on the floor, under your station."

I stare at him a second before I react. "Sorry," sarcasm, followed by the loudest, annoyed huff I could let out.


the main kitchen, back to the pastry shop, I gather my mise en place

for service. I make my way over to the line that I share with the garde

manager, Tonya. She's already tolling, setting up. Some more greetings

as I get behind the line to start working. 

While going

through the motions, I open my cupboards to pull down garnishes. A

bright yellow piece of paper catches my eye in the china cabinet. I

grab it and discover that it's tacked to an onion.

"You're freaking kidding me!" I call out.

It reads:


and good morning! I hope you had a restful evening, and would like to

thank for leaving this onion behind on the floor by YOUR station!

Please be more observant in the future!!
-Chef Peter

I slam the onion in the trash and head to the walk-in for fruit -- and to cool off.

the kitchen begins to bustle, champagne corks popping and servers

hustling for drinks and food. Toast points with a fresh tomato, pure

white mozz, bright green basil finished with just a drop of balsamic

glaze go walking past. Thin wheat crisps with herb cream cheese, smoke

salmon topped with caviar, garnished with a dill sprig get me to pick

up my head.

Next, the hot hor d'oeurves. A bite-size crown of

phyllo dough filled with a spinach artichoke dip garnished with a dice

tomato in the center. It is simple foods today, but I stop and stare to

calculate how long it took someone to cut each piece to bite size and

appreciate that it was cut by hand, all to the same exact size. This

lagging results in me getting scolded by Luke for not working quickly.

Six o'clock can't come fast enough.

Finally, 5:45 p.m., and I

gather my tools and clean up the pastry shop. I have to pass through

the main kitchen to sign out. I do so quietly and hope no chef is

standing next to the clipboard. The p.m. line cooks are in full swing,

making sauces, pre-searing scallops, fabricating proteins.


grab my tools and quietly run out the door. I pull the note out of my

pocket again, shake my head, and even chuckle a little. Bad days are

one thing -- soufflés don't rise, something burns, sauces break -- it

happens to everyone. Frustrating days are worse. These are the days I

take the long way home.

I roll down my windows, turn up the

iPod, and drive slowly down the coast. The ocean on my left is dark and

peaceful while the Intracoastal waters are orange from the sunset. I

text my fiancée that I'll be home soon, I'm taking the scenic route.

He texts back, "you always take the long way home."

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