Half Baked: A Chef's Guilty Conscience

Patty Canedo is a chef in Palm Beach. She writes frequently about her kitchen exploits in this column, Half Baked.

For a restaurant on the water, rainy days are extra rainy with low chance of business. I splash through the puddles in the parking lot noticing the street lights bouncing off of them; kind of odd they are still on. I walk in the kitchen and immediately feel a sharp chill down my spine.

"Hey Patty." Ron, the sullen production lead, blows past me almost knocking me over. I proceed in the with trepidation. The weather casts a pall over business, moods, and the food. Ron almost knocks me over again as I'm surveying the kitchen. His production at warp speed is unsettling and nerve-racking.

"Morning," my sous, Cathy, greets me. I give her a curled lip, followed by a raised eyebrow.

"Oh, the coat? I already spilled marinara all over myself and this was all I had in the office," she remarked. I'm unnerved at the sight of her in a chef coat, mainly because I've never seen a coat on in this casual kitchen.

As I clock in, I can see the dark haze making its way into the kitchen, igniting the shine of the fluorecent lights that much more. It's almost blinding and definitely depressing. I shut down my brain and slip into my routine; get pans, fill station with ice, get my mise en place, pans, ice, mise, pans, ice, mise. I can do this in my sleep at this point. 

Finally done with the backbreaking chore of filling the ice, so I exhaustedly go for my mise. I open the walk-in cooler, staring down the long row of shelves. My proteins are down toward the end by the freezer. Walking by the shelves I notice various items and drift along to the sound of the humming condenser and lights that are flickering. 

Finally arriving to the protein speed rack, I look back and realized the walk-in seemed a little longer than usual. A new bag of clams came in today. They are tightly closed and still smell salty, so they are very fresh. I take what I need for the line, dropping one.  The echo off the ground of it shattering sends another chill down my spine. I quickly pick it up, overwhelmed by the feeling of guilt.

"You okay, little guy?" I examine the clam but its shell is shattered and I notice a couple bubbles come out from the remains, which quickly stop. "I'm sorry. That must have sucked." Well, I cover my feelings of guilt by telling the remains it's better than the fate of the others. I take the clams to the sink and rinse them off. Once they are covered in cold water, I notice more bubbles coming up and a few opening up. The guilt feeling is back, but nonetheless I drain them and back into the pan they go.

Back at my station, I finish setting up and we quickly go into service. It's busy for a rainy day.

"One dozen steamers!" Chef calls out my app. I open my drawer for the clams. As the light hits them, I notice a little movement. Writing it off as movement from the drawer, I put the guys in the pan, add a mix of stock, wine and herbs, light a fire under the pan, cover it with another and wait. 

I hear a little rattling in the pan but ignore it and eight minutes or so later, the guys are open and delicious. Off they go to a table. The board starts to quickly fill up: apps, entrees, desserts, everything all at once. We go from a steady to full board in minutes.

"Dozen steamers," he calls again. It's organized chaos. I open the drawer for more clams. When the light hits this time, I notice some that were open quickly close, and there was definite rattling around this time. 

"Dozen steamers, come on. What are you doing?" Victor who's next to me notices I'm in a trance.

"But..." I stutter. There's no time to explain so I grab a handful of clams and they go back on the fire. I hear the rattling!  

"Patty, veg now!" Chef saw me.  I stopped staring at my pan.

"Another dozen steamers," Victor calls to me. I hestitate for a second.

"Is it really possible they know what's going on? Nah," I blow the thought out of my head and open my draw. This time, no movement but a lot more are open. I reach my hand in and I feel them nipping me.

"Ahhh, oh my god!" I scream, pulling up my hand.

"What," Victor stops and looks at me.

"They bit me!" I know it sounds nuts the second I say it.

"Stop fucking around, we are getting weeded fast," he snaps. I reluctantly grab the clams and put them in the pan. As I start to ladle stock in the pan, one pops out, diving into the stock. Then another and another! I reach my hand in after them and bring it up from the stock. They've got a hold of the tips of my glove and won't let go. I try to shake them off, but they are stubborn and won't let go.

"Ok, I'm sorry! It's not my fault you're delicious!" I scream out in the middle of the kitchen...

I wake up suddenly from my unusual dream. Next thing I know I'm drifting through puddles in the parking lot. 

"Morning," Victor approaches me. "I already got your mise on the line for you -- just check out what you need to fill."

"Ok, thanks," I head to my station. I open my drawer and as soon as the light hits the clams I see movement.

"AHHHHH! IT'S NOT MY FAULT YOU'RE DELICIOUS!" I slam the drawer shut and notice the entire kitchen staring at me.

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