Half-Baked: Why Do I Do This?
Patty Canedo is a chef in palm Beach. She writes frequently about her kitchen exploits in this column, Half Baked.
After two weeks of doubles with Valentine's Day crammed in the middle of it all, I'm about to fall over. I look at the clock, plotting my escape to rush home and write a paper.
"Patty, when you get a minute, can I talk to you?" the chef/owner calls out across the kitchen.
I stir my mornay and chase behind him. I ignore the paranoid thoughts brought on by exhaustion and his serious tone. I follow him to a back table in the empty restaurant...
"We've been so busy at the other restaurant. Went from empty to 30 tickets at 12:30 and stayed steady all through lunch. The guys we have expoing are just awful -- I mean, they suck!" He's got a mild tone and smiles at his own remarks; I guess this is a usual touching-base chat... so get to the point!
"There's a lot of work to be done down there, and I just don't have the time to be up here." His tone becomes more serious. He's looking at his twiddling thumbs now. My stomach takes a bungee dive.
"I really wanted this to work, but I can't make a five-day workweek fit. My dad's putting all this pressure on me to get back to the other restaurant and blah blah blah," I'm taking in his words and instantly start thinking about my life. Forget this job and this restaurant, but I took on this chore to benefit my life.
"I respect your schooling and all, but I can't have a sous chef that works part-time," he says with a straight face. Now he's hit a nerve, and I'm trying to calm my Latina rage. He actually believes those words! He continues to mutter on, but all I heard was "part time."
Ten minutes of blah blah blah later...
"So let me know what you want to do. Give me a call tomorrow," he says like he's doing me a favor.
"I don't know what you want to do about the shrimp ['cause you told the garde manager to cook the wrong shrimp], but I have the hot food for happy hour ready. I'm going to fire it and go home. I'm doing blah blah blah," I said. I wasn't articulating complete thoughts. But I got up from that table and went back to my mornay. It took every ounce of energy I had left to put out my food. I plate my appetizers, grab my knife bag, and leave.
Soon as my car door slams, the floodgates open. I stress my rent, car, LIFE! Really? PART TIME? REALLY?! I dial the usually suspects, but every number goes to voice-mail. Damn them! I call my chef -- he always answers.
"WHAT?! Are you serious," he's caught off-guard. "What a fucking idiot!" he goes from surprised to annoyed quickly. "He pushes you into this job full well knowing you're in school and all, just to do this!"
Since he's molded, shaped, and beaten me as his protégé, he's taken a personal interest in my career.
"He offered me a spot back at the other restaurant," I chime in.
"Oh," caught off guard again,"what -- your old job back?"
"No, they replaced me. I don't know what it would be. I guess whatever hours he could give me," I start to face my uncertain future. "This sucks!"
"Well, just listen to what he has to offer you. Take what it is until you find something better," he advises me.
"UGH! I can't believe this! THIS SUCKS!"
"Well, we were just talking about how hard it is to do this with school, family, and all. This is how this industry is," he reminds me of the bitter reality of what we food service employees do. "You just gotta pick yourself up and keep going forward. That's all you can do."
One long text to my husband and a traffic jam later, I'm home. The dogs give me their typical greeting of kisses, which I encourage by taking a seat on the floor. A few minutes later, the front door slams again.
"Why are you on the ground?" David has concern in his voice.
"Because my clothes are dirty and I don't want to mess up the couch." I didn't even believe that one.
"Well, don't worry. We are going to be OK," he starts with the typical pick-me-up rant. I tune it out and make faces at the dogs licking my sauce-crusted pants.
"I wouldn't neg the idea of going to work for a Starbucks," he helpfully suggests -- exactly what I needed to hear right now. I shoot him a dirty look.
"While you are finishing school, Patty," he says, completing this infuriating thought.
I again tune him out and focus on chef's words. I get off the floor and go into my kitchen. I open the fridge with no clue what I'm going to make. I excitedly grab for my favorite creminis. The colors in the veg crisper are a bright rainbow of peppers, onions, herbs, etc. Large orange and red peppers and sweet Spanish onions remind me I have a flank steak in the freezer.
I grab my favorite knife, whose handle is now molded to my grip, and go to work. The kitchen fills with the steady sound of the knife cutting through the soft, meaty mushrooms. I split the yellow onion down the middle and cut it into paper-thin slices in seconds. The peppers I take a little more care with. The peppers' strong, shiny skin give way to my knife in quick, crisp strokes.
"Are you even listening to me?" David calls out, frustrated. I'm not, not even a little.
A light season of salt and pepper on the steak and straight on to the flattop. The loud sizzle is accompanied by an enchanting, wafting aroma.
"We are going to cook the vegetable on all that loving when the steak is done," I'm teaching the dog, who was lured into the kitchen by the smell. I pull off the steak with a slight carmelization and put the vegetables straight into all the steak's loving juices. The veggies pick up all the flavor and color the meat left behind.
I pull the baguette from the oven: a golden, crisp crust with a warm inside. I load the sandwich, finishing it with a simple mornay.
"Wow, that looks great," David greedily grabs his sandwich. "Hmmm, that's awesome," cheese sauce dripping on his chin.
I smile as he devours it, "Yeah. I know."
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