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Half Baked: A Woman's Place Is in the Kitchen

Patty Canedo is a chef in Palm Beach. For this column, Half Baked, she writes regularly about her kitchen exploits.

Let's flash back to five years ago...

"I did it! I got a job at this mediterranean bistro. The chef is starting me on the salad station," I exclaimed. It was my first position in a kitchen, and therefore the most exciting.

"That's awesome. You'll love it. I can't imagine doing anything else," Sarah said. She had jumped off this bridge two years earlier. "Are there any other girls in the kitchen?" she asked.

"What?" I asked, thrown off by the question. "I guess there is. There was a girl working while I was there."

"Ever kitchen I've worked in, I'm usually the only girl," she warned me.

"Really?!" I was surprised, wondering why should it matter.

"It makes no sense, I know. A long time ago, some French guy decided it was cool to cook, now they all want to do it and decided that even though women have been doing it forever already, they didn't want us in their kitchens." She sure had a way with sarcasm.

"Yeah, tell me about it."

"Just be ready. No matter what, you have to be strong, faster, smarter, better. You have to be androgynous. Your pair has to be bigger!" she said, getting fired up.

Well, I heeded her advice ... and over the years, found it very accurate.

Now flash forward to the present day...

"Sorry I can't send you home. I know you're pretty sick. As soon as we slow down I'll get you out of here," my sous chef, Cathy, says, sympathizing with me. "Whenever I'd get sick and have to work my daughter would be like 'Mom, can't you just call out?'. Yeah right, call out of a kitchen. It doesn't really work that way."

"Yeah, I quickly learned to show up and then just wait to be sent home," I commiserated. I could only hope we'd be slow today.

"Exactly. You don't want these guys thinking you're a pussy," she said.

I went back to setting up my station, groaning. I could care less about proving anything to anyone -- but whatever. Suck it up, Patty.

Then I notice the cart for wheeling ice to the kitchen is gone. Annoying, but as soon as I grab my ice, I can finish my setup and stand at my station cutting something, zoning out until it's time to go home. I grab the ten-gallon bucket and head over to the ice machine.

"That's going to be very heavy for you," one of the barbacks comments.

"It's ok," I assure him. As I lift it, I enjoy the look of surprise on his face and head back to the kitchen. The fry cook follows me in. He had the dishwasher help him carry his load. So I have to chuckle at them as I hold the door open. I finish setting up and start slicing mini peppers for the day's veg.

Service starts out very slow. I don't get my first ticket until almost noon. A singled-out salmon entree pulls me out of my little world. I sear the salmon, hop over Victor (the broiler) to get it into the oven, and go right back to slicing peppers.

"Salmon entree almost done," I hear from the expo. Oh crap, I totally spaced. Victor pulls it, touches it to check temp, and serves it.

"Listen darling, I'm going to need you to be a little more aware. I can't be doing everything down here," he condescends to me. Thankfully, he knows enough to walk off the line before I can stab him. Okay, so he wants to be a jerk. I turn on a different oven, the one underneath my burners, removing the need to deal with him at all. 

Business picks up and a busy lunch takes off. Tickets start filling the board but my role in this is few and far between. Everyone else is getting pounded but me -- not a lot of sautee going on today. Every ticket that comes in, Victor has at least two items. Some tickets are all him.

I notice him running around, from line to the panini press, and around the corner. Normally I'd jump in, help plate, work the panini press, and grab more mise en place for him. But today, I keep slicing my peppers and try not to notice him catching his breath every now and then.

"Victor, you okay?" Wally, the middle man and grill, yells to him. No response.

"He's very busy today, Wally, no?" I ask in a chirpy singsong, making Wally laugh. I hear Victor huffing next to me, even catch him looking at me slicing peppers -- but he's too stubborn to ask for help. I'm on top of my stuff. Mahi sliders and a couple paninis come in -- all us. I cover my sliders to cook them faster and get them to the window quickly.

"Victor, do you got a couple of paninis?" the expo asks, pushing him. I smile a little bit at Victor fumbling the paninis on the cutting board to plate them. He's able to keep up, but definitely has a sweat going.

After two hours, service finally begins to die down. Victor stands at his station, hangs his head and takes a breath. I pull the final entree out of my little oven.

"That's why it's so hot over here, you got this oven turned on," he says, then wipes his brow and airs out his coat.

"Oh," I ask. "Are you hot, darling?"