Food News

A Chef's Tales from HKU (Hard Knocks University)

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

In this industry whether you're a culinary school grad or an honor student at HKU (Hard Knocks University, which I am) it seems we all latch onto someone while working our way through. Almost every chef refers to a lesson from her chef. In fact, I bet the lineage of chef-mentors goes back to the same French sadist because it seems they all share the same talent for torture.

"So you have no kitchen experience what so ever?" Chef came right out with it. He was chatting with all the staff after taking over the first kitchen I ever worked in.

"No Chef, but I wanted to go to Le Cordon Bleu -- I just couldn't afford it." I was terrified. 

"Honestly, you're overpaid. Everett (the former chef) obviously let his dick do the hiring. You should be in the back peeling onions with the dishwashers," Chef now denies every word of this conversation, but he still never apologies for letting me know where I stood.

Yet, if it weren't for this conversation, I wouldn't have decided to piss him off by doing my best. And so the mentoring/torture began....

No Slacking:

On a slow night, energized for business but with little activity from the ticket machine, we romped. Chef called it an early night because he was sick of being around us and left us to close down. An early, easy close with the next day off for Pef and I--awesome!

The next morning...

"Hello?" still in a coma, I answered my phone.

"DID YOU FORGET SOMETHING LAST NIGHT?!" Chef yelled; it was ridiculously early.

"Wha?" My eyes were stinging and I couldn't think.

"YOU LEFT THE OVEN ON ALL NIGHT!" He had one volume--yelling.

"Ummm..." I was up now.


"Ummm...." Deer in headlights.


No Room For Egos:

I ran around the kitchen frantically! Event on the avenue, Friday night, book full of reservations, understaffed, etc.

"Are you set up for the night?" Chef called while driving back from his meeting.

"Getting there, Chef." I was frantically cutting fish while on the phone.

"Prep the stuff for my chickpea salad?" he asked.

"Not yet, Chef," I was juggling at this point.

"Get Pef on it. I'll be there in 20 minutes to make it," he insisted.

"I got it," I stubbornly refused to ask for help.

"Give Pef the phone," he insisted.

"What? No! This is my event and my Friday night. I don't need Pef's help!" I dropped everything and dug my clogs in.

"FINE! But I will be there in 18 minutes and everything better be ready. The veg for the salad better be cut uniform, or you'll be doing it again!" dial tone.

I called on Pef to tighten up the line while I finished the prep for the event. 

No Pain, No Gain:

"I need you here. We are getting our asses handed to us with this promo night. I need you on saute NOW!" Even in panic mode, Chef yelled.

"What? Who is this?" I was in a coma on my couch on a night off.

"GET HERE NOW! Please?!!" He rarely said please, so I knew they were in trouble and needed help. 

(This is the point where I draw a blank but from what I'm told it went like this...)

"Where do you need me, Chef?" I slid in from the back door in my socks.

"Get on saute. Here, heads up," he tossed me some shoes. The board was covered end to end with tickets. I put my head down and went to work on the station already covered with pans on every burner. We banged out order after order, but still tickets kept coming in. Finally, after an hour and a half or so, we slowed down for a breather.

The servers all greeted me while we all started the clean up. It was then I realized that the whole night had been a big blur.

"It's because you fell!," Chef grew concerned.

"What? I did?" I still have no memory of this but apparently he overheard me take a header into my doorknob on his initial phone call. 

"But you made it in time to bail us out. You should consider working with a head injury every night!" He joked while feeling the lump on my skull. I guess it was lucky I passed out in my uniform earlier, so I only ran out my door shoeless, not pantless.

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Patty Canedo