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Half-Baked: Why Do I Do This? Part 2

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

A chef's arms are a road map of his or her career. I can roll up my sleeves and tell you where I've been, the direction I was headed, and, of course, the dumb mistakes and painful lessons.

Last season:

"I'm going to bring the souffles to the line and head out," I said.

"Oh, OK," Devi was too busy going over what she needed for the party this evening to worry about me.  

"Do you need anything?" I was trying to be nice.

"I think we have everything," she said but seemed a little overwhelmed.

"Do you have all your sauces and stuff for the ice cream bar?" I wondered.

"Yeah, I think. Can you check and make sure we have enough for the line and party?" she asked.

"OK," I glanced at the clock. It was a stretch, but better safe than sorry. "I think you need caramel sauce. Want me to make it?" I offered, hoping she'd say no.

"No, it's OK. If we need it, I'll make it, I guess." Her words made me feel guilty, so I went to work. I cranked out a batch of sauce and brought it down to the staff in the banquet hall. On my way back to grab my knives, I went by the garde manager line to check on the night shift.

"Need anything before I head out?" I asked.

"No, I'm set," Christina was distracted, making a small pastry bag out of parchment for chocolate garnish. I still hadn't been able to do it and asked for a quick lesson, as Chef Travis walked by us. Seconds later...

"PATTY!" Chef Luke yelled from across the kitchen. "Why are you still here?!"

"Um, uh, caramel sauce" was all I could mutter.

"Chef Travis just asked me why you are still here a half hour after your shift! Did I tell you you could stay late?"

"Um, uh, caramel -- Devi needed it." I didn't need to turn around to see that the whole kitchen had come to a stop to watch this outlash.

"You're on my time now. I'm not going to get shit because you choose to stay and make sauce!" This hissy continued for what seemed forever.

In that moment, I felt a hollow feeling. My passion and drive had been lingering during that whole season, but with that outburst, it was just gone. For the first time ever, I uttered the words:

"I'm done. I want out." 

Present Day:

After a short stint as a sous chef somewhere else, I ended up returning to that kitchen. I got my game plan together for any questions about my return. I walked into the kitchen with a smile like no time had passed. Of course, the first person I see is the chef. 

"Morning," he says, a little hesitant.

A few warm greetings and a couple of interrogations later, I am gearing up for service.

"Nothing's really changed, except fill everything to the top. We've been busy," the chef warns. I settle back into the simplicity of being a line cook. My biggest responsibility of the day is to prep the mini sweet peppers for the day's veg -- awesome.

I focus on the sound of my knife against the cutting board, zoning out, but I'm suddenly interrupted by an outpouring of tickets that quickly fill the board. The four of us on the line flow to the groove of sizzling proteins, the crackling of hot oil, and the sudden "pops" from a burst of flame. I settle into the rhythm we having flowing when...

"Wally, where you at? Patty, did you put out those steamers? Antonio, fire me some rice!" Then the sound of plates crashing to the floor. Chef's expoing from inside the line. At my height and almost double the width, positioning himself in the middle of the line makes it even harder to manuever an already cramped (and intensely hot) space. And as he "helps out," the space becomes smaller and smaller.

"Did you see this seafood pasta with marinara? Oh, you already have it. You have more veg working? Yes, you do," he's back-seat cooking again. Wally and I struggle to reach around him.

I need a quick breath and wash my hands, so I step off the line. When I return, I see the flame under my flat top is higher than I left it. So I lower the flame. I grab a sauté pan and turn to my reach-in for spinach dip. Again, the flame is too high. This time, I curse and turn down the flame.

"Do you have veg?" my sous chef at expo calls out.

"Now!" I yell, seasoning and tossing the veg with one hand, turning a mahi fillet with the other. I turn from the stove with the pan to hand it over.

"Here I got... OUCH," impatiently reaching for the pan already in my hand, chef's forearm got in the way.

"Oh shit, sorry. Are you OK?" I'm trying not to laugh.

"Yeah, it was my fault. That was stupid," he's staring at the new mark on his arm.

I turn back to my station that's loaded with pans needing my attention. He's a little more cautious and not so hands-on with things now.  

I quickly find my pace again, so things are hitting the window as they are getting called for. I work my station methodically. Turn the proteins, sauce in the pan, toss my mise en place in another pan, plate a dish.  Eventually, they stop calling things off of sauté altogether. I don't hear anything around me anyway. Turn, sauce, toss, plate, turn, sauce, toss, plate.

Suddenly I notice I have nothing else on the fire, and I hand over my last plate. I check the board, and we've sold the last ticket. I notice the guys around me cleaning up; chef has stepped off the line; everyone's recovering. I look at the clock: Three hours have passed! My shift's almost done. I turn to my stove, a little confused, and start wiping it down.

"Having fun up there?" Ron, the production guy, asks me.

"Yeah," I realized I did.

"It looked like it," he laughs. Chef comes over.

"Told you we've been busy," he pats me on the back, smiling. I notice a blister on this forearm.

"Ooh. That's a bad one. That'll be a nice scar," I smirk.

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Patty Canedo

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