Patty Canedo is a chef in Palm Beach. She writes frequently about her kitchen exploits in this column, Half-Baked.
When the summer finally arrives, we chefs find that our once-insatiable culinary passion is dwindling. We can no longer drown out the white kitchen noise or the aches we've been ignoring since January. Working in a vacation destination, it's hard not to wonder why we spend all our time toiling, and we're thrown by the onset of months of delayed exhaustion.
Whether facing exhaustion and burnout or fighting for hours and a living, it's a nonstop struggle. I'm never surprised when I hear so many kitchen workers say they are done with it. I've uttered those words so many times... this week. And yet, we coat up, work through the burns and cuts, and ignore the lack of a life or pay. Why?
"To you all that are new this season and you returning again this year, get to know all the people around you. These next months you'll be spending nights, weekends, birthdays, and holidays together. You'll spend more time with these people than you will your own family." That's how Chef Travis kicked off that (and I assume every) season.
Nowadays, by the time I walk the mile from the parking lot to the kitchen, my legs are too tired to make it up the ramp to the door, let alone withstand a full shift.
"Here we go," I talk myself through the door and begin yet another day. The place is already humming with everyone setting up for the day. It's Thursday; half the staff was off yesterday, so it's like a reunion; even one day away can feel like a week vacation.
"Hey, mama, how are you?" Wally is smiling, wiping down our cutting boards.
"Good, Wally. You?" I'm on autopilot, just knodding my head as he tells me a joke. I get to my station; waiting for me is a stack of towels and my tongs already hanging on the stove. I open my reach in and find my hotel pans already in so I can set up; nice!
"Ron! She's just a small-town girl," Victor comes around the corner, singing in a high pitch across the kitchen.
"Journey! Duh!," Ron shouts filling up pie shells with egg mix.
"That was easy. Try this: 'We used to listen to the radio and sing along with every song we know,'" I laugh at his awful singing and song choice, but they've been trying to stump each other for months.
"Watch, he's not going to know this one," Victor confidently stirs his coffee.
Ron comes flying around the corner, opens the oven, and shoves a couple of bagels in. "That dumbass group, uh Nickelback."
"Don't hate, Ron! Just cause they made millions and you make quiche!" We both crack up, and Ron whips back around the corner.
I grab my pots and a couple extra for Wally to warm up soup. I come back to the line, and Victor already has our pans to load up our mise en place.
"You need some? Here," one of the production girls cleaned some extra shrimp, loads up my station, and goes back to work.
She comes back around the corner with an overloaded sheet pan of wings and struggles to open the oven. I quickly catch her pan as it slips from her shoulder. She's grateful she didn't lose her morning's work. I help her load up the rest of the pans and pull out the already cooked.
We all go through the motions of setting up. The dishwasher included my station on his ice delivery today -- score! The fryer comes through my station with some eggs and a pan.
"Antonio, we are trying to work here! Very, very busy my friend," Victor teases. Antonio gives him the finger and scrambles some eggs. I go back to the storage for my gloves to give him space to make breakfast.
"Sweet!" I'm overly excited about the powder-free gloves in my size! I glove up and grab my proteins out of the walk-in. I come back, and as I'm filling my station, I spot a small plate of eggs in front of me. I pick my head up and notice everyone's munching. I put down my work and pick up my plate.
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Victor and Ron split the bagels and are chatting about a show in a local mag. The rest of the crew is slowly working while eating eggs accompanied by fresh wings. There's a converstation carrying on from all corners of the kitchen. I can't help but notice the sound of laughter is louder than the hoods.
By this point in the year, it's the little things that will keep you going. In the industry, we call this family meal; I guess in the real world they do too.