somehow i have made it five full weeks before injuring myself. this ends on a monday, in spectacular fashion, as i am slicing through a rolled pile of sage leaves to add to a brown butter vinaigrette. awareness dawns first, as i feel the knife press into my index finger, nail and skin. it does not hurt. it does not bleed. but it will and i know that as solidly and surely as i know to never choose the empty train car on the subway. i quickly clean the wound and hold my hand under running cool water. the pain blooms after a few seconds. as i begin to bandage my finger, i see the bright red blood. i slip a glove over. clean my knife, clean my board. get a new pile of sage.
'i'm gonna be really careful. hopefully i can go another month without an injury.'
'well, now you've cursed yourself.'
the prediction holds. three days later, i burned my forearm on a hot pan of roasted red peppers. in a way, i'm sort of oddly proud of the injury.
things are slowly coming together in my mornings. i am gaining speed in certain tasks, like slicing cucumbers for my daily mise en place for the salad station. however, i still take things one at a time. gradually, i begin adding tasks. while chopping, put a pot of salted water on to boil for eggs or pasta. roast eggplants, red bell peppers.
'let's saute those eggplants,' chef says. i'm sure he can see the hesitation in me. i know the word, saute. i can even give you a pretty reasonable idea of what it means and how to correctly execute sauteing a vegetable. however, i'm not one-hundred-percent sure. i pause.
'we'll do it together.'
getting your supplies for culinary school is a little like christmas. they hand me a pile of vouchers, one for my culinary kit, one for the ipad that ICE requires (replete with textbooks), and one for your chefs' whites. while i have to set up appointments for the uniforms and the ipad, i'm told that i can pick up the culinary kit immediately, just a few streets away. the building is poorly lit and unmarked. i feel mildly uneasy when pushing the button for the twelfth floor. am i going to the right place? this feels like the start of a horror movie.
on the twelfth floor, the elevator doors open into a wide, bright, white space laden with wire shelving and every culinary item imagined. there are mandolins and towels in packs of twenty, scales and beautiful, shining knives. at the counter, a man is folding towels. he glances, gives me a onceover.
'culinary or pastry?' he asks.
the institute of culinary education is located in the flatiron district in manhattan. we all look a little bewildered upon arrival, loaded down with blue toolboxes filled with pastry scrapers and meat thermometers. our kitchen for the foreseeable future is located on the 14th floor and we hastily scramble up there and change into our whites for class.
there is something that comes over you when you change from street clothes into chefs' whites. there is a weight, an awareness, that comes from donning the uniform, of joining a certain history and a need to do both yourself and the program proud. i watch myself, in the bathroom mirror, i become something else entirely.
our first days are quiet. we receive packets of expectations and our knife rolls of wusthof knives. the kitchen is impressive, outfitted with eight ovens, eight stoves. vulcan burners. salamanders. we have three massive stainless-steel prep tables that pull apart.
"i want to hear you. be loud. i want to hear you from across the room."