There are little things that betray a kitchen worker. I open my bag and find six Sharpies.
The first six weeks are the hardest. I find a rhythm in movement, like a dance. Slice scallions. Perfectly on the bias. Fill a pint with them. We need three quarts of pickled sunchokes. I find a poetry in terms I'd never come across a year ago. Half-sheet, nine pan, cambro. Cooks and chefs are pursuers of excellence, of a demanding perfection that plays dangerously well into my organized Virgo mind. Do not do it if it won't be perfect. Throw it out. Save it for family. Do it again. There is a continual competition with our own selves to be better, faster, more precise. Your knife cannot be sharp enough, your hands steady enough.
There are two main shifts of kitchen staff - morning prep and night service. I come in with the morning prep shift, leaving the house at 7.20 and fully set up at my station (do you have your cutting board? your pint and quart containers?) by 8 am. There is a quiet buzz beyond the a.m. playlist. We flit back and forth, up and down countless stairs hauling 8-quart containers of hot sauce and broccoli, cauliflower and pickling liquids. Yell corner! and hot pan!. There is a special soundtrack to a kitchen.
Here, we honor vegetables in a way. Transform them. That's why I'm here and not anywhere else. To learn how to transform and elevate fennel and cauliflower, cabbage and corn. My culinary school education had focused so heavily on meats, chicken especially, that when I graduated I felt somewhat still at a loss in the world of vegetables.
And I want to know everything. To be an encyclopedia of knowledge on food and cooking. How? I ask. Why? The concepts come easily to me - I've always been a good test-taker, retainer of information. The muscle mastery is harder. Where do I cut? How hard? How can I swing my knife to get those smooth, quick motions? This is practice. It will take years.
Today marks my first day working a dinner service and while I'm still prep and not on the line, the pressure is there to perform. This is theater. The diners arrive promptly at 5 pm. I'm ready.