Sunday, October 19, 2008

Don't try this at home

This is what a month or so of being on grill and saute side at work has done to my hands and arms:

As you can see, my left arm has obtained the majority of burns and cuts, mostly because nearly all of my pan and saute work is done left-handed. Even though I'm naturally right-handed, I move and toss pans with my left hand almost exclusively, which is something I learned from my chef and sous. Good cooks use their strong hands to adjust seasoning, add liquids and taste with tasting spoons, and their weaker hand for pan movement. I've quickly picked up this habit, but I am still figuring out the most efficient way to move about, including putting pans into scorching hot 500 degree ovens, which is when most of my burns occur. The most recent burn is the one on the inside of my left arm nearest to my elbow, which I got last night in a harried string of pickups that included 12 steaks for a large party. Nearly every burner on our 18-burner front line was in use, as well as some of the back burners and back ovens.

I tend to wield my burns around like war wounds, and part of me thinks they're pretty badass. But it ultimately comes down to the fact that when I burn myself, it's a result of not being careful or working sloppily, which is something I try to keep in mind. Still, it's hard to avoid it completely when you're moving fast and simultaneously feeling like you're not moving fast enough.

I'll admit I've had my moments of frustration when I feel I'm starting to doggy paddle just to keep up with the string of tickets, and that fight-or-flight feeling of being overwhelmed is becoming more and more familiar. There are two things you can do in that situation: Give up (which is not an option) or keep pushing. Thankfully I've had a lot of help from my chefs and coworkers when shit becomes ridiculously hectic on the line, but I know I am ultimately responsible for bettering myself, becoming faster, more aggressive, more efficient and just being able to juggle it all.

On a related note, I was recently pointed to a blog called Line Cook (thanks Jeff!), which is written by a current sous chef at Nopa in San Francisco. I've found his writing to be extremely insightful as to what it's really like to be a cook, to the point where I've wondered if he's sitting in my head. Good reading, if you're interested.


Anonymous said...

Badges of Honor, my friend, Badges of honor.

ml said...

i recognize the one that's almost parallel to the wrist - halfway up the forearm! i have 2 of those from my damn oven. but wow. it's good you love what you do!

Ruth said...

and I was tending my little gardening blisters! Do you have favorite remedies?