Week 14: The Effects of Kitchen Life

Lamb "Pho" with Squid Ink Noodles and Fried Calamari

Lamb “Pho” with Squid Ink Noodles and Fried Calamari

Today (Sunday) was the first time in a long time that I slept until well into the afternoon like I used to in high school. You know, the lazy Sundays when your mom would knock on your door around 1pm just to make sure you’re still alive since the rest of the world has already gotten their day started. (Or was it just me?)

This week feels like it has been particularly exhausting for at least a few reasons. First, there was that special dinner event on Wednesday. Changing the menu is always stressful because there are new elements to prepare for your mise en place and with that comes a trial and error period before you get them just right. For one-night tasting menu events though, you get just one shot to execute Chef’s vision. No pressure, especially when that vision involves a fruit that’s not even in season yet. My garnish looked AMAZING if I do say so myself. If only they tasted as good as they looked…

Grilled Peaches

Grilled Peaches

Second, I think working sixty-plus hour weeks in a physically strenuous environment is finally catching up to me. I had been spoiled by years of putting in the requisite 40 hours in the comfort of an air conditioned office where the most hazardous workplace conditions involve paper cuts and accidental applications of hand sanitizing gel. Those were the days. Now I’m on my feet for twelve hour stretches, fourteen if I’m working the Late Night shift, and constantly walking, standing, moving, lifting. I never wanted to become one of those coffee zombies who can’t function until they’ve had their morning fix, but alas, it’s a part of The Life. (Better than cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol addiction at least. All things considered, I’ll take the coffee.)

It feels like my body is starting to fall apart on me too. That infection on my hand was responding (but slowly) to the prescription ointment so I was prescribed an oral antibiotic to take four times a day for the next ten days — a pretty dramatic course of medication as I had, apparently, waited too long to seek help. That’s the funny thing: when I told the guys about my hand, their initial macho response is always “I would just suck it up and deal with it.” I told them I had been for nearly two months without improvement and they quickly change their tone to “Oh, maybe I wouldn’t have waited that long…” Clearly there was an arbitrary line that I had missed somewhere. Boys are confusing. So I have four new alarms on my phone to remind me to take the pills, in addition to the 4:00pm alarm to setup for service and the ever-changing alarms I have with memos that read “Chicken Mousse” or “Duck Pate” or “Pigs Feet.”

Meyer Lemon Semifreddo with Roasted Plums and Apricot Sorbet -- dessert on the special menu

Meyer Lemon Semifreddo with Roasted Plums and Apricot Sorbet — dessert on the special menu

But back to my body falling apart. On top of the aching feet and gross-looking hand, it seems I’m also a victim of heat rash. A quick Google search will tell you that this is primarily an issue for infants and toddlers, but trust me – chefs and cooks get it too. It’s also called “prickly heat” and it ITCHES LIKE A MOTHERF*CKER. My once beautiful porcelain skin is now marred with pox-like red dots that periodically induce an intense desire to claw away my epidermis. In an effort to learn something new, I have been spending my downtime during service helping out on the Hot-Apps station. But this increased exposure to the oppressive heat (with every burner on the Hot Line at full blast, it can easily reach 100 degrees F in that part of the kitchen!) seems to be too much for my naive skin which is apparently having issues releasing sweat through my pores like it’s supposed to. The guys assured me that this happens and that I’ll get used to it over time. Still, it looks disturbing and it is jostling my confidence. However, it has only made me more determined to be one of the few female line cooks working the Hot Line. That is, if my skin doesn’t fall off first.

The worst part of it all has to be just how DISTRACTING these physical symptoms are. I can’t wait for the heat rash to heal because then I won’t be hiding in the walk-in hoping that service will end so I can go home, shower, and apply copious amounts of hydrocortisone to my itching skin. I can’t wait for the skin infection to go away so I won’t have to spend so much money on Bandaids to cover it up and to constantly change gloves for every task I do. Thankfully, after Wednesday, service this week has been uncharacteristically slow due to Easter weekend. Hopefully things will return to normal on my days off.

But please forgive my need to rant and rave about these ailments. I really do love my job and I have zero regrets about making this change. So few people can say that they love what they do for a living, and I feel blessed that I am in that place right now.

Bean Sprouts for the Lamb Pho dish

Bean Sprouts for the Lamb Pho dish

PS: I thought my parents would especially get a kick out of this last photo. I’m a professional cook now and yet I still have to pick the little roots off bean sprouts just like when I was a kid trying to help my dad after school. It’s still just as tedious. :) haha

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