slash and burn.

It's my last week of culinary school, and i've just put a Joyce Chen sashimi knife through my thumb. You see, in the final weeks at CCA, the chefs see fit to start to give us nicer ingredients--langoustines,
lobsters, lamb and rabbit.  Im already a stew of over confidence and
cockyness--believing that I am already a "chef", and that my ascension
to Thomas Keller like status will be quick and painless.  Four stars
can only be a year away, at most.  Dylan has given me the Joyce Chen
sashimi knife that he got at Whole Foods, and although I havent been
able to use it yet, im very excited about it.  It's one sided.  It
looks Japanese.  It's pretty fucking sharp.  It has a faux-bamboo
handle and a wooden sheath.  Despite the final class having an Asian
fusion theme (ack) I still have yet to see a twenty pound loin of tuna,
or a side of hamachi.  My new gift is going to waste.  So when the opportunity to kill and break down a dozen lobsters comes up, I have the bright idea to use it.
Everything is going fine, until about midway through, when I try to work faster.  Ginger is standing next to me, prepping.  In one swift movement I go to stab into the lobster and my knife slips on the shell.  It glides down, straight into my thumb, and out the other side.  I dont really remember what happens next...except that I pull the knife out, grab my finger, and walk to the handsink.  Im unable to talk.  Ginger will tell me later that she heard the cut...a statement that sends chills down my spine.  I get stitches and try to call into VDV--there's no way I could work like this.  Chef tells me two other people have already called out, and that I have to work.  It will end up being one of the worst services I ever have.

Eventually the memory of this painful day will fade and become my first war story.  Until this happens:

It's a Saturday night, and im making carnitas.  Gringo carnitas--the only kind that I know how to make.  Service has been cranking all night--but the recent purchase of a pressure cooker has made my approach to family meal different.  Whereas pork katsu and shaking beef salad have been staples lately, now I can execute "slow cooked" items much quicker--without occupying the stove for too long.  I sweat down some onions and chile, brown some beef, and add more veg, beer and a little bit of orange.  The pressure cooker is filled to the top--something that tingles my spidey sense, yet I carry on cooking. 
Saul warms tortillas while Joey makes pico de gallo and guacamole.  My pressure cooker is screaming now...so I move it to the sink to let off the steam.  Normally this takes 4-6 minutes...but this time it only takes two.  Again, this seems strange, but I ignore it and go to remove the lid.  It sticks.  Now, absolutely this should have stopped me dead in my tracks--but what can I say?  Hunger's a bitch.  I force the lid, and a crack like a gunshot goes off.  212 degree liquid sprays out all over my right arm, landing almost six feet away.  Later I will find that a piece of pork fat has clogged the blow off valve--due to over filling--but for now im dunking my arm into a 22qt cambro of ice water.  The burn ends up looking like this:

The final damage is fairly devastating.  I spend the next few weeks dressing and wrapping my arm several times a day, gritting my teeth during service and popping vicodin when im home.  I curse myself for my stupidity in forcing open the pressure cooker, but also revel in the fact that I have laid claim to the "worst burn" story in the VDV kitchen--which isnt to say that Rossi's nipple burn wasn't a close second.

Like Angelo says to me: "At least it wasn't your face." 

Cooks wear their burns like badges of honor--and a good cut will get you a couple of free rounds at the bar.  But have you ever wondered why?  A cut or a burn usually represents a lapse in judgement or concentration--you were moving too quickly, you got distracted, whatever.  Ive noticed that a seasoned cook is usually less enthusiastic about their marks--too many strange looks while in line for coffee, too many concerned friends wondering just what the hell is going on at that job of theirs.  When I became a sous and moved off of a regular sautee shift I kinda missed my burns...would I not look hardcore enough among my fellow cooks?  Now I worry about burning my tattoo off. 
That first big burn and cut are for one reason or another a moment to remember in a cooks life.  At some point though, taking the extra two seconds to avoid them in the first place seems worth it.


  • nicknames this week:  mongoose, sardine face, spaghetti brain, and stink foot
  • eddie fell for the "do you have any updog?" joke
  • new clogs are a bitch to break in
  • spending the day at crissy field drinking an asahi and watching the blue angels is pretty damn nice
  • iphone.  wow, the bill is really fucking expensive
  • Marina bowl.  What does that mean exactly?
  • True Blood and Life and Times of Tim good.  Heroes and Fringe not so good
  • When did it become cool for hipsters to try to look like Nicholas Cage in Raising Arizona?

pimp shoes.

Four Barrel Coffee...maybe not as fresh as Blue Bottle

Inside Four Barrel.  Not sure whats up with the boar heads.

That's a very full oven.

Nopalito testing.

Days off should be like this.

the playlist 10/08
  1. mysteries - yeah yeah yeahs
  2. give it to me - rick james
  3. you dropped a bomb on me - gap band
  4. you're my only one - cadallaca
  5. last night - mission
  6. salute your solution - the raconteurs
  7. hey - the pixies
  8. battle of evermore - the lovemongers
  9. naked eye - luscious jackson
  10. london dungeon - the misfits


kirchartfour said...

I Can't Go For That - Hall and Oats.

Matt said...

i remember my first burn. though it isnt quite as extreme as the arm burn. we were making caramel at school and i ,like you said the root cause of burning and cutting are, had a temporary lapse in judgement and decided to test the caramel...with my finger...i at least had enough sense to spoon a small amount out first but man what they say about that stuff being like lava is very true...it burned and hurt...a lot..another great post man

CHEF said...

My worst burn was from a practical exam in my soups stock and sauces class. I, very foolishly, was out all night drinking and doing various other legal and illegal substances, the night before. Completing a raspberry melba sauce, I poured the hot raspberry syrup into the blender to puree, and forgot to vent the top. I pressed the button, and it exploded all over me. Hot, sticky, 225 degree melba sauce. Sticking to every inch of exposed skin available. Talk about lack of judgement. I was f---ed on so many levels that day.

kirchartfour said...

Hah! Nice.

One time I was trying to get some tomatoes to puree in the blender, but they wouldn't. So i stuck my whole forearm in there to smoosh em' all down. Then i turned that blender on high!

Definetly beefed up that puree.! Radical.

jhenrysmith.wordpress.com said...

i don't like getting burned but cutting myself, esp during service, just pisses me off!

samin said...

i cut myself a year ago--it was pretty horrible. i'm sick of telling the story: "well, i had a moment of incredible stupidity...."

FGF said...

September 2006 was a good vintage for stale coffee.

Dude, be more careful.