16 July 2005

Cuts like a knife

I've been doing a lot of painting recently (walls and such, not watercolor landscapes) and I'm singularly awful at it, but when friends have a big project like painting lots of walls, they tend not to be too picky about your skill set.

It turns out I didn't even know how to properly hold a paint brush, as one of my friends helpfully pointed out at about two in the morning last night. I didn't realize there was such a thing as "choking up" on a paintbrush, but there you are. Also, you are apparently supposed to "lay it on" in a cross-hatch fashion, instead of in the nice, steady, straight lines I had been using.

Learn something new everyday.

It kind of reminded me of the first job I had as a cook in a restaurant. As is often the case when you are a rookie cook (a cookie?) they set me up with a cutting board and a knife somewhere out of the way, gave me a fifty-pound bag of Spanish onions, and told me to start dicing.

If you don't already know, there is a specific way to dice onions, involving at least five different ways to slice off your fingers and thumbs. The most important part is how you hold the fingers on the hand that is holding the onion. I always called it "The Claw." The idea is to not splay your fingers out perpendicular to the knife blade. Done properly, The Claw will ensure that you only scrape off a sliver of flesh, rather than an entire digit.

I was unfamiliar with The Claw on my first day on the job at La Trattoria. I had ineptly diced a few onions by the time the sous chef wandered past me and noticed how close to needing a trip to the Emergency Room I was, and he hollered out for one of his minions to get over here and show this girl how to use a knife!

I was so mortified that, in future years, when I had attained the level of sous chef, I made sure to put each rookie cook under my supervision through the same mortifying ordeal. Sure, it's a form of hazing, but a form that might save you a pint of blood. Rites of passage, and all that.

Then, in my final year of cooking professionally (assuming I don't get sucked back into the profession again by unforeseen circumstances, like Hell freezing over), I was happily telling one of my minions how to emulsify a vinaigrette when ...SLICE.

Oh yeah, right through the fingernail on my middle finger. The blood, oh, the blood. And it was just before the beginning of the dinner rush, and I was the sous chef (i.e., in charge of the kitchen -- the head chef mostly just swanned around the dining room, soaking up praise and red wine), and the nearest emergency room was an hour away. So I wrapped as much gauze as I could find around my now stunted finger, duct-taped it in place, and crammed a latex glove over it.

Two years later, my fingernail has still not properly grown back. It's nothing anyone else would notice, but I know it's there. Even though I no longer cook for a living (did I already mention Thank God and Hallelulia?) , it's a lesson worth repeating.

Never grow complacent about The Claw.

And always choke up on your paintbrush. I guess.

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