Lobster red faces against starched white jackets… I came into work after our obligatory day off (Sunday, the restaurant is closed) only to look upon a sea of red. I know you're thinking: so what, people get sunburned. But we don't see the sun! Ever!!! We live in a kitchen without windows.
When I leave my apartment to catch the train I glimpse the sun attempting to find the earth between montrously tall skyscrapers. Then I get off of the train and walk two blocks before disappearing for the day.
I've never lived in a city where you can see the sun, without feeling it. Sometimes I pause, if I have the time, on the corner of 50th between 6th and 7th (right off the train station) to let some rays warm my face and dry my hair. I have found the one spot between leaving my house and getting to work where the sun manages to strike gold. Then I descend down an elevator to a fluorescent lit hallway to a fluorescent lit locker room. I change into my whites. I take an elevator up to a fluorescent lit kitchen and I stay there anywhere between 10 and 12 hours.
After my shift, I descend in the elevator, change in the dressing room throwing my sweat soaked whites into the laundry bin, spray my whole body with perfume, and take the escalator up to ground level. It's dark. Stars in sky, moon up above, dark. This Sunday, the first truly sunny warm Sunday of the new year, every single one of the chefs was either sunbathing, walking around in the sun, drinking in the sun, falling asleep on a park bench in the sun, or doing whatever-one-can-do-under the sun.
The funniest sunburn is that of chef Pierre. He came to work with a terrible driving sunburn. The kind where only one half of your face and one whole arm is red. I doubt he'll let his left arm hang out the window unprotected again. And I'm sure he'll remember to move the visor over to block the rays beating down next time. Hilarious. (For us, not for him). We teased him for days.
All joking aside, the lack of sunshine is really no laughing matter for cooks. I've started piling up on vitamin D as a result. I went through months of not being able to sleep because my body simply had no idea what time of day it was.
I clearly remember in the middle winter taking a long weekend back to San Francisco to see my folks. It was sunny. On my return one of the chefs said: Wow, you look good! I'll never forget it. Because what was left unsaid was undeniable: Wow, most of the time you look tired and pasty, I forgot you could be attractive! Myself and chef Pierre (the car burned cook) have made a pact that on the next super sunny day we will injure each other so we can be sent home.
We have made a plan being that I will stab him where it won't kill him, but hurt him enough so that he can't work. (We work with knives all day remember). And then he will kindly return the favor.
Sometimes when I work across from him he'll tap a part of his body and wink knowingly. Secretly saying: this is the spot, Amy, this is the spot. Then I'll reach for my knife and carefully sharpen it slowly eyeing my next imaginary insicion. It's madness, I tell you. Madness!
Actually the plan has become much more elaborate. After mutually mutilating each other and getting sent home, we will pass by the emergency room pleading for painkillers. But not before raiding the walk-in vegetable refrigerator of it's kaffir lime leaves and ginger so after our hospital excursion we can cook a tasty Thai lunch and enjoy our drugged state-of-mind in the sun while nursing our wounds.
Today he pointed to his fingers. Things are getting desperate. Normally cooks need their fingers. If he points to his tongue tomorrow then I'll send him to a psychiatric ward. We're just teasing each other. I think. Us cooks certainly feel that heat in the kitchen. So we know when it's a beautiful day even if we can't see that's a beautiful day.
By golly, things are steaming up! Chef's hats are coming off!