October 15, 2009 | 7:01am
There are different levels of reality in the kitchen, and I am stuck in several of them. I remember when, as a wee lad, I stared at the hands of some nameless chef on PBS while I messily stirred the menial task given to me by my mom. I remember the odd joy I experienced when I found out we were getting the Food Network. And then there was the time in seventh grade when I won a ceremonial spoon for being the best student in home economics (while getting a "D" in the sewing portion!).
The kitchen was always a place where I could calm down and be invigorated at the same time.
When I started working in restaurants, I got to experience the "real" kitchen world, staring into the kitchen from the host stand, amazed that people did nothing but make food for about four hours. It looked impossible and pleasurable at the same time. And nothing like what I'd seen on TV.
Over the years, I've watched loud and silent chefs, some who were assholes and others who were kind -- and I've stared at their hands the whole way. It was all about the food and nothing else.
But last night I finally realized that the kitchen is much, much more than cooking.
The prospect of learning how to order seems harder than grill on the busiest night.
And then my dishwasher jokingly (possibly not) called me a cudadera, asshole, for not letting him have a burger as I attempted to tell him he had to eat the family meal earlier, even if it wasn't Mexican, because a burger every night seems pointless when there's a family meal that otherwise might be thrown out. There is no class in any school that teaches you this, and it is about as far as you can get from visions of glory in the kitchen.
I can still watch hands, but now I realize I also need to watch what people are taking from the walk-in, who is using their cell phone, and how fast and efficient they may prep. In our meeting, Chef kept using the phrase "going into management." I suppose this is the un-fun part of growing up (as opposed to the fun part, such as the enjoyment I get for writing checks and checking in produce orders).
But one glance at hands flipping a roasted fish out of the oven, and I remember all over again why I love food...and kitchens.