He let the blade glide across the honing wand without looking. It was mostly for ceremony any way, so everyone in the room would know he was about to get to work, it was a way to put off the task. He knew that the knife would already either be sharp enough or it wouldn’t. It was a large knife, compared to his other tools. He hadn’t done this often but, enough to know that size would matter here.

He pressed the metal in on the bottom of the neck and slid it back slowly. The flesh split open easily as the blade sank in and came to rest on the bone. He always felt it would be faster to push on here, but it wasn’t the way. He withdrew his knife and set it on the steel table. Using both hands he rolled it over and ran his hand down the side of the glistening skin. Picking his knife back up he lined it up so the two cuts would me and began again. This time when he reached that same bone he put his other hand on the back of the blade for leverage and pushed hard once. There was a brief grinding noise as the knife wedged between the vertebrae, separating them. There was a crunch as it drove home severing the spine and passing through the other side.

He had once seen someone else, more skilled than he perform the rest without removing the head first. That wasn’t the way for him. The rest would be easier with it gone. Easier for him anyway. He moved his free hand along the inside of the body cavity. The viscera and organs had been removed by someone else, someone far removed from him. He had done the task handful of times as a child, under his father’s instructions. He supposed he could still manage it if he had too, but was grateful that the distasteful task didn’t fall on his shoulders these days. He pulled open the flap of skin and placed the point of his blade inside. He still remembered the wisdom imparted to him when he was first learning the task, “Find the backbone and stay there.”

He found the backbone.

As his knife slid along the top of the spine, farther into the flesh, he grabbed the lower half of the body in readiness. The tip of the knife began to protrude from the other side and he shifted his grip on the implement so that he could put his weight behind the next action. He inhaled and pushed forward, sawing the blade back and forth. Crick, tack, clack, click, the lesser bones were sheared off as the blade traveled along the spine. He lurched forward, and wrenched his wrist. as the knife came free at the top where the head should have been. He changed positions and cut down the lower half of the backbone. The side was off and he slid it down and out of the way, and rolled what was left of the carcass over.

Crick, tack, clack, click, the process repeated itself. Soon he held the gore covered spine in his hand, a momentary trophy for his efforts. He lay the knife down and shook the cramp out of his wrist, as he absentmindedly dropped the prize into the waiting bin. He wriggled his fingers unconsciously and then reached for the needle nose pliers. They were new, only having been used for about a week, and were still stiff and awkward to use. He rub his hand lightly along the newly exposed interior flesh, searching for tiny, sharp little bumps, as he found them he dug in with the pliers to grasp the remnants of bone, and extract them, one by one. It was tedious and he had to do this for each of the two halves of what now remained of the subject. He always meant to count them as he pulled each bone free, but somehow it never seemed to matter enough while he was at his duty.

He ran his blade along the sides of each of halves, trimming off  undesirable product. Then, starting at the base, angling the knife down slightly, he cut the thick outer skin away from the softer pink flesh of interior. The skin came free easily in one piece, with barely any meat left dangling from it. He held it up and admired it’s scaled surface for a moment before dropping it into the waste to join the head and spine.

Laying the side flat he straightened the now cleaned flesh and began to carefully slice it into fillets, taking time to weigh each to check his precision. Once done he wrapped the portions in plastic for the service tonight. Twelve in all, not bad, and four still from the night before. He cleared the steel table off and washed it down. As he was drying it off he wondered how many that came tonight would acknowledge or, even know that their meal was once part of a whole thing.

He doubted most of them would care.

I’m A Big Boy Now

Today is one of those days that my employers have decided to engage in the semi-annual event of letting me run a dinner shift. This happens at irregular intervals, usually when they are either bored, or stuck in a bad position schedule wise. I can’t decide whether I should find this  irritating, insulting, or mildly amusing. After ten years of taking part of the same grind, you would think that they would have a little more confidence in me.


My view of the world most days for the past, way too many years

Let us just take a moment to review my qualifications:

At the age of eighteen I enrolled in vocational training for the culinary arts 1. For the larger part of my life I have been employed in the food service industry, starting once again in my teenage years as a busser2, moving up and through the ranks of floor staff. There were few attempts to break away from the restaurant life but mostly they were short-lived and ultimately just wound up with me getting frustrated and taking some menial job in food service to lay low for a while. At some point in my early twenties I began an illustrious series of jobs as a short order cook working a flat top grill and a bank of deep fryers, banging out cheese steaks and chicken wings for people so drunk they couldn’t even pronounce “chicken wings” if you put a gun to their head. I eventually graduated to the majors by spending a couple of years as a line cook at an Asian fusion joint; a line that I wound up being in charge of after two years of applying little more than common sense and a smidgen3 of organization to what I do. After getting bored with having topped out so quickly I finagled a job at a higher volume place, where it took little time for me to work my way up the line and today I am still employed as a linesman there.

The bulk of what I do everyday is operate a grill, and do the finishing work on the plates as they come off the line. I have been doing this job for the majority of my shifts the better part of a decade now. There are two people directly ahead of me on the schedule who do the bulk of saute work and are generally considered to be “in charge”4. They are very capable at their jobs and there are only a few areas in which I have a bit more expertise5. In the meantime I have been wasting away forgetting more about managing a kitchen than I have managed to learn during my current term of service.

Never the less today we conduct again the great experiment to see if we once again get the same results; well cooked food, reasonable ticket times, an organized staff, and satisfied customers, that we always do in these cases.

Wish me luck.

  1. Mostly due to the fact that it was the only way I was going to graduate high school, largely due to a lack of interest, otherwise. 
  2. Technically my first job tittle was “Nacho Boy” but that just doesn’t look good on a resume. 
  3. A smidgen is an extremely precise measurement used only by the most skilled culinarians.6 
  4.  I too am technically am in the ranks of supervisor but have at this point opted out of most of the day-to-day decisions because I have found that the other two are capable of contradicting each other’s directives without my assistance. 
  5. Such as showing up to work on time, and not freaking out on people. 
  6. Back off man, I’m a professional.