A Sharp Knife for Incidental Details

It’s the tiny details that separate the professional from the amateur and the average cook from a truly great one. Attention to detail, that undulating octopus with vise-grip tentacles, navigating both open ocean and tight crevice.  It’s the menu, recipes, ingredients, knife skills, cleanliness, speed, discipline: all suction cups of memory that dig in and never let go. It’s the little things we learn that stick with us as cooks. They shape our habits and codify the rules we live by: Never peel vegetables over a garbage can. Keep your wit sharp and your knives even sharper. Your station, your responsibility. The only answers are, “Yes, chef,” and “No, chef.” In the kitchen and in life, paying attention to details is about accepting your responsibilities. It’s this thought – this notion about how we become what we become – that made me think about Dmitri. It was Sunday in November, and I could tell he wasn’t happy. The cooler door burst open… and he flung another empty produce box across the tile floor. Asparagus boxes from Chile, avocado from California, sweet corn from Nebraska: all lay juxtaposed like a poorly-made cardboard tent. I imagined Dmitri inside the walk-in cooler, grunting as he bent down to pick up a lexan filled with broccoli. It was easy to watch him in my mind’s eye, because I’ve cleaned the vegetable cooler a million times.  If I offered to help, Dmitri might pretend to help for a while, then walk away; and I’d be stuck […]