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  • I'm an initiate in a corporate kitchen. A clean, well-groomed, well-fitted corporate kitchen serving the employees of a privileged Silicon Valley company. The kitchen is calm when I arrive at 5:15 AM. The only emanating smell comes from the early to rise pastry chefs' station. As the clock ticks forward the chefs filter in and the orchestrated movement grows into a crescendo. I quickly learn to negotiate squeezing past carts, steamy pots and chefs carrying hot trays chanting out "Corner!" "Hot!" "Behind you!" "Knife!"

    Synchronizing my movement with the rest of the chefs was in the beginning when I would only pass through the kitchen on my way to and from the café's office. A cramped and windowless box where the paperwork is handled. It's the purchasing department, the invoice hub, the vendor contact point, the copy mat for the daily menus, the impromptu meet up for the head chef and the kitchen coordinators.

    My coworkers love to compare their work to fire threats. The are constantly "putting out fires" or having "fire drills." They run around like aimless fire fighters and seem too busy to unload some of their work onto me. I slow down my pace on whatever small task I'm given so as to not stare blankly at a computer screen.

    When they decide to open the café an hour earlier for lunch, I begin helping my mama, the chef of the vegetarian station, for a few hours in the morning to ensure that she is ready for service at 11 AM. I struggle with the knotted buttons of the chef jacket the first time I put it on. The change of volume and pace as well as the eyes of experienced workers around me make me feel awkward doing tasks I normally do at home when preparing dinner.

    I prefer working in the kitchen. I have a defined task to complete and there's no shortage of work. The hours tick on by as I stay in the moment, timeless. There's too many dangers to be aware of not to be fully present. Cuts, burns, sanitation, germs. I have to concentrate. My worst fear is shamefully cutting myself. I watch my fingers closely- the herbs I'm chopping, the blade falling to the blue cutting board. I want to be fast, precise, careful. My feet start to feel strained so I try different ways to position my weight. I imagine a triangle on the soles of my feet and evenly distribute my weight between the three points as my dance teachers taught me. I hold in my abs when I see some tempting food stroll past on a tray.

    A chef gives me "just a tip" for separating thyme leaves. "Slide them down the stem going against the grain." "Just a tip," he repeats. I don't feel threatened.

    I focus on the one task at hand while my mama hurries around the kitchen. She is simultaneously making a marinating tomato sauce, cooking chick peas for tomorrow's Indian wraps and boiling noodles.

    Chefs make wisecracks whenever they pass another chef. When they make comments to me I am never quick enough to add in a comeback.

    The moods of the kitchen fluctuate from day to day. Some days everyone seems tired and pissy. Other days everyone is having fun and joking around. If someone is feeling down everyone knows about it. It's a tough yet sensitive atmosphere. Feelings and moods float around more easily than the amalgam of odors from the different stations: herbs, cookies, tuna, brownies, grilled corn.

    I'm almost done cutting a chiffonade of basil. The knife is a little slippery so I'm on guard. I talk with my neighbor about being careful not to cut myself and she shows me two slices she has made on her hands since she's been here. My mama's arms are a board of burn stories in varying shades of brown. I pick several leaves and roll them together. As I'm chopping them my index finger stubbornly remains put as I'm approaching the end of the basil. Cut! My mama helps me as I quietly go to the bathroom to clean up, put on a band aid and latex gloves. I guess I couldn't get away without having some initiative kitchen cut.
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