During my cooking career in commercial kitchens and restaurants I rarely had a lot of time off, let alone a day of pampering. The hours were long and arduous, the kitchen temps spiking 130 degrees or more during service was not uncommon and it was pretty much a ‘man’s world. Still is for the most part. My first 5 years in the ‘back of the house’ usually meant I was the lone girl cooking on the line amid a sea of sweating, cursing boys.
For those of you who know me understand that I for one, can curse and spit like a sailor. I fit right in. Keeping up with the guys proved difficult but I learned to hold my own; I could hoist 75 pound stock pots onto stovetops solo and empty 50 pound bags of dry goods into their respective food bins on my own. I even managed to retrieve the hard to reach ingredients perched high above the line despite my vertical challenge, by traversing the narrow countertops and scaling the kitchen shelves.
There is nothing glamorous about cooking in restaurants. Rachael Ray and Giada De Laurentiis of Food Network TV with their perfectly styled coifs and designer clothes would last about 5 minutes behind a real line before they were toast. Unless your idea of fun is enduring physical injury, emotional battering and fits of fury, I recommend another job altogether.
Donning the required chef’s uniform of heavy oversized pants and jackets, some sort of hat wear and a floor length apron only added to the exhausting heat and physical assail to the body. Injuries were common. Screaming hot pans often make contact with hands and arms, cuts from knives and electric slicers were daily events and exploding oil burns have left me with scars that remain today. I even sport a rather unusual permanent reminder on my left ear, a result of 50 pounds of stainless steel hotel pans colliding with the left side of my skull as they fell from a compromised shelf.
We used to joke our skin was soft and supple from all the ‘duck fat facials’ we received daily. My beauty routine consisted of a late night shower and a quick brush of the teeth before collapsing into bed for a few blessed hours of slumber before rising and doing it all over again.
Fast forward to the present day. While I am still in my kitchen daily, I am no longer a slave to the heat and torture of days past. I even receive routine facials and pedicures from a beautiful local organic spa. I skip the manicures though. Years of shortly clipped nails, void of jewelry and polish are the only way my hands make sense to me.
This morning’s spa treatment was lovely and it reminded me how the culinary world can be a healing environment, an oasis of soothing scents, oils and creams derived from food items that not only feed the body, but the soul as well.
For starters, my face inhaled an almond and oatmeal mask, then calmed by lavender oil and soothed with a rose water and calendula creme. Onto the second course, my hands and feet got some soaking time in a warm bath of milk and oats then slathered with a blueberry scrub. For dessert, I was massaged with a coconut body salt, my skin glowing as I was whisked off (excuse the pun) for my pedicure.
Another glorious hour later of soaking, rubbing, filing and painting, my feet were soft as butter, my toes an autumn pumpkin hue. I was revived, relaxed and ready to tackle my day.
Which thankfully won’t include 12 hours anywhere near a kitchen line. Or an arsenal of hotel pans.