IIt’s still full-on dark as I use my key. Moonlight catches on stainless steel corners as I open and close the door behind me. I breathe in the pleasant ghosts of baking bread, bleached cutting boards, roasted garlic. Hello, kitchen.
The linen closet door creaks. I shake out one snowy white apron — snap — and choose two fluffy white side-towels, tucking them into my apron strings with the stripes vertically aligned. Ready.
The bolt on the walk-in door clacks loudly as I unlock it. I peek in, just to make sure nobody’s been locked in there all night. It’s never happened, but I’m wary. Some morning I’m gonna find a shivering busboy in there, empty strawberry boxes littering the floor around him … but not today. Nobody home but us vegetables. Whew.
The massive hoods whoosh as I hit the switch. I turn on the pizza ovens. Whoomp. Whoomp. Vapor hisses when I power up the steamer cabinet; an air bubble in the pipes briefly imitates a pebble violently rattling, then smoothes out. That sound used to frighten me. Not any more.
It’s never completely dark in the kitchen, so I haven’t turned any overhead lights on yet. I light the grill, and three cheerful rows of blue flame spring up. I turn on the range ovens. Ahem. I said: I turn on the range ovens. Crap! Night shift turned the pilots off by mistake again. Time for the lights to come on.
At my age, it’s hard to get down on the cold tile floor so early in the morning, but I do it anyway. I open the access panel under the range and, while holding in the knob over my head, I click the electric ignition button one, two, three, four times. The pilot catches, but I still have to hold the knob in for at least 30 seconds while the thermo-couple warms up, or the oven won’t light. It’s awkward and painful, but it has to be done. And when this one’s lit, I have to do the other two. My knees hurt. I need coffee.
I start up the steam-jacketed soup kettle, but not before I lift the lid to make sure my imaginary busboy hasn’t fallen asleep in there, either. It’s big enough to hold him, but it’s vacant. Good. The lid clangs down.
I grab an empty cart and rumble it back into the walk-in. Butter, carrots, celery, onions. Chicken stock. I hold the basil to my nose. Parsley, you’re coming with us, too — and garlic, I see you hiding behind that jar of chutney. If I’m working, you’re working.
Out in the kitchen, I choose my weapons. I pluck two gleaming knives from a magnet strip. I choose a humble looking vegetable peeler and a thick cutting board that must weigh at least 8 pounds. Back to the table by the soup kettle we go.
I unwrap a plump pound of butter and send it spiraling around the hot inner surface of the kettle; it swings to rest in the bottom and begins its transformation from solid to liquid. I start peeling carrots, their dull outsides giving way to the shocking orange underneath. I chop for a while.
Eventually I’m looking down into a sizzling caldron of mirepoix. I grab the 4-foot stainless steel paddle and stir the contents. I add the garlic. As I close the lid, my fellow cooks burst through the doors, some grumbling about the early hour, others chattering gossip or bragging about last night’s feats of drinking or romantic conquests. We exchange hellos; the day begins in earnest.
No cubicle could ever compete. I love my job.
Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants, including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro and Café Lou Lou. She now works for her alma mater, Sullivan University, as sous chef of the Gardiner Point residence hall.