I think about Paul often. For a guy I don’t know very well, I think of him often. I can probably count on my two hands how many times we’ve actually had a conversation. We’ve never really hung out. And I don’t really anything about him. But I think about him a lot. Just about every time I pick up a knife. Why? Because my limited knife skills—I owe to him.
It was back during my staging days at Postrio. And I was working the line, and had no idea what I was doing. One night, it was slow. And Paul, the executive sous, was peering over the counter to see what I was doing. I was cutting something. An avocado actually. And he grimaced as he watched me. I could feel him looking at me. I knew immediately I was doing something wrong. “STOP!” I put down my knife. He told me I was doing it wrong and making him nervous. He came around the counter and into the pantry island station. “You’re holding your knife all wrong. You have no control and you’re making me nervous. Here, let me show you.”
And show me he did. He taught me how to grip my knife. And how to cut. And how to chop. And how to slice. And how to attack that avocado with confidence. It sounds stupid, but I had been doing it wrong all this time. Sure, I was able to cut and slice and make do in the kitchen. But it’s really a miracle that I hadn’t sliced a finger off. I had been holding my knife wrong all this time.
He told me to practice. Told me to go home, buy a bag of carrots and start cutting. Make them all uniform pieces. Cubes, thin little strips, chunks. Didn’t matter the shape. Just that they were all the same.
Paul took the time to teach me. He didn’t have to. He could have let me just figure it out. I wasn’t a permanent cook. Who knew how much longer I was even going to be there for? He wasn’t the one that hired me. I didn’t even think he liked having me there—I thought that I was getting in the way more than I was helping. But no. I was there. And it didn’t matter who brought me, how long I was staying for or what. I was there, and that’s all that it mattered. If I was going to be there, he was going to teach me. I will forever owe him for teaching me this skill.
So. Now, every time I reach for my knife and my fingers slip into that soft spot right between the bottom of the blade and the handle, I think of Paul. Every time I grab my knife confidently, I think of Paul. Every time I dice something up and all the pieces are uniform and the same size, I think of Paul. And I thank him again.
And there are times, when I get lazy, or am in a rush and just trying to put dinner together, I look at something I’ve cut up and see the jagged and uneven pieces, and I think of Paul. He would be disappointed. He’d tell me to stop. And to do it all over again. Because if you’re in it, you better do it right.