the first turning point for me…

…involved 24 stitches. They ran across three fingers on my left hand, and required two months of rehabilitation. All at the ripe age of 21.

I was a culinary student in Portland, Oregon and I was midway through my school. My grades were ok up until that point, but truthfully I wasn’t rocking it in that department. Early on at school, I felt I already had the abilities, and that I was above everything they were teaching. It was the height of arrogance. I was working as an expediter (not touching food) in a James Beard award winning kitchen, and I was pretty much just going through the motions there too.

So how do you teach someone who thinks they know it all already? At school I was in bake shop class and we were slicing 9 inch round layer cakes to prepare them for frosting. I was using a very long slicing knife, straight-edged, razor sharp, with a very flexible blade. After slicing a few cakes the blade needed cleaning. So I grabbed a paper towel. That was mistake number one.

To clean the knife I gripped the blade tightly in my fist (I’m cringing as I write this, literally squirming in my seat), carefully wrapped in that paper towel (read: I’m an idiot) and I quickly pulled the knife through my clenched fist to clean it. Mistake #2.

Mistake number 3 was that the blade was turned away from me when I pulled, meaning as I pulled the knife through my clenched hand I literally pulled it through my hand, cutting through the paper towel and my fingertips.

I was shocked. At first I didn’t fully realize what I had done but as I started to see the blood, I knew. And I passed out. What followed was a trip to the hospital, those 24 stitches, and a meeting at school, where I was informed that I wouldn’t be able to graduate with my class because I was going to miss too much time with the injury. I was thoroughly defeated. The cut to my fingers was deep but this was far worse.

Following that meeting I ventured to my job in search of some much needed sympathy. With an air of drama I walked into the kitchen, hand bandaged, anticipating the nurturing I wanted and needed. After taking one look at me, the Chef called me to his office, sat me down, and asked me how I was feeling. As I told him how I was and how it happened he looked at me, nodding in a cold and unemotional manner. After my dramatic retelling of the events he looked me straight in the eye and said words to me that I’ll never forget:

“I’m not trying to kick you while your down Michael, but you’re completely unfocused, and your cut is a direct result of that. You’re suspended for two weeks.”

I thought I had already experienced the worst, but this was total devastation. At the time I couldn’t imagine a worse day. But in the end, it was really the best thing that could have happened. It became the firing point for a complete turn around in my time in that kitchen. I’ll finish telling the story next week…

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2 responses to “the first turning point for me…

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