A Cook’s Hands

Since Sebastien went back to school for a Culinary degree, I was peripherally aware of some of the hazards of the occupation. Kitchen Confidential first painted a picture in my mind of what a cook’s hands might wind up looking like – calloused and nicked from constant usage of knife and hot pans. The reading and the few small cuts Sabs got during training didn’t prepare me for the reality though.

Every night that he works, he comes home with herbs and spices and other less savory things encrusted around his nailbeds. There’s usually at least one new burn on a finger, or the back of his hand or his wrist, from slinging sauté pans in and out of the grill and the predicted nicks are there as well, though surprisingly, he cuts himself a lot less often than I imagined. It’s the burns and the callouses that are really leaving their mark – blisters, red patches, pink healing patches and the white or brown of already-healed burns or well-used skin.

Last night, I was binding up one of these wounds, a particularly nasty burn with a blister raised about half an inch off the back of his hand just above the juncture of his thumb and forefinger. The blister had popped, leaving raw skin behind that I had to douse liberally in peroxide and then disinfect with alcohol before putting a wide bandage on, a simple bandaid not being up to the task. I looked over both of his hands when I’d finished, running my finger over the scar from his one bad cut so far, the one that sent him, dripping blood to the Occupational Hazards Clinic for stitches.

It’s a two-inch long white line now, instead of the ugly gash that once marred his flesh. I don’t think it will ever fade completely. Slightly crimped at the edges it breaks up the formerly smooth line of his hand subtly. I know that each of these wounds and marrings is honorably gained in a profession that he loves. But I can’t help but mourn a little, the smooth skin and elegant lines that his hands once had. Sabs had very pretty hands when he worked as a techie. They’re still very nice hands, but it’s different – he bears physical signs of his trade now. Different from the widening backside and extra weight carried in the middle and under the chin from sitting around all day in front of a flickering screen. Both more, and less visible.

Each mark has a little bit of a story to it, be it simple carelessness, or the tale of a particularly busy night when things were so crazy and he was so in the zone that he just didn’t realize his hand was burning until he put down whatever he’d grabbed and saw the marks rising on his skin.

This holiday season is going to be especially crazy for him, because it’s his first as a professional cook. He’s facing down at least 12 hours in the kitchen daily through Christmas week and New Year’s. I hope that when I get back from my own, cushy vacation, that his hands won’t be too much the worse for wear – that he’ll be careful and get through it mostly in one piece.