Last night I became well acquainted with chilies. Chef had asked me to deseed a box full of red hot chili peppers. I threw myself enthusiastically at the task: Take pepper. Trim top and tail and take off any part that doesn’t look impeccable. Make an incision down the length of the chili and open the chili up. Take your thumb and run it down the inside of the chili removing the seeds and surrounding tissues. Repeat ad infinitum.
For a while, I was totally happy in my own little chili world. I got into a sort of trace and let my thoughts drift away from me. Occasionally I was interrupted by chef, yelling ‘Two Sticky Date. One Honeypot”, to which I would scramble around assembling desserts to the best of my ability (to be truthful rather sloppily). After dessert assemblage I would go back to my chilies. What I wasn’t aware of was my skin’s sensitivity to the chemical that makes chili delightfully hot – capsaicin. After four hours of deseeding the burning became unbearable. I ran to the sink to wash my hands under cold water every second I could. It was 10 pm, the end of service. Time to clean. This is when chef noticed something wasn’t right with me. I didn’t want to bring attention to myself but the searing burn was becoming too painful to ignore. I laughed to chef that I should’ve worn gloves. Chef said I should’ve but I don’t think he found it funny. Finally after dipping my hands into vinegar, rubbing burn cream into my hands and standing in the cool room with my hands raised in front of the air vents, I asked to go home.
I drove home and couldn’t sleep all night and ended up calling in sick this morning – a great shame in the cooking business. My hands are still sore but far from searing with pain as they were last night. I am exhausted from a night of painful, interrupted sleep.
Apprentice Lesson learned: Don’t be a dumbass, wear gloves for this task.
I have a new respect for chilies. The incredible power of the capsaicin put me out of the kitchen game through the next day. Chilies are an incredible plant and I can’t wait to get back to the kitchen to master them. I’m thinking dishes featuring chili jam, stuffed jalapeños and spicy, fermented kimchi ought to do the trick.
I’ve got my eyes on the Hot Sauce Cookbook. It’s packed with spicy, chilli delights and will certainly help me develop my palate for spicy food.
There’s only one way in the kitchen when you’ve made a mistake: pick yourself up, dust yourself off and, with new respect, come back to the ingredient that had previously gotten the best of you. Rest assured, I’ll be wearing gloves next time.
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