The Walk-In

Mornings in the kitchen are very busy.  In addition to doing prep work for the day’s menu, there are deliveries of fresh produce, meats and seafood to receive—lettuce, escarole, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, pumpkin, onions, and carrots.  Italian cuisine relies on the freshest ingredients. Alessandro said that Chef wanted us to help clean out the walk-in refrigerator where the produce was stored to make room for that morning’s delivery.  We were to throw away all the old vegetables, wipe down the shelves, sweep and mop the floors.

The walk-in refrigerator at Santa Caterina is like a refrigerated closet about half the size of a single-car garage. It was kept at a temperature of 38 degrees F.  Alessandro and I carried the plastic crates of vegetables out of the walk-in and placed them on the marble table where the Garde Manger chef usually worked.  We sorted through everything and began reshelving the crates.  He handed me a large container of eggplant and opened the door to the refrigerator for me so I could enter.  My face was hit by a blast of cool air and I smelled the earthy fragrance of the vegetables in the locker as I stepped inside. “Clunk” the refrigerator latched behind me.  The light was still on and I was able to see where to place the crate of eggplant on one of the shelves.  Then I turned around and fully realized that the door had locked behind me. There wasn’t a handle on the inside that I could use to open the door.  The walk-in refrigerator at HCAT back in the U.S. had a handle on the inside.  What was I going to do now?  Hmmm. Well, I certainly wouldn’t go hungry.  There was a lot of food in here. But I was wondering how to calculate the amount of air inside.  Craig would know how to figure it out. How long would I last? Would someone notice I was missing?  Then I had an idea. I timidly stepped towards the door and knocked.  A few seconds passed and the door opened. Alessandro stood there shaking his head.  He raised his arms, palms up and said,

Che cosa sono io che vado fare con voi?” (What am I going to do with you?)

I gave him a sheepish grin and went to get the mop.

Chef had been carving watermelons with floral designs to decorate the tables in the main restaurant While we were cleaning out the refrigerators. He finished the one he was working on and beckoned for me to come over. He showed me how he carved designs in them.

The afternoon was spent prepping things for dinner service.  I was exhausted by the end of the day. Dark clouds promised rain as I left the hotel.  There were more tourists than usual hovering around the bus stop in Amalfi waiting to see which buses would take them to their destinations.  I realized that the ferries were not running due to the weather and the bus would be crowded.  If you are not one of the first people to board the bus, you chance having to stand up which is always challenging given the twists and turns of the roads. I decided that it would be a good time to browse through the bookstore and board a later bus to Positano.  I also wanted to purchase a scale so I could see if I had lost any weight.  Walking up and down these steep hills must be making a difference.  When I had first arrived in Positano, I had weighed myself on the scale in front of the pharmacy in town and the result was alarming.  But it had been broken ever since with a sign taped to it that said “Non funzionando,” or not working.  I wanted to know if my weight loss was progressing. I found a couple of interesting novels at the book store and then wandered through the piazza and up the cobblestone walkway to search for a hardware store.  Luckily, there was a small appliance store that had an assortment of scales and I purchased one.

When I returned to the bus stop, the bus to Positano had just arrived and I climbed on board and scanned the available seats for one next to the window.  As I started to sit down, I noticed a big wad of chewing gum on the cloth seat and decided to move across the aisle to another seat.  Some English tourists boarded the bus behind me and the woman plopped down on the seat that I had rejected.

“Oh,” she cried out a moment later. “There’s gum on me bum!”

Her husband scrutinized her wide bottom and produced a white handkerchief that he used ineffectively to wipe the gum from her skirt.  They were both still muttering over her plight when the bus reached Positano and I got out.

I arrived at the apartment earlier than usual that afternoon and found Brandi talking on the telephone to her children at home, David sleeping and Ben reading in the living room.  They were all taking their afternoon break and had to return to work at 6 PM. I knew that Brandi really missed her two children, who were living with her Mom for the summer while she was in Italy.  David had a girlfriend at home and talked to her and his parents often in the late evening after work. He was generally very quiet and was very focused on his work at Le Sirenuse. He kept a small, digital camera in the pocket of his chef’s pants and would show us all photos of some of the food that he had helped prepare. When he wasn’t working, he spent a lot of his free time trying to catch up on his sleep.  Ben was an avid reader and was engrossed in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Sometimes he would read right up until the time he was supposed to start his afternoon shift and would dart out the door running to get there in time. I think that was why he often left the apartment a mess.  I decided that this would be a good time to talk with him about keeping things clean.


“Yes, Mama,” he replied. (Was he mocking me?  Making fun of my age?)

“Ben, I don’t care what your bedroom looks like, but we all need to use the main rooms and you’ve got to keep your junk picked up.”

“Yes, Mama. I understand.  I’ll clean up from now on.”  He got up off the couch, put down his book and carried his dirty dishes into the kitchen. It annoyed me that he had called me “Mama.”  I was here to learn about Italian cooking – not to be his babysitter!

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