I remember the very first day in our kitchen, Sweet Delights 2. It was the third day in school, a Wednesday, October 5. We weren’t there to bake; we were there to clean the fridges and the cabinet for pots and mixing bowls and induction cookers; we were there to wipe our stations, sweep the floor, learn what “close the sink” meant, and get an ear-load of Do This and Don’t Do That, plus a variety of Be Careful’s from Chef Pearlin, who was standing in for our chef, Chef Val, that morning.
Her voice boomed with a bravado that told us she’s not some five-footer you wanted to mess with. She had peppered her instructions and warnings with stories and imagined scenarios. Those she had told right in front of our monster of an oven, a tall triple-decked dream, rung with dark horrors of a scorched right cheek if we weren’t careful at the end of each class, whenever we had to worm past a narrow gap between the oven’s searing hot side and the side wall to reach the power switch at the back wall to shut the oven off.
Then, there was that zebra image. “Careful guys,” she said, while opening the door to the first and highest rack of the oven. “Always, always be careful when you send your baking trays in here.” In a swift action mimicking a tray of goodies being shoved right into the super-deep oven, she lets her inner forearms touch the edge of the oven—not on and not hot, of course. We could all imagine the singe, the Ouch, the Oh, oh, too late!
She called this the “zebra.” Suffer the fools who’re too lazy to slip on oven gloves while sending their to-be-baked goods into the oven.
At the time I heard her warn us, almost to a nag, I figured, “No, it wouldn’t happen to me.” After all, I am a careful girl. Even though I’m not new to oven burns—I can boast sears and singes by the side and the inside of the wrist, the hand, the pinkie—I’ve never had zebra stripes on my forearm before.
I thought too soon, though, and I got too smug.
Yesterday, I got zebra’d at our very first bread-baking class—two relatively meek streaks of pink, now darkened to a dull, dead brown, one in honor of my successful coffee buns, the other a pat on the back for a so-so attempt at the baguette. I guess I’m now trying to score brownie points because it wasn’t even my tray I was sending in. I had offered to send the last of three coffee bun trays in for a classmate, who can just about kiss my shoulder if she tiptoed a little.
In case you thought I was blasé about zebra dangers, I did remember the oven gloves. I had slipped only the left one on just so I could slide the leftmost tray more left to make space in the middle. But the oven would kiss my right forearm at this very moment when my index finger nudged this middle and last tray to line up with the ones on the left and the right. So much for being so fussy and stupidly anal!
It was here that the oven spoke to me: “Be careful, girl! I’m giving you two today.” I thought I heard him whisper too: “I may not be so nice the next time.”
You can soon follow our baking school writings and reflections in a brand new blog to be unveiled end of November.