The butchers knife slides through the rack of lamb with ease. One stroke down and in. One stroke back. The chop separates clean. I adjust my thumb to a proper position and slice three more. Three more clean separations. I leave the remaining rack on the cutting board, weigh the chops for price, wrap in plastic and paper, and finish the transaction.
It is the second cutting I have done solo and without a shadow that I usually ask for. There was little time after first cut (cutting chuck into 1” cubes) to feel any pride. Today I had the time to feel warm. The cuts were clean. The knife was guided straight and true. The fact that no one was watching made it even sweeter.
I’ve begun to trim. Only on the large cuts (mainly shoulders) Knife use is similar to what is taught in cooking classes. Only the grip changes. I freak a bit when Olin, the manager, shouts, “This one’s for you, Moe. I have confidence in you.” He’s going to watch. He has reminded me often, “Ease up on the knife, Moe. You’re gripping too hard.” Last week he said loudly said over the table, “Relax, Moe!” I fire back just as fast, “I AM relaxed” half laughing and half gritting my teeth.
I’ve lightened up a lot since Nick told me last week, “Ease up, it’s just meat”
I am moving throughout the shift. I’ve got all the beef cuts memorized, still struggle to tell the difference between the Chicken Tomato and Basil sausage and the Turkey and Herb sausage, and have pictures and prices of all the fish filets that aren’t regularly in the case.
I find myself getting pissed at customers and sometimes fellow compadres. Customer’s who ask for cuts in ounces are annoying. “Look in the case, point to the one that you want, and then let it be. Or describe what you want, I’ll choose it, and let’s see how close to harmony we can get.” There are cryo-vac freaks, sour personal chefs, and the tall young man who comes to the register during a rush with a loaf of bread and a package of sliced salmon. He’s jumped over 10 customers with numbers thinking that we haven’t noticed and, if we have, knowing we won’t make a scene.
The crowds are going to pick up as the days get closer to Thanksgiving and Christmas. I hear stories from John that the store is full and the line goes out the door and down the block to Albertsons. My knife skills are going to be put to the test.