Ah, Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary cocaine snorting and violin loving sleuth could guess one’s occupation, source of distress, recent activities, hobbies and foibles with an uncanny, marvelous accuracy. As so many know, his ability is explained by astounding powers of observation, and the knowledge to put the clues to good effect.
Most occupations alter our appearance and behaviors in subtle (sometimes obvious) ways. Here are a few potential clues one of the greatest fictional detectives of all time might use to souse out what I do for a living.
- Shake my hand. If you turn your hand to the side, so that your thumb is pointing up and the majority of your fingers are almost obscured behind the index finger, the uppermost two joints of the index finger of a cook will be calloused, somewhat ridged, with slightly deeper and darker lines. This is a result of wear and tear from skillet flipping and the frequent use of spatulas. During the clasping, shaking, and parting of hands, the tougher skin on these fingers would brush against the potentially softer underside of the other person’s hand. Also, while I was extending my hand he would have the opportunity to notice that the tips of my fingers and palms are considerably more flushed than the rest of my hands, indicating frequent exposure to heat sources.
- Let’s play Hot Potato! With a real hot potato, the kind wrapped in foil that’s just finished baking in a 400 degree (Fahrenheit) oven for about an hour. Take the potato out of the oven and hand it to someone (or throw it and hope they’ll catch it). If your average, sane, person catches the potato, they’ll let it drop almost instantly, right? Possibly with a cry of horror or outrage. “Why would you do that?” Someone who cooks for a living, on the other hand, will probably hold onto it for a little longer, and at best mention that it feels kind of warm. After about three to six months, anyone playing with hot oil and heating elements on a daily basis develops “kitchen hands”. The first time a drop of oil from the fryer splashed on my arm, I bit back a hiss and lived with the blisters pooling under my skin for a couple of weeks. By the time I slipped and dipped my hand up to the wrist in the 350 degree stuff a year later, I was content to yank my arm back out of the fryer and forget about the incident in less than five minutes. No permanent effects. Mr. Wonderful shudders a bit when I dip my fingers into boiling water periodically to test if the noodles are done or to submerge that bit of vegetable that’s sticking up and not cooking evenly, but hey, at least I don’t have to wash as many utensils, right?
- Check out my forearms. Slightly less resistant than my hands, one can still find the occasional burn scar here. More telling: the length of the hair. Close to the wrist, hair will be slight or nonexistent, but gets gradually longer or more evident towards the elbow. The reason is linked to ease and speed: it’s much faster, and easier with practice, to flip or swirl the contents of a sauté pan than to mess around with spatulas and spoons. While I’m flinging pan contents around, hot water and oil will inevitably splash on, and melt, the hair off. Heat and flame from gas burners and the grill will singe any excess hair away. Mmmm…special spice (Kidding! The hair that burns off isn’t suspended above the pan or food…promise).
- Observe my clothing and drink choices. I’m the weird person wearing jeans and a sweatshirt on a ninety degree summer day. I often order hot coffee or tea, or something with extra spice. Industrial kitchens regularly exceed 120 degrees, and after one spends enough time in them, their resistance for and tolerance to heat will increase, while their ability to deal with lower temperatures will decrease. Fluffy blankets, winter pajamas, hot beverages and foods are some of my favorite things now. When my tolerance for the heat of the kitchen isn’t enough and my coworkers and I find ourselves on the verge of heatstroke, the fastest, longest-lasting way to cool down is to emulate fellow humans who live in consistently warmer climes, and that means eating or drinking hot or spicy food, thus stimulating the sweat reflex. I used to be annoyed when the Chef walked into the respite of 85 degree mid-winter joy, only to announce with chattering teeth and a great deal of shivering that he was turning on the heater. Three years later, I’m one of the heater’s greatest patrons.
- Check my freezer/cupboards. Everyone always seems to assume that the home cooked meals of a professional cook must be a glamorous, luxurious affair. Sometimes they are, but all too often, they’re not. It’s not that we dislike cooking, but honestly, after 10-18 hours, five days to seven days a week, without the hope of a vacation in sight, the last thing I or my coworkers want to do when we drag ourselves home is whip up a fancy meal. Most of the people I work with admit readily to their freezer’s contents: frozen pizzas and easy microwave meals, boxes of ready make macaroni and cheese, and stacks of To Go boxes dragged home from banquet leftovers or an employee meal they didn’t have time to eat earlier. One of my coworkers hasn’t had a working refrigerator, plate or fork in his apartment for well over a year.
Is there something you do, hobby, career-or otherwise, that’s left its clues on you? Share below.