Not a master of melons and I’ll bypass bacon

There's an art to skinning a melon.

If I don't see bacon for a week, I won't cry.

I look pretty smart in a paper chef's hat. Even if it's a disposable.

Though you never want to run run out food at a Mother's Day buffet, there's something sad and obscene about a volume of leftovers that could feed a village for a month.

And there's beauty in a knife so sharp that it slices a tomato with a feather-light push and danger in one so sharp that the merest miscalculation can cost a fingertip.

Day One, Saturday morning, 8 o'clock. I'm introduced to Tony, the chef in charge, a sous chef by trade. His competency is evident within the hour. Within two, I witness a man who can handle enormous pressure with grace and ease, remaining calm, collected, focused and personable. I like this guy. He's got a gift.

The Mother's Day buffet, a power brunch combining breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes kicked up several notches, is the biggest and busiest day of the year so there's no shortage of prep work. (It's a power brunch of breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes for a few hundred guests, not super high-end fancy but several steps above your coffee shop fare, i.e., an elegantly presented whole cold salmon the size of a cat.)

He has me start with fruit plates. I lop off the tops for use as centerpieces and slice pineapples thin with the electric slicer. Any machine with a sharp spinning blade, I'm gonna be a bit nerous. Plus pushing the slider takes some muscle. I'm sure I'd get the hang of it if I did it all day or ran a deli.

I switch later to melons. Remove the rinds from eight honeydews and a dozen cantaloupes. He shows me how he wants it done. The way he follows the melon's curve from top to bottom with the blade in one even smooth motion, removing the rind and leaving the cantaloupe bald and orange is impressive. He makes it look so easy.

It's not. Go try if you won't take my word for it. I work to develop a technique: where at the top to insert the blade and at what angle … how to follow the curvature and the required angle of blade, hand, wrist and arm … the amount of pressure to remove the rind and its green underbelly while retaining the fruit and melon's roundness.

"Let the knife do the work," my intuition instructs. It takes practice. By the end, I wanted to take home a case and continue practicing; I'd gotten better but I'm nowhere near a melon master.

I'm moved to bacon. Boxes of precooked bacon in layers separated by waxy sheets and sealed in plastic pouches. Each pouch contains 100 strips and each box three pouches for a total of 300 strips a box.

They want four boxes so that's 1,200 strips of bacon I lay out on trays. It's easy, mindless, slow and somewhat tedious. By the end, there's enough grease on my hands that I could run my hands through my hair then and there and be an extra on "American Graffiti."  I like bacon but I won't mind if I don't see it for a moonth.

Day Two and I'm there even earlier, 7.30 in the a.m., egads! It's only for the buffet weekend. Starting today, I'm in a different kitchen, where I'll be trained to do line, and on nights, from about 4 to 109 – yey! –  I can go back to my normal self.

Things look good for the buffet and Tony gets huge credit for that. Truly, he's to be commended for his competency, his mastery in organizing, managing, juggling and staying on top of a million details, never getting ruffled or frantic or snappy or losing his patience. He's got a gift. He remains personable and approachable through it all. He's a good guy.

So they make me carver. My job is to slice and serve the baron of beef and large salmon encrusted with parmesan and panko. I'm given a clean white chef's coat — the coats are size large, I swim in them — and a fresh apron and a white paper chef's out of a box. How fun!

When I freshen up before the buffet and check my reflection in the mirror, I look pretty sharp (though there's no real disguising the oversized coat, think David Byrne in "Stop Making Sense.") I've loved to cook since I was introduced to it as a girl and once seriously considered culinary school, so this is a chance for my alter self to come out. I won't mind playing chef for a day at all!

That's most of Day Two, standing at the end of the serving line slicing and serving beef and salmon.

The buffet isn't like those you've maybe been in where the guests are lined up for a mile. The hotel employed crowd control, allowing in only so many at a time. That way, all diners were assured a seat, there was no crowding and the atmosphere remained pleasant and peaceful.

This is nice as I hadn't done public carving before and it gives a chance to greet each diner, maybe chat, very relaxing.

The knife has no teeth, no bite, so I look a bit like a primitive cavewoman hacking away at a fresh kill straight off the pastures. No one complains and all seem pleased with the portions (I intentionally keep them conservative).

The buffet runs from 10 to 2. At the end, there's so much food left, on the serving tables and in the kitchen downstairs, your eyes might pop seeing it! Normally the hotel higher-ups are tightwads. No free food for employees, even a muffin from the daily breakfast buffets for example is off limits, and there's a 50% employee discount for food off the menu.

But on this day, once the buffet's closed, they open it to the employees, who can't put a dent into the leftovers. My boss, who has guys above him, those are the big tightwads, tells us quietly that he's fine if we want to take some home.

So, once we get the buffet broken down and into the kitchen, we start taking what we want. I grab a black Hefty bag and toss in like 100 dinner rolls. Tony eyeballs me from across the kitchen funny. "They're for the birds, I feed the seagulls and crows at the park near where I live."

"Oh," he replies, "I thought maybe you had a bread fetish."

I take all sorts of goodies for the birds …  rolls and pita breads and cooked white rice and sliced meats and dozens of poached eggs (not sure they'll eat those, will find out) and chicken parmesan and cookies.

Oh, and for me, some salad greens and I may have some of that chicken.

The jackpot is the baked salmon, four huge halves on a tray! The seagulls will loooove that! I might have a few bites myself.

I also snag a dozen flowers left over, they'd handed them out to the diners. So in the back of my Subaru I haul home a feast for the birds and flowers and, of course, my paper's chef's hat.

You know I'd post a pic if I had a digital (that camera that went missing, or "missing," in our esteemed postal service is gone for good) or it wasn't a buck from the cell phone. So, It looks something like this shortest one:

and I looked something like this:

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