The Chef Apprentice

Join a self-taught cook as he trains at a top restaurant

curtis and box.jpgAfter four years of inflicting pranks on his colleagues at Oliveto, departing chef Curtis Di Fede received his pay-back on Saturday -- with interest.

Preparations for the hazing began a day in advance.

Under the direction of Chef Paul Canales, a crew of interns put together a concoction of fish guts, pork fat, pigeon heads and other leftovers from the butcher's board. This strange brew was heaped into the tool box where Curtis keeps his knives.

The metal box was then wrapped in plastic, baked in the oven (to completely seal it) and placed in the freezer overnight. The next day, the pranksters returned the box to where Curtis would normally find it, except that to open it, he would first need to remove a rotting fish head that had been placed on top.

Curtis dunking.jpgCurtis seemed delighted with this initial shot across the bow, as you can see from the photo above. He appreciated the creativity.

Of course, the kitchen wasn't done yet.

When he wasn't expecting it, three prep chefs grabbed Curtis, lifted him up and dunked him head-first into a sink of water.

Later, as Curtis concluded his final night of directing traffic in the kitchen, the line chefs set a trap for him.

Grabbed from behind and wrestled to the ground, he was doused -- in this order -- with egg whites, tomato sauce and flour.

DSCN3422.JPGBeing true professionals, the chefs at Oliveto were able to execute these pranks while still turning out superlative dishes, such as this creamy potato gnocchi you see to the left.

And there were also lighter, and heart-felt moments

round table.jpgTo the right, you can see the daily meeting of the chefs and line cooks, where the cooks are given instruction on preparations for each dish.

Curtis is seen lifting his glass in a toast to his colleagues.

Needless to say, it wasn't the last glass he would tip before the night was over.

Photos by Stuart Leavenworth
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About The Chef Apprentice

Stuart Leavenworth, an editorial writer for The Bee, will spend the next several months in the kitchen at Oliveto, a highly rated Italian restaurant in the Bay Area. As an apprentice, Stuart will start as a prep chef, preparing vegetables, soups, sauces and pasta fillings. Then he'll move on to more challenging assignments. He welcomes your questions. Read his first installment here. Email him at

March 2010

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