Cut that Onion Right


My friend and boss, Jen, recently had a cooking class to teach and asked me if I would like to come along to assist.


“But of course,” I said.


I love working for and hanging out with Jen. Some chefs are mean and angry and have an ego the size of a small city but not Jen. She’s a Buddhist chef, and she has to be to get through the craziness of her day. 


Jen is kind, patient, and encouraging. Also, Jen thinks I’m funny. She thinks I’m funny because she’s so zen and I’m so not. Like when I tell her I am worried that Costco will run out of Easter ham before I have a chance to buy one or when I talk to myself out loud to remind myself of the order of things. 


I find myself asking myself questions like, “What do I have to add next?”  


Then answering them, “You have to add vanilla extract.”


“Oh, that’s right. Thanks.”


Sometimes, when I have to gather a long list of ingredients, I repeat them, out loud, over and over, until I reach the pantry or the walk-in: “Veal chops, panko, Parmesan, prosciutto, parsley, mint. Veal chops, panko, Parmesan, prosciutto, parsley mint…”


With all my zaniness she likes me anyway.


I was excited about going with Jen to the cooking class and excited about where we were going – Rania’s. If you don’t know Rania Harris she is a local celebrity chef and a big-time caterer in Pittsburgh. She does a weekly segment on Pittsburgh Today Live, and before this day, I had only seen her on tv. Now, I had the pleasure of meeting her in person – even if it was for a brief second – even if I said something stupid like, “Hi, I’m Sylvia. I watch you on tv.”


Anyway, during the cooking class Jen would demonstrate how to make a recipe. She would start some type of preparation and pass it along to me to finish – easy things like cutting asparagus on the bias, cracking an egg, or chopping an onion. 


Instructions on How to Cut an Onion:


  1. Make a small cut on the side of the onion.

  2. Place the onion cut-side down so now you have a flat surface to work with.

  3. Cut the onion in half from stem to tip.

  4. Peel and discard the outer, papery skin of your onion.

  5. Lay one half of your onion flat side down with the stem farthest away from you.

  6. Place the tip of your knife right before (but not going through) the stem and make a cut all the way through to the onion.

  7. Continue making cuts (about 1/4″ apart).

  8. Quarter turn your onion and make 1/4″ cuts in this direction.

  9. Repeat with other half of onion.

Congratulations. You are now a part of the I Cut My Onions Right club.


What are the benefits of cutting your onions right? Well, the main thing is you can do it quickly, so less crying. I cry enough already and this helps me cut back. Also, by keeping the stem in tact, no pieces of onion go rogue in the cutting process. It’s nice and neat and efficient.


Back at cooking class Jen demonstrates how to cut an onion and then hands me one. Apparently I wasn’t meditating on my onion hard enough because I cut it the wrong way, but Jen didn’t get upset. Of course she didn’t. She’s a Buddhist chef.


When I get all worked up over small stuff Jen jokes that maybe it’s only my first or second go around here on earth. I think Jen has been here a few times more. She’s calm and compassionate to everyone – even the most unsavory types. She seems to take the middle path through everything – including her onions.


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