I get a big rush when I sit on kitchen counters. There’s something electrifying about knowing your butt is somewhere butts aren’t meant to be. Somehow, by an odd combination of a mildly unprofessional (but endearing) application and an interview conducted while I was holding four stolen cookies, I snagged a job that pays me to sit on kitchen counters — well, one in particular.
It’s the biggest kitchen I’ve ever been in, fit with two full fridges, granite countertops and two ovens. It looks straight out of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” but it’s right here on campus.
The Pauli Murray Head of College house has two kitchens: one that is private for the family and one called the catering kitchen. While I don’t get to spend my working hours sitting on the family’s counter a-la-Elf on a Shelf, I do spend about four hours a week as an event aide for any and all things Pauli Murray. I’ve set up for college teas, helped organize a de-stress face mask party and spent a lifetime baking study break cookies during midterm season, but the most important thing my job has taught me is the art of spa water.
Interlude: When making spa water, cut your fruits into smaller slices. This ensures the greatest fruit to water surface area creating maximum spa taste. Also, when carrying a large jug of spa water, hold it close to your chest like a baby ensuring that it feels loved (also important so you do not drop approximately seven lemons and 60 cups of water on your feet).
When I first applied for the job, I didn’t know exactly what it entailed. I thought I would be standing by doors, taking coats and letting people know where the bathroom was. Essentially, I thought I would be working as a part-time butler who was allowed to wear denim to work, but the kitchen — and the people who enter it — have given me so much more than a job.
We all know how the rules work. You aren’t supposed to have a toaster or a rice cooker or a coffee maker or anything remotely resembling a kitchen in your dorm. My suite is Extra™ (read: bad at planning) and ended up with two microwaves, but no Food Network cooking is happening in them. I made toast in my hair straightener once (yes, it was toasty, yes, I still use the straightener), but sitting on the floor at 2 a.m. with some crunchy Wonder Bread doesn’t exactly feel happy and homemade. The catering kitchen is my escape, it’s a place that makes me feel calm and useful. It’s always warm. It’s full of friendly faces. It’s like home.
Now, when I say home, I mean every part of home.
The catering kitchen comes with all of the physical necessities: a secret snack cabinet for emergencies, a triple lifetime supply of napkins, fancy tablecloths for any and all occasions, two warming drawers and a pantry stocked to the brim with Ikea tea cups. It doesn’t have a microwave, but we overlook this fact and embrace the side-by-side industrial ovens instead.
As any home has, the kitchen has seen me at my best and at my worst. There was the amazing day I arranged mango-themed snacks for a puppy’s debutante ball with strips of newspaper woven into my hair. Once, I was outsmarted by my head of college’s 10-year-old daughter. Spoiler alert: She knows more big words than me. Then there was the time I, a vegetarian, worked a fried chicken party where we ran out of fried chicken and I almost cried. Usually if you run out of the kitchen with a pair of tongs yelling, “DON’T PANIC! MORE CHICKEN IS COMING!” you’re the only one panicking. They trust you. You work there. You don’t even eat chicken.
But in all seriousness, the catering kitchen is vital to my sense of place in Murray. It is my mission control when I’m working, and it’s mapped on the back of my hand when I’m not. Sometimes, my friends will come keep me company in the kitchen with me while I work. Yes, the incentive is that they get snacks, but we also get to take a moment out of our busy days to be with each other. Sometimes, I get to catch up with people I haven’t seen in a while when they stop by events and make “trail mix” by filling a bag with only Chex Mix. Most of the time, the kitchen is the best place to see a new face, make a new friend and talk about the latest gossip over a steaming cup of tea or Lucibello’s unbeatable cannolis.
It’s weird to me that I developed such an attachment to a kitchen in my first semester at Yale, but when I went home over break I missed it. My kitchen at home has a lot of things the catering kitchen doesn’t — fridge magnets with my face on them, my family’s collection of eccentric mugs, cat food bowls in the corner — but there’s something special about Murray’s atmosphere.
No matter if I need a pick-me-up, or the low-down, or I just really want to scrub some chocolate cake off of fancy dishes, the catering kitchen does it all for me. No one gets mad at me when I forget how to use the garbage disposal, or leave my water bottle there for weeks on end (three times and counting!) or when I sneak a snack or two for myself. Overall, it’s a pretty good gig. And I get to fulfill my rebellious dreams of sitting on a counter and loving what I do.
Audrey Steinkamp | firstname.lastname@example.org .