The knocking was persistent. Jean Bernard knew the men outside his restaurant had come to learn from him, many from distant reaches, some even by foot, but there was to be only one student, so the Chef, snubbing the clamor at his door, continued his work until that student presented himself.

As the days passed, the crowd diminished. Some left peacefully while others spat obscenities at the door before tramping off. Eventually, Miguel Castellanos was the only one left. Since his wait had earned him no encounters with the Chef, not even a sighting, he devised a plan: each morning he arrived earlier than the preceding day, no matter the time. Jean Bernard, however, arrived before him— always. This game continued until a frustrated Miguel nervously depressed the latch on the restaurant’s door and peeked in. To his surprise the Chef was waiting on the other side, his feet firmly planted as if he had been standing there all along.

“So, it is you.” Jean Bernard said flatly.

Miguel caught his breath. “With permission sir, I have been waiting outside to see you for weeks but nobody came to open the door.”

“Humph,” the Chef puffed out his cheeks and threw a hand to the air, “You prefer entering rooms before you are ready?”

The Chef did not wait for an answer, but turned and led Miguel into the kitchen where he handed him a starched apron.

“Excuse me, sir,” Miguel hesitated, “but wouldn’t you care to know about my experiences?”

“Omelets.” harrumphed the Chef.

Miguel was thoroughly confused. Looking around the kitchen he spotted a basket of eggs on the counter. Noticing this the Chef grumbled, puffed out his cheeks once again and shook his head. “Before you can make an omelet with success,” he reproached, “you must first peel potatoes.” Jean Bernard pointed to a large basin of potatoes, handed Miguel a knife and left the restaurant.

The young man passed several hours peeling. He let his mind wander, imagining all the praises the Chef would lavish upon him; omelets were in fact his specialty.

But just as Miguel clutched the final potato a thunderous drumming returned the basin to its capacity. He watched heatedly as Jean Bernard shook out a crate of potatoes into the vessel before him. Realizing this could in itself be a test he stopped short of saying something offensive. Instead, he grabbed a potato and peeled even faster than before. Perhaps his speed would be commended, he thought. But the Chef had no praises to give.

The next morning Miguel entered a deserted kitchen only to discover a mountain of filthy mud-caked potatoes towering above his head. “Cabron!” he shouted, clenching his fists and stomping his foot as hard as he possibly could. The copper pots above him echoed the curse and Miguel cringed in regret of his outburst. He looked over his shoulder to confirm his impropriety had gone unnoticed, then turned, snatched a potato from the top of the heap and began paring once again.

That afternoon Jean Bernard refilled the basin a third time infuriating Miguel beyond control. “Peeling potatoes has nothing to do with making an omelet!” He demanded. The Chef calmly pulled the last pomme de terre from his bucket and dropped it onto the pile, replying, “It has everything to do with making the omelet.” Jean Bernard turned leaving Miguel alone to consider his words.

Miguel laughed bitterly. He had no idea there were so many potatoes in Mexico. Then suddenly his laughter broke. His attention focused on a number of scraps scattered across the counter. He leaned in for a closer look. No doubt the Chef was displeased, he criticized, he had wasted a considerable amount of flesh with the peel. Miguel abruptly changed technique.

He struggled for days to achieve a peel with near perfect transparency. Finally satisfied, he held up a long sheer strip for the Chef to admire. “I can say with complete confidence,” the Chef informed him, “that you are no closer than when you first started.”

Miguel tried everything, long strokes and short strokes, ribbons  narrow and wide, he even undressed the tubers from top to bottom in lengthy spirals, but nothing impressed Jean Bernard.

“It is not clear what you want of me!” Miguel cried hopelessly.

Jean Bernard was hardly moved by the young man’s tears. He took the knife from Miguel, picked up a potato and stripped it bare. “To you, it is a tremendous effort. To me, it is effortless. The peel should fall from the potato like a leaf falls from the tree. I ask nothing more. But you, you give me speed, technique, and worst of all trickery. Clear your mind, overcome your self!”

“How do I do that?” begged Miguel.

“I have no idea.” The Chef tossed his hand to the air and walked off.

Miguel stared at the soiled bulbs. The Chef’s methods are insane, he thought, what did he mean overcome one’s self? Overcoming just his physical pain seemed impossible enough. He straightened up, centered his weight, found a sure comfortable footing and slowed his breathing. He cradled the potato in his left palm and loosened the grip of his right hand from around the knife allowing his wrist to rotate with the curve of the bulb. Every action was analyzed and each movement refined until he was quite sure only intrinsic motions remained.

Yet the procession of buckets was relentless.

“The harder you try,” the Chef whispered in his ear, “the more difficult it will be to succeed.”

His efforts grew increasingly desperate. He murmured praises of color, shape and mealiness to the bulbs. He stroked and fondled them.  No longer did he hold hard vegetative orbs within his clutches, but the wet firm breasts of Delores Del Rio. He seduced the fleshy knobs, glorified them in an effusive serenade, he made love to them with his tears, but it was hopeless. His amorous recitative received nothing more than a cold crushing silence. Confronting his defeat, Miguel summoned every ounce of rage he had left and lashed out in a violent fit of flailing arms smashing the potatoes into a dirty pulpy maceration.

He slouched over the mess exhausted, empty, ostensibly lifeless. Jean Bernard secretly watched him through a crack in the kitchen door. For a course of time that seemed immeasurable he watched, but Miguel did not move. Not even a breath seemed to be taken. Then the stasis broke; his hand slowly and automatically reached for the knife and he began peeling once more.

The Chef was quite pleased. He had prepared his student no differently than he would a consommé: simmering slowly to penetrate the marrow, patiently waiting for the wastes to surface, meticulously skimming them away leaving only the essence behind. Miguel, he observed, was nearly clarified.

The next morning the student arrived and found the basin of potatoes curiously placed beneath the trees of the courtyard. Not considering the Chef’s motives he proceeded to the pile, unsheathed his paring knife, and began working once again. But this time his mind was quiet. The wind in the courtyard rushed around him, rustling his senses like the branches of a tree. His body swayed harmoniously with the elements. His hand, soaring over the potato’s surface in confluence with the wind, enveloped the bulb in movement— continuous, unconcerned, and graceful. Peels, like leaves, fell effortlessly around his feet. His awareness was tightly contained within a series of finite moments; a damp palm, a breath, a contracting muscle, the sound of a finger pulling back the knife, the tenderness of a peel hitting the earth. No longer bound by a role, Miguel inhabited the entire experience; he became knife, peel, potato, wind and leaf.

“Stop,” Jean Bernard yelled, rushing from the kitchen, “do you see what you’ve done?” 

Looking back, Miguel smiled with deep understanding. In his mound of masterfully pared potatoes was reflected the elegant convolution of the path he had taken.

“That may be fine work,” rallied the Chef with a glint in his eye, “but you cannot make an omelet with success until you have properly cracked eggs!”