This Kitchen Ain’t a Men’s Club

 

Ask foodies across America about Nashville’s most famous chefs, and Deb Paquette’s might not be the first name you hear. But for more than 30 years, Paquette has trained and mentored countless chefs — and helped women succeed in a notoriously male-dominated industry.

Chef Deb Paquette pulls a plump grapefruit from a plastic bin and — with a quick chop, a spin and another chop — removes both its ends, revealing a ruby center cobwebbed with threads of white pith.

“See, now you run the blade under the peel, following its curve,” she says, slowly working her way around the fruit. “And then …” Paquette juts her tongue against her cheek as she sinks the broad serrated knife into the fruit. She does this repeatedly along its natural vertical seams, while a growing pile of neat, crescent-shaped segments drop to the cutting board.

“We’ll get you a smaller knife for this, maybe some gloves, too,” Paquette says, glancing at my untrained hands. “During a real service though, you’d just have to work with what you got.”

It’s 2 p.m. on a Saturday. Dinner rush at Etch in downtown Nashville won’t start for another few hours, so for now — with my purple surgical gloves and mini-knife — I’m just prepping grapefruit, listening in, and trying to stay out of everybody’s way.

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