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The Geometry of Duck

I realize that "The Anatomy of Duck," would have been a more correct, but the "The Geometry of Duck" says a bit more about the difficulty I'm having. One of the dishes from my station at work is half a duck, carved a la minute (when it's ordered). Of course, the best thing about duck is the crisp skin. The method they use to carve the duck is modified to preserve the skin for presentation, so it's a precise process.

Now, I'm no butcher, but I've cut up a decent amount of chicken before. I've cut up a few ducks before, but not in this particular way. Even with them being so similar in structure, it hasn't been easy. I thought, "Ah, well, the duck is just a stretched out chicken." But the angles and contours are different enough that fluency in one doesn't cross over to the other. At least, not for me.

To do it well, first off, the knife needs to be really sharp. I sharpen my knives about every day, but I had been taking only one knife out of my kit, but after prepwork and such, it wasn't sharp enough, and sometimes the skin would tear instead of being cut cleanly. So now I take out two, one that I keep in a bladeguard until service, and use it specifically for duck. Second, you need to visualize the internal structure of the bird, while also seeing dotted lines on the surfaces, so the shapes of the skin are pretty. Thirdly, cutting up finished duck is takes a more delicate hand than raw, because we're trying to keep the skin intact. It's almost like having tissue paper around the entire thing, and keeping it unmarred to put on the plate is tricky. Each order is half the duck, so if I use too much force to take off the first half, the skin of the second half gets mashed up.

My duck plate is starting to look better, but it's not as consistently gorgeous as it should be. Watching the other cooks do it is humbling. The accuracy and assuredness of their motions, and the clean, perfect results on the plate speak to their skill and professionalism.

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