Sunday, September 7, 2008

Is it too late?

To consider a career change? Did I make the wrong choice? Was I meant to do something else? Did I miss my calling or should I stop the dreaming and stick to what I know? We've all heard the saying "Don't quit your day job!"--was that meant for me?

I have a passion for food. Not only for eating, but for cooking too. I was lucky enough to spend a few hours in a restaurant kitchen, shadowing a chef and trying to help where I could. I had been looking forward to this day for weeks, ever since we set it up! I had no idea what to expect, and didn’t know if I’d love it or hate it. Would it be one of those things that I had been thinking about for so long, and had such high expectations for that I’d get there and be disappointed?

I arrived and ran into Chef as I was walking in. He led me to the staff changing area, and showed me where I could grab a uniform. Me. In a chef’s jacket and those dorky black and white checkered pants. I was already loving it. He had told me to meet him in the kitchen when I was ready, but when I got down there, he was no where to be seen. “Oh, he’s back with the butcher, you can find him there.” Gulp. The butcher? I was looking forward to spending time in the kitchen. Not butchering meat. If that was where we were starting, I didn’t think I’d make it very long.

Thank goodness he was just there finishing up. We headed back to the kitchen, and Chef told me he had some prep work and I was going to start off in pastry.

Ironic that I started off my ‘shift’ in pastry. The one part of the kitchen I’m probably most comfortable with. And what did I start making? Ice cream! YES! Can you believe it? The pastry chef was mid way through making Sherry Yard’s famous 50 Bean Vanilla Ice Cream, and my job? To crack 1250 grams worth of egg yolks. I have never seen so many egg yolks together. And I’ve never cracked so many in my life! And water for the chocolate sauce recipe? Measured in pounds! Never thought of water in terms of pounds! In a way, I was happy to start off my stint in the kitchen in pastry. I got into a bit of a groove and was starting to get a little more comfortable. I was also able to ask the pastry chef some of my random questions. For example:

Me: Why is it so quiet in the kitchen?
Pastry Chef: The prep guys are gone, and the cooks don’t get here until 3 pm. Enjoy the quiet! It’s going to be a lot different when everyone gets here.

Me: What else do you have to do today?
Pastry Chef: Here’s the list, we’ve got to finish the vanilla ice cream, make a batch of chocolate sauce, I need to make more corn waffles…

Me: What time did you get here? How long have you worked here? Where did you work before? (Yes, poor girl, I didn’t hold back on my questions!)

This very patient chef showed me where everything was—in the entire kitchen. Vats of flour and sugar. Tons of pots and pans. Dry goods storage. The walk in. The ice cream making room. (A WHOLE room dedicated to ice cream making!) And the dish station! Where you took everything when you were done with it to be washed and returned to it’s appropriate place. I felt like we were flying through utensils, and bowls. Each time we were done? Oh, just take it to dish. (I wish I had a dish station and more importantly, a dish washer at my house!)

As I was cracking away, I wondered “What happens if I get a piece of egg shell into the yolks?” And then I realized, I could single handedly ruin something today. A small eggshell would have been one thing (don’t worry, I didn’t get any in there!), but what about when we were tempering the eggs? What if I wasn’t whisking fast enough? What if we made scrambled eggs, and I ruined the cream that had been infusing overnight and wasted all of those ingredients? They’d be a day behind, not to mention their food costs for the day would be all screwed up. And my loyal readers know, scrambled eggs during the ice cream making process? That’s something I’ve actually done before!! And what about when I carried the cream over and had to poor it into the other container. What if I spilled it all? There was so much room for error, and so many opportunities to screw up.

Thankfully I finished my stint in pastry without screwing up. (I have never whisked harder in my life--and my arm felt it the next day!) And sure enough, as the clock got closer and closer to 3 pm, the kitchen became livelier and livelier. More and more people started trickling in. And giving me the odd look. I could see the questions in their eyes:

Who is this new person?
Is she here for good?
Wonder where she came from?
Is she looking for a job?
How good is she?
Will she get in the way tonight?

As I met the team one by one, I was quick to tell them, I am not permanent. I was not after a job. They had nothing to worry about.

Then I started getting different questions:

Are you a stage? (pronounced stahj, meaning serving a short, unpaid apprenticeship)
Where did you cook before?
What do you do?
Why would you want to be in a kitchen?

It was pretty funny telling them, I haven’t cooked in a professional kitchen before. The last kitchen I cooked in? My own! The one and only kitchen I’m familiar with! As for why did I want to be there? That was harder. I couldn’t really explain. I tried, but I think they all thought I was a little crazy. I had a job—in public relations. Why would I want to come in and cook? But there wasn’t time to dwell on it. We had work to do! I was to follow Chef now, and help him out. He hasn’t been clear on what I was doing yet, but he had come by to grab me and I had left my friends in pastry and moved onto savory.

Stay tuned for more from my experience.

to be continued…

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