Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Smelling Like Kitchen

I always tell my chef friends-"You smell like kitchen." It's not a good thing, and it's not really bad either. Just a reality. They smell like the kitchen. What does that mean exactly? Food. Fire. Sweat. The combination of the three really. And no matter what they do to try and get rid of the smell, they can't. It's in their pores.

Well, Friday night, I smelled like kitchen. And I loved it.

It was Day 2 of my stage (if you can even call it that!) I got there and learned that Chef wasn't even there. He had gotten Lasik surgery the day before and was coming in later. So I was brought to go meet the new pastry chef, Ian. I was going to be working with him for the day.

I felt slightly more confident in Day 2, but still wondered if I'd hate it and regret ever wanting to do this. I think at first Chef Ian wasn't exactly sure why I was there or how he could put me to work. I got a few smiles from some of the people that had seen me last time, and still some strange looks from those that didn't know me. Jamie, one of the chefs that remembered me, saw me working in pastry and told me "You're going to the dark side!!" Wow, feel the love. I did get shouts of "You came back!", which was really nice and felt great.

I talked with Chef Ian for a little bit, and then launched right into sauce making!! This was both exciting and scary at the same time. I started with a classic caramel sauce and then moved onto a dairy-free caramel sauce. So fun! I've never made caramel. Chef Ian has years and years of experience, so although pastry is truly a science, he did some eye balling and non-measuring that made this novice a little nervous. There's something about having the security of a recipe, rather than relying on my own judgment. But there’s also something really cool about seeing how talented he was and how he could work without a recipe.

As I was mixing the sugar and water with a spatula, he stopped me. Told me that in order to really get it right, I had to mix with my hands. And he took the pot to the sink and dug his hands in there, adding a little bit more water as he went along until the consistency was just right. He told me to feel it. It was the consistency of sand, and just perfect. I learned that we had to wash the sides of the pot, to make sure there weren't any grains of sugar stuck on, and that once the pot hit the flame, you were not to stir it (despite me really wanting to!)

As the day went on, I saw how the mixture bubbled over when we added the cream mixture we had just heated, and I tasted the difference between the 'classic caramel' and the dairy free version (that we had made with pineapple juice!). I saw all spice in pre-ground up form, and learned to roast my whole spices before throwing them into the caramel sauce to steep.

There were some challenges in the day. I found myself still pretty lost moving around the kitchen. I had a hard time finding the spices (I hadn’t been to that storage area before), and felt like such a failure when I had to go back to my station telling them I couldn't find them. I was told to go into the walk-in and look for the creme fraiche, and again, had to go back asking for help. Turns out, it's kept on the TOP shelf. How was I suppose to see it, much less get to it? Well, Tasha, the gal in pastry that had helped teach me last week, who was no taller than 5 feet tall, showed me how. She literally scaled the shelves in that walk-in, like a little monkey, climbing so fast until her head was eye line with that top shelf. My hero.

Another time, I was asked to grab a pint of strawberries from the walk-in. I went in there and was determined to find them. I looked and I looked, climbing to see the tops. Nothing. After what seemed like forever, I came out. Defeated again. I was looking right into the pastry station. I declared, "I swear I looked everywhere and there aren't any strawberries in there!" They kind of giggled. "They aren't in there, they're in the other walk-in." Opps.

When I had to climb onto the work area to reach the molds for some strawberry shortcakes I was prepping, I found myself still a little shy of being able to reach. The other really nice gal on the pastry team, Katie, gave me a hint. "Use the tongs." Oh! Great idea! Until you miss one and it loudly clangs as it makes it's way down to the floor behind the shelving units. All eyes were on me. Opps again.

Once I had retrieved the molds, I was taught how to prepare them. The little shortbread cakes had been prepared and cut. I was to grab the ring mold, lay a shortcake circle in the middle and then to place cut strawberries around it-so that at the time of service, they just had to add a dollop of jam, placed another shortbread cake on top, removed the ring, and a circle of strawberries would be on display. Beautiful. But it was hard. There isn't that much room between the shortbread and the mold. And you kind of had to find the perfect size strawberry, so that it would fit, without being bruised and squished. I found myself hunched over- and trying my hardest to find the perfect strawberry each time. By the time I was done with the 15 shortcakes, my shoulders and back ached. I didn't know I had been so tense! But boy, when they were done, they sure looked beautiful. And I was so proud.

I was squeezing a lemon at one point, and that's when I realized I had a paper cut on my left hand. It was so painful!! I carefully picked out the seeds and rather than squeezing over my left hand to catch the seeds, I squeezed directly into the pot, avoiding my left hand completely. Much better.

Later, when I was asked to squeeze oranges, I did the same thing. Picked out all of the seeds I could see, and then began squeezing. Well, just as Chef Ian came over to check in on me, I managed to squeeze a seed right into the beautiful large pot of what would soon be a raspberry sorbet. Oh my god. I was mortified. Was I suppose to dig my hand in there to look for it? Did I have top strain the whole mixture looking for the seed? Was it ruined? He was really calm about it. But reminded me that's why you're suppose to squeeze into your other hand. Right. Forget the pain, catch the damn seeds! (Yes, I squeezed into my hand for the remaining 5 oranges, and despite the pain, no more seeds made it in. Deep apologies to whomever ends up getting the scope with the seed.)

But despite those missteps, there were some highlights too. I scoped out what felt like hundreds of cookies. (And learned the hard way that when you slide trays into the refrigerators, you've got to think about the height of your item. Let's just say there were some squished cookies!). I also separated 3 flats of eggs (108 in total!), and made my second batch of vanilla ice cream.

I was also asked to help prepare the Baked Alaska’s- using a circle cutter to cut out rounds of the cake that had been prepared. This wasn't too hard- and I even managed to do so with my circles super close to each other, therefore using as much of the cake as possible (got to save on food costs!) After, Chef Ian noticed some inconsistency with the heights of the rounds (not my fault!!), he asked me to use a knife (yes, his knife-which by the way, has the phrase "Don't touch my fucking knife" etched into it), to split the cakes that were too high. Essentially giving us two cakes. Gulp. This required some basic knife skills. Was I ready? Some how, I thought he had walked away. I bent over and began cutting my first round. Success! Phew! I smiled and as I looked up, saw that he had been watching me. He smiled, said "Good job" and turned away, leaving me to cut the other rounds.

At one point, Chef Ian was walking with me, grabbed a round silver tin 'bucket', and he told me the name of it. He repeated it, looked me in the eye, and told me, "Now, next time I ask for this, you'll know what I want." Yay! He had said the magic words. NEXT TIME. I had to do everything I could to stop from smiling at the thought of a next time. With all of my energy focused on that, I managed to forget the name of the ‘bucket’. Damn it!

I did feel like I was getting more comfortable with my new colleagues. Katie and I were the only ones in the pastry area at one point. And she asked me, “What do you do again? Accounting?” I laughed out loud. No offense to those accountants out there, but certainly not me! I quickly clarified—didn’t want anyone getting the wrong idea! And in the pastry area, they’ve got these huge rolls of plastic wrap. I noticed on one box, someone had drawn little faces and written the names of the chefs that worked in the pastry area. It looked like a new ‘blue’ face had recently been added—Chef Ian. It was silly and cute. And it made me laugh. Well, later in the day, I saw a small group crowded around the box laughing. I noticed MY FACE had been added. Nothing could have made me happier.

I wanted to stay all night. There were already diners in the restaurant, and I wondered which of them would order my beautiful desserts. (Ok, so not really mine...but now I really get that whole 'having pride in your work thing'.)

I was only there a little more than five hours, but five hours have never flown by so quickly, and I have never been so tired! I asked both Chef Ian and the Executive Chef if I could return and didn’t leave until they had both said yes. Now, my homework? Studying my measurement conversion charts.

1 comment:

  1. I love hearing your stories of working behind the scenes--so when are you going to go into the business full time????