Being a Pastry Chef – Day 29

“Hey, T-Bear. Want some crack?” I ask tonight as service slows down a bit.

“Uh. Yes!” comes the expected response.

Out comes the six pan of lemon bar edges and such and the moans are heard around the kitchen.

When I say ‘crack,’ I don’t mean literal crack. Just like when I talk about cocaine clouds in my poetry. (which is just powdered sugar clouds from roulade cakes) I literally can blame all of this on Coffeeman.  Wednesday I was trimming down the edges of the lemon bars so they  were all pretty to plate and so of course I am not going to toss those edges. Into a pan they go and get passed around for anyone with a sweet tooth. (practically the entire kitchen)

Suddenly, an hour or two later, Chef is shoving the pan back at me and saying “get this crack away from me!”  Yes, it is that addictive and YES! I know I have done my job when Chef says this.  Let me blow on my nail and buff them on my jacket… Preen like a bird. Damn straight.

There are some serious perks to being able to call myself the pastry chef. Mind you, I am not classically trained. At all. Most of my baking has been rather haphazard over the years. The job was shoved at me because the first ‘chef’ decided he needed his wife to not be carting their 4 month old child around the kitchen. Don’t ask. Long story.

So job shoved at me, making boxed everything-but-the-kitchen-sink cakes and such and I am suddenly the  pastry chef.  But I digress way too far down that rabbithole.

So, perks to being pastry chef.

  1. Sugar.  I mean, come on, everything is sweet. How can you go wrong?
  2. Sliding sweet things over to your coworkers as you bake. It is seriously fun to be chopping a block of chocolate and shards get passed over to this person or that person.
  3. Seeing the look of ‘moaning’ delight on anyone’s face when they taste something good.
  4. Do you know how delightful it is to tell a guy you are the pastry chef and see this insta-perked up look of fascination? Um, yeah, there is serious power in that. I say that to a guy, not to mention pizza chef and whatnot, but serious interest is suddenly there. Why just a week and a half ago as the kitchen was filled with all of us on a off day to prep, here comes a very seriously cute/handsome/adorable new FedEx delivery guy and the look on his face as I went to sign his tablet but had to stop because I was chopping a big ole block of chocolate and had it on my hands. Power. There is serious power in being a pastry chef.
  5. Sending out good things to friends who come in……
  6. Handing out spoons for people to sample chocolate mousse, lemon bars, creme brulee, apple pear cranberry crisp (today I treated our hostess to a delightful bit) Ah yes, again it’s power… Good power. The power to create happiness.
  7. Stressed spelled backwards is desserts. Come on, no one can be in a bad mood after desserts.
  8. Your hair, skin, clothes smell like vanilla and cinnamon and sugar cookie dough, and almond, and yumminess. I have taken showers after baking and the scent that wafts off of me as the hot water hits my hair is literally what I was baking and the essence of whatever was baking in the oven.
  9. Power.
  10. Did I mention power? It’s a really sexy power.

So, yeah, I stress a lot about screwing up desserts. I mean, my lemon bars were too wet this time around, needing to have baked them a hair longer, and that roulade cake through the summer, but there are some amazing perks to this job.

Kate

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Behind the Scenes Prep – Day 28

Photo by Aaron Thomas on Unsplash

“If you don’t do your prep you don’t have a kitchen.” Wise words from Mrs. B tonight, as I discussed who was good on prep and who wasn’t.  We all do prep. Well, most of us do. There are a few that don’t do as much as others, and some who refused to do prep, and a few now who run around like a chicken with their heads cut off saying they have so much prep but not doing their prep……but we’ve all done some prep.

I got my start in this job as a prep chef. I worked the pantry (salads and such), but most of my day was prep work. Back prep work. I have done a lot of cutting, sous vide, sauces, baking, etc. All I did at the beginning was prep. And walkin duty.

You have to have your prep to have a fluid, well oiled kitchen. In my restaurant, just about everything is made in house. There are a few things here and there that are not, but these days, thanks to Coffeeman and his love of all things house made, we house make everything. The only thing right now we don’t do is bake our own bread (though the focaccia went through the summer just until the menu switch){and to do that we need a full time baker and another kitchen practically} .  Everything else we do.

Stocks, dressings, soups, sauces, dicing, slicing, cutting, grating, zesting, baking, rolling, forming, stuffing, shredding, and the list goes on. I come in every day and the first thing I do after I clock on is to check our white board for what needs doing. Our prep lists are usually pretty thin these days when I get in because the kitchen is so organized I don’t find myself bogged down with prep that wasn’t done in the day, because, shock of all shocks, Coffeeman is right in the thick of things with prep. He does so much prep work. He doesn’t stand around BS-ing  and saying “Oh I have so much to do!” but then not doing it. He actually does it! (unlike a few previous employees, and a few previous ‘chefs’) That man works so hard.  And we all do prep.

“We are all dishwashers, bakers, prep chefs, etc.” Coffeeman always says. He’s right. While I’m not the dishwasher, I do find myself doing dishes when we are busy, or now when I am alone in the kitchen on my days of baking. We all do a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Tonight (this is several days after I started this post….[come on K, get your but in gear and finish these GD month of day posts!]) Chef sent our dishwasher home early so he could catch a break and the kitchen was left to William, T-Bear, and me. So while T-Bear went on lunch, I cleaned up the back prep area and found myself running silverware and dishes through the dishwasher. I don’t mind it. Why should I?  The job has to be done, be it mopping floors (which I did) to making a pizza (which I also did). It’s all about running a smooth kitchen.

Prep may be boring to some, but without it, you cannot have a functioning restaurant. Astro D has moved to days and is in the thick of prep, and he loves it. I love coming in and hearing what he did during the day. He’s getting to make soup! And he’s thrilled. And I’m thrilled because I come in to work and I don’t have prep waiting to be done. It’s done so I can tackle things that are for what I do. Like making sure my station is all set up. Now if only I could remember to actually finish…. I forgot to check some things tonight. Whoops.

It’s this giant clockwork of a machine. And prep work is one of the largest cogs in this wheel of a clock of a restaurant. (hey, that would be a cool start to a poem)

Kate

Mise En Place – Day 8

Mise en place is not just a word to throw around. It is serious business in the restaurant world. It might seem silly to have a bunch of bowls and items set up before service, but if your ‘mise’ isn’t ready, you are truly screwed up and always behind.

I got a shot of Coffeeman’s mise the other night when I walked by, including  a bit of him at work in the background.

Mise en place….

This isn’t all of Chef’s mise en place, but a part of it. Most of it is all behind him and in the pantry to the right. Or below.

Your mise en place is all of your ingredients for everything you make. Your back up prep, your garnishes, your everything so you don’t have to send a prep chef off running for something you are out of. For me up on pizza, my mise is huge. I have to have enough of everything so I’m not rushing back to the walkin at some random point where the tickets are piling up. My morning prep guy is terrible at getting enough mise en place ready for nightly service, so I am apt to just prep a bunch more when I walk in for my shift.

Mise en place is so important, Chef has it tattooed on his arms. And his arms came into play this summer when Lucifer was still doing saute and line work. Lucifer is never good at getting all his mise ready. He’s more inclined to have someone else do it for him and then rush around like a ninny right before service has started. It’s never good. It created a lot of havoc around the kitchen.

One time, Lucifer didn’t back up his white wine and vinegars and such before service, so right there after two or three tickets start coming in, he’s shouting for saffron broth and white wine to be filled in his bottles.  I was still basic prep at the time and him shouting meant for me to hustle and get it for him. I was flustered because Coffeeman had started moving things around and I couldn’t find what Lucifer wanted. At one point Lucifer yelled at me about what was taking so long and I went back with the bottle and slammed it down on the counter vibrating with frustration.

Coffeeman took one look at me and said, “fill the bottle, take it back and hand it to him then tell him “mise en place, mother-f**ker.'”

“I can’t do that, chef.” I protested. “He’ll come back at me.

“Yes you can. And no he won’t. Just say, “Chef said, “Mise en place, mother——“.

So I did. I walked over, presented the bottle with both hands and repeated the statement. Lucifer took one look at me, Wildflower was staring at me wide eyed, then Lucifer looked over my shoulder and said, “yes, Chef.”

Turns out Coffeeman had stood behind me and crossed his arms where his tattoos were visible  and made it clear he was backing me up.

I was shaking like a leave, mind you, but when I say your mise en place is important, it is.

Every night when I walk in, I make damn sure I have my backups. I have as much as I can prep ready and lined up for when those 12+ tables with a ticket a mile long come in.

If I were apt to get a tattoo, I might consider one with mise en place along my hand or something. I’m not going to get one, but still, that is how important your mise is.

Kate

Beyond the Swinging Doors – 31 Days of My Life in a Professional Kitchen

Behind those two doors my world resides. Oh, and right to the left, where pizza is.

My life as a prep/pastry/pizza chef has been a whirlwind of less than a year. Considerably apropos to spend 31 days writing about it, posting about it, pictures about it, since this is the last year of 31 Days in October. Honestly, I can’t believe that this little blogging thing, which isn’t so little, is coming to a close. But as one chapter of life closes, another opens.  I can honestly say that all my hours spent cooking and baking are taking over my life to the point where I can only blog here and there.

The life has lead to some amazing opportunities, not just within the kitchen, but in my writing life as well. Opening doors to new subjects. New loves. New hates. New, new, new. It’s all new. Exhausting. Amazing.

I write this at nearly two thirty in the morning after not getting off of work till midnight, body exhausted and sore, mind fuzzy and wiped. But it’s all good. In a strange way, it’s good to feel this tired. I wish sometimes that I had more time to devote to writing and being at home, but at the same time, I love my job.

You know how people have to keep saying over and over how much they love something because they really don’t? Yeah, well that’s not the case with me. I say it over and over because it’s true. Even the most frustrating moments, like tonight running out of things the morning prep guy should have stocked for me, screwing up a few pizzas,  not having such and such done, and just not being able to close down till late, I still have the good things overshadow the bad. Like having a guy slip a tip over the window to me because he so enjoyed his dinner.  Having another guy say my pizzas were incredible. And another one saying he loved the mussels (which I did not do, Chef did) but he planned to come back soon because he heard how good my pizzas were. Yeah, those are good moments. It’s a good moment when your coworkers ask you to make them a pizza and they love it. I love my job.

So, I shall attempt for the next 31 Days of October to write and post about my life behind those two black swinging doors. The dance. The magic, the whirling motion of life. The food. I have my camera/cellphone at the ready. I already have several mental posts lined up.  Get ready, dearies and my darlings.

Kate

  1. Stainless Silence

Work, Writing, It’s All The Same. It Merges

Photo by Alexandru STAVRICĂ on Unsplash

Every time I get home from work I have some new thing to write about or think about. The drama alone in the kitchen lends itself to a perpetual existence of creativity. Maybe it’s because I like writing, or maybe my life really has become interesting, but I want to write about everything. I have taken to having a ‘work’ journal, a notebook specific to just work related things. Yes, things there might end up in my regular journal, so long as they become personal related, but for the most part, it’s my way to document random things I feel I should write down. There are a couple months where I wasn’t writing but once here or there and I missed out on a lot of memories I could have had down. I’m more inclined to keep it up these days. It’s also where I can vent about work. And no, I do not ever let this book out of sight because oh man, I suppose it could get me into trouble if work people ever read it. It can be unflattering at times.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Along with the actual non-fiction of life, I have been mentally working on a book of sorts for the kitchen. Be it fiction/romance, which is my plan, or maybe it becomes my memoir at one point or another, but I have started to write down little vignettes of sorts or just things that have happened. I have ideas of them being chapter starters. Written in 2nd person, I think I have been inspired by the book Sous Chef, written in the same style.

Here are some I just wrote down today.

Exhaustion. It hits and there is nothing you can do about it but paste on a smile when everyone is looking then drop it when eyes are no longer on you. You get off of work tears forming in your eyes as the adrenaline fades away. Too tired to eat. Nearly too tired to sleep. Each movement becomes forced. You are ready to snap. Crackle. Pop; and explode at the first insult tossed your way. You grip your knife in a death grip, ready to stab anyone that even thinks about crossing you. Then the chef tells you that you need to stay for overtime. . .

The bruises show up in random spots. A wrist, a bicep, the hipbone. Was it from something you ran into? Or did you lift something too heavy in your arms and the weight left a mark? But out of nowhere a purple hickey forms and you look like you’ve been in a fight. You actually have. Been in a fight, that is. A fight with pans and food, forcing it to be what you need it to be. Very few items are coaxed into becoming an edible masterpiece.

Envy. It forms when someone gets preferential treatment. Maybe a new knife, or a jacket, or even a word of compliment. Somewhere, someone received what you wanted. And you find yourself trying to find ways to collect something, some form of pleasure that comes from all the pain studded days. The wounds inflicted, by yourself(knife cuts, bruises), by others(insults, offhanded remarks). The envy that forms when something, or someone, you wanted doesn’t come to you and goes to someone else. Suddenly you find yourself averting your gaze at the mere mention of something. You can take the pain. But you need a reward afterward.

I suppose these are autobiographical, to an extent. I did find 10 bruises the other day after work. They were all over my body. I’m still trying to figure out the one on each arm and one on a wrist. The envy is there. Mostly with someone. But I can’t go there.  I do, but I shouldn’t. It hurts. A lot. Yeah, I avert my gaze a lot these days.

The exhaustion was at the beginning. Are there good days? Of course. But there are a lot of mediocre days as well. The work lends itself to writing though. I like to think that if I ever publish a poem or something, in my bio it will say, She spends her days as a chef (or something along those lines) but moonlights as a poet, crafting food like she crafts her words….. Oooh, I really like that, not to toot my own horn, but that’s kind of catchy.

Needless to say, my journal has been filled with a lot lately. Dreams have been crazy. Work, again, changed. But as tired and frustrated I am, I’m good. Ish. Are we ever good when tired? I’m never on tip top game.

I do have to extend a note of gratitude to my lovely writing ladies and hopefully occasional newest member Crystal (again, names have all been altered to protect the innocent) for giving me some very valuable support this last Saturday when I was at my wits end about personal aspects of the kitchen. A semi-broken heart, fortunately averted before I delved in too deep with someone, and just perpetual work drama lent itself to a teary moment which came from some absolutely beautiful and spot on poetry. Darlings, you are all rocks to me. I needed your support more than you will ever know. I forget to tell you all personally, but you are all wonderful ladies.

This week is a little less drama filled. A shorter week, and a hope that I can advance my career more next week. Things are a’changing. Ideas are floating around.

Hey, all you lovely readers, do you find your work enters into aspects of your writing? Do you find your writings as a way to vent about work? How does writing help you through your day to day life?

Kate