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

Everything Changes – Day 27

So yeah, I didn’t actually complete the Write 31 Days in a 31 day period… sue me.  Busy, tired, busy, tired, I could repeat….  And I can’t quite remember what Twin Ponygirl said for title, but I’ll give her the credit for this. So any comment made to this post, she get’s 50 cents royalties…

Lemon Bars Photo by Dana DeVolk on Unsplash

Literally, everything changes, from coworkers to menus, the restaurant business is ever evolving. Months ago I wrote how Miss Holly and I hated change, and for the most part, it’s true, but honestly, I am excited for the new changes to the menu. The other day as a bunch of us were prepping on a closed day, Coffeeman asked how we were all feeling. I wasn’t sure if it was in general because we all put in a long day, or because of the new menu. For me, I am feeling quite excited about the new menu. Yeah, there is a lot of prep. It’s an ambitious menu, to me at least. But it’s a good and exciting change.

I didn’t get what Coffeeman was blathering on about a week and a half ago about being bored with the summer menu… Then I started thinking about it. Like that night I went home and was totally in agreement. I was bored with the menu. I needed a change. I needed something different to challenge my mind. My creativity. My passion.

I’m always passionate about what I’m doing, which is why it takes me a bit longer to make things because I want them to be perfect-ish. But even I was feeling like the menu was mundane at times. It needed something to spice it up. It needed to embrace fall. Lots of fall, even if there are only 54 days till Christmas… (yeah, I killed you there, didn’t I?) I need dark flavors and spices. I want rich and heavy. It’s gorgeous fall weather  as I look out to a blue sky and this rust colored oak tree. I mean, it is absolutely gorgeous! So I want flavors that embrace that.

Oh the cranberries, port, orange, lemon, and cinnamon are a simmering. Gorgeous sight…

I am excited Chef decided to use my cranberry-port sauce for the lemon bars. My sauce!  Okay, well I did find the recipe and tweak it.  And the other day he asked where my recipe was for the lemon bars. “What recipe, you are the chef, aren’t you supposed to have it?” I asked

“You’re the pastry chef! Where’s yours?!” he countered.

Damn straight. I am the pastry chef. Where was mine?  I have to tweak it a bit working with a much larger pan than a 9 by 13!  But it’s good and I have plans.

Fall is bound to be exciting, and changes are forever happening. I’m learning to roll with them. Sometimes.

Kate

Tired – Day 26

I am tired. Tired doesn’t even begin to express what I feel. Exhausted might be a better word.  No, I don’t usually work a 40 hour work week, and I’m definitely not a workaholic like Coffeeman, though a part of me would like to be. That being said, I am exhausted. Mentally, and a bit physically.  I feel like I’m in a losing battle. Chef and I against the world… Okay, well he has William too, I forget about him as he’s so quiet!

I feel like I am not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. The last few weeks have been tiring. Good at times, but tiring. This weekend was especially so. While the flourless chocolate cake was marvelous, the rest of the work days could be shot down into a sewer, which is ironic because I dreamed I needed Chef to come to the walkin and he said he wouldn’t step foot in that sewer( he laughed when I told him about the dream)

I’ve also heard ‘f***ed up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional… This is the polite one.

My blood sugars have been too low during service. I am down my backup guy, with two very crazy days of service and no time to eat a proper meal.  Coffeeman asked me if I was okay the other night after I dipped down way too low… I said I was fine. What is fine….? See picture. That was me. It was so crazy that one coworker who always calls me Miss K, pulled me in the back when I was having a tearful meltdown to let me breath some of her Young Living stress reliever. I have got to get some of that. It helped. And our hostess who is the literal translation of Awesome, Superwoman, Extraordinaire, came to my rescue with a tall glass of water. (She knew when I asked for it, something was wrong, then finally when she found out I hadn’t eaten, pestered me for the next half hour to go eat something, even the chocolate cake, “you deserve it!” she said.)

Thank god for Coffeeman. I mean, I know he’s the Chef, boss, all around good guy, but he came up on the pizza line and helped me knock out a crazy amount of dishes because I had gotten backed up. I was in tears. It had been a bad day coming in to work and finding out the kitchen was not up to standards because my dishwasher/closer and I had a disaster with cleaning the kitchen where the two of us could not see the way flour spread all throughout the kitchen floors because water makes flour disappear…. Someone said it looked like cocaine had been dispersed through the whole kitchen. 2 Which is probably why it ended up on counters over the night cause they were spotless when I left…. I was so so so so so frustrated. I was nearly sobbing up on the line. I know a lot of it was being tired and also knowing/feeling that one of my coworkers bitched because I had told that person to do their prep as it has not been done for quite a while. Yeah, I was really annoyed on Friday night. Yeah, I let the anger build and I was not nice with the note.

Throw in the mistake with the kitchen floor, and boom, it was not a good Saturday. Even if I had the second chocolate cake turn out well. And having a down coworker because he got sick.

It all added up to just a kind of crappy weekend. I felt like I was punched in both eyes by the time Sunday rolled around. Bruised body, heart, mind. I don’t know how you are supposed to always bounce back from that.

I try really hard with this job. Sometimes I think I try so hard mistakes get made because I’m trying so hard not to screw up. I’m more brave than I used to be, but in a lot of ways I think previous bosses made me doubt my existance. I doubt what I can do all the time. What would anyone see in what I have to offer? Am I worth keeping around. I know I know, I am worthy, but I still doubt my existence all the time. I am at heart a very insecure person. I just don’t always see what other people see. You could tell me a hundred times and I still my doubt your words.

I don’t like it when my sugar goes down. And I really need to do what my parents told me to do after I relayed the weekend. They said, go tell your Chef you need him to man your station for a bit so you can go eat. Yeah, I know I need to do this, but I hate, hate, hate to ask for help. I know that I need to do it, but it makes me feel like I am not capable of handling myself in this job. Shouldn’t I be stronger? Shouldn’t I be able to hold it together even if I have a lot of health issues?

I am trying to be a strong independent woman. Twin named Bear, always has a goofy saying about that… Well I’m trying! But not feeling like I’m succeeding too well.

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Will the kitchen ever run more smoothly than it is right now?

I don’t know, and honestly the last few days of the month couldn’t come any sooner.

Kate

Torta Caprese, Experimenting – Day 25

My special!

So, obviously I didn’t get to writing till it’s already the 26th, but this is an exciting post for me. I got home after an absofreakinglutely great night and was kind of a motor mouth for a good hour, poor parents, and finally am in bed tapping away.

So you know how I had my experimenting the other day about Panna Cotta? If not, read it. But this week, Coffeeman cleared for me to make a flourless chocolate cake.  I’m not sure why this popped into my head to try, but maybe it came from finding a recipe in Cooks Illustrated, or the Martha Stewart Living that showed up in the mail. Either way, Tuesday, I was alone in the kitchen mastering a torta caprese, or Italian Chocolate Almond flourless cake. (It’s technically not flourless when there is almond flour in it….)

Definitely unassuming in its natural state… IE, chilling in the walkin

This cake is rich in chocolate, eggs, butter, and almond flour.  I topped it with a chocolate ganache icing. It’s this single unassuming layer, but it packs a punch.

Oh the cranberries, port, orange, lemon, and cinnamon are a simmering. Gorgeous sight…

And because it’s autumn, and the cranberries came in, I wanted a cranberry sauce, something that screamed fall.  I found a delightful recipe for a port spiked cranberry sauce and was given the go ahead to use some of the port we keep in our restaurant.  So cranberries and port and orange and lemon zest, a bit of cinnamon and some orange juice…. This sauce is so good, just on it’s own. (“With turkey,” mused Coffeeman and  Astro D today…) Boys, keep musing. You have no idea how delighted I was to see the looks on all of your faces.  (I want to just eat the sauce. It’s that good)

Finished sauce. I liked it better as it simmered, but well, done is done. The taste explodes in your mouth.

Then an amaretto and rum spiked whipped cream on the side…. (because I mean, amaretto. And rum) a bit of candied orange.  I plated the dessert today and all I heard was, “You made this?”

“You made this.”

“YOU MADE THIS!”

And a “nice” coupled with a fist bump and I think a “nailed it” or “knocked it out of the park” along with a “that with an espresso is perfect” from Chef.

Damn…….  yeah, damn fine day. I could have danced myself silly around the kitchen, but for the running into people aspect.

Look at that description!

Good day. Like really really good day. This experimenting stuff is going well….

Can you tell I’m happy?

I only wish I could send you all a piece to try it out.

Kate

Eating on the Run – Day 22

You know I’m winding down with blogging when the posts come at night….

So, restaurant world. You are surrounded by food. You can taste just about anything you want.  Do you know how hard it is to eat a meal while working in a restaurant? Let’s just say the old joking adage of eating over a garbage can is about on par. Scarfing down your meal is almost a given. You are always rushing, and for some reason, eating is a last minute thing.

I’ve had coworkers make me a quick burger and a few weeks ago one of them asked me how it was.  I looked at her and said, “How long have I been back here?”

“About five minutes,” she replied.

“And my burger is gone.” I grinned.  “Yes it was good and I was starving, hence why it is now gone.” (and trust me, it wasn’t small)

I’ve learned to eat quickly and grab a lunch when I can. A few bites in the back set the bowl down and off and running again. I actually don’t mind it much. I do find it a problem when I’m at home and I find standing easier to eat… Okay, not really, but it’s what I’m used to. I’m trying to be more mindful of it.

Even at work, I try to sit down for a bit. I found it rather serendipitous to find that the beer kegs are the perfect size to set a small plate in and create a ‘table’.

Keg Table. How ingenious of me!

 

I’m forever downing cups of coffee at the end of the night, not because I need a wakeup factor, but because it relaxes me as I work breaking down and checking over prep lists.

But food is usually spoonfuls here or there or a very hasty lunch. It might not be the most healthy life style, but it is what it is. For the most part  as well, I am not really hungry. You smell food all day and well, sometimes you just don’t want to eat.  I try not to eat too much food at work as well or bring anything home because I smell it so often I don’t want to stop liking food.

Various things tend to hold my interest more than others. I like savory always over sweet. Probably because I bake. It all depends. But eating on the run has become the new norm.

Kate

Just Let Me Ramble About My Chef Days – Day 21

Late at night counting tickets, drinking a last cup of coffee and a glass of Pendleton

As of yesterday,  I have only one month left till I have been with my restaurant a year. One year. Wow.  Back in winter I thought I would be lucky if I made it that long, much less any longer. Miserable wasn’t even the word to describe how unhappy I was with my former bosses. Literally every day I went to work I was crying a half hour before leaving, trying desperately to fix smudged makeup and look professional, then crying at night when I got home. Exhausted, unhappy, afraid of my own shadow, it was a nightmare job. I quit when it was just a ridiculous amount of stress and my parents were aghast at what my boss was doing to my mental state, much less physical with all the long and hard hours. I was hard pressed to say I even liked any aspect of my job. It was just a job.

Failed work relationships/romantic included, coworkers coming and going, more going than staying, forever feeling like I was on the chopping block, players pitted against each other….. It was not a pretty picture. Lucifer and Tom Cat were disasters in the making. I should have listened to family right off the bat, but noooo, I had to do it my way. I know a lot of it was the misery surrounding my pure and utter exhaustion. Bad relationships kill your mental state.

Today, I am in a good place. Today, I am in a really great place. Last night I sat with AstroD after work discussing our new specials this week. The appetizer he is making, the dessert I’m doing. The freezer that is supposedly fair game for us to experiment with what’s inside… Oh the possibilities are looming! The happiness of our current positions. I am first and foremost on my time card, a prep chef. But currently my job is pastry chef, pizza chef, closer, and prep.  AstroD was pizza chef, line chef, and fill in. Today he is line chef and prep chef and occasional fill in on pizza. Both of us are extremely happy. We are getting to learn new things, sucking up as much as Coffeeman wants to throw at us. He wants a sous chef. Hey, whoever he wants to make one, go for it. If he wants me, fine, I will learn as much as he wants to dump on me. I will take it all. I might groan about working certain days, but that’s my still being tired from last week talking.

I am so happy these days.  “K, you are a f—-ing pastry chef!” Sassy Girl said to me last night. She bounces around as much as I do when we both think about it. I have the opportunity of a lifetime here. And I am going to absorb as much as I can.

I would have never thought this world would have been my calling. A lot of it is really hard, especially when you look at this list. Parts of it are starting to be my life. The one that irks me the most is finding a partner unless in the trade, unless they are just very compromising. This life is hard and good. I have late nights a lot. Sometimes because when I get off, I need to just hang back at work and wind down. The winding down takes at least two hours. Your are going at such high velocity for a short amount of time and it is cram packed. Service is really only 3 hours. But it is an intense three hours of crushing the dishes you fit into your time period. Sometimes it is longer and harder. It all depends, and it’s always changing from what happened prior to service, or during, and even after.

But last night, collaborating with AstroD was so amazing. We have ideas and hopes and plans. The excitement of trying something new and hopefully pleasing the public.  Oh yeah, that is a freaking amazing feeling. A tip last night, a comment earlier in the day, compliments for the enjoyment. Oh yeah, that is amazing too.  Hearing your GM say they are getting a lot of positive feedback from the bar where everyone there watches your every move. Whew, that’s heady.

Today I am glad I got to have my hair down, curled and pretty lady today. Not pinned up and slicked back to kingdom come. I loved sleeping in and having a more leisurely day.  Writing a post, reading up on chocolate ganaches and flourless cakes. Playing around with ideas.  Not stressing about coworkers doing their job. Yeah, it was nice to have the day off. This next week is bound to be busy with planning a new dessert, but it’s good work.

And I am happy. Thanks for listening, reading and letting me ramble this month.

Kate

Ice Your Mussels – Day 20

No, I don’t mean your body… Mussels not Muscles….

So, I have learned a lot about proper food storage working in a professional kitchen. Things we don’t do at our own homes, but are a must in a restaurant. Like how you ice and store fish properly.

Wrapped pans of fish over ice

Fish must be properly stored, in a perforated pan, and usually on ice. Fish arrives in ice most of the time and after it’s been cut up, it goes into a pan and that pan gets set on ice that is in another pan. Perforated bus tubs with ice in the top over a solid pan below, then various hotel pans of cut up fish, scallops, mussels, clams, etc. are set over the ice before being put into the right fridge.

Iced mussels

Fresh clams and mussels have ice poured directly on top of the shells that are in a perforated pan so that they don’t drown. I didn’t know they could drown, maybe because it isn’t salt water? I really should look this one up, or as Coffeeman.

Iced clams

That being said, flipping the pun around, if you have hurt muscles, ice them… So clearly any mussel/muscle, you ice.

And really, ice your fish… I followed behind my other closer tonight (thursday) and iced everything he didn’t ice, which was all of it. I’m glad I’ve learned to do this so that Coffeeman doesn’t find it un-iced. It’s not a huge amount of fish and such, but it does take time and it weighs a fair amount by the time you get to the end of the evening.

Good things to know. Good things.

Kate

 

Creativity Experiments No. 2 – Day 18

Chef lets me create if I want to. If I really want to experiment, I can. I’m usually too tired to really come up with something and I don’t have to make a special dessert each week or pizza. He has to, but I don’t unless inclined.

I was inclined a few weeks ago when my GM had some gin soaked blackberries. I think she was trying to impart the blackberry into the gin. It didn’t work and she was so over and done with it. “I’m over it.” she said, handing off the fair amount of liquid and berries.

I started plotting. I asked Coffeeman if I could make a panna cotta. “Don’t ask, do,” he replied.

So into the kitchen with agar agar and a recipe and a hope. The lemon vanilla panna cotta turned out smooth and creamy, but needed more lemon.

The blackberry gin gel… well it was interesting topping the panna cotta. It needed more of a blackberry taste. Not great experiments, though he ran them as a special…. Very cool. Not horrible to eat and lessons learned.

So now I’m thinking up different ideas. I wanted to try a lime mousse, but I think I need to get away from citrus for now.  I had mentioned trying something else out too, but I can’t remember what it was now.

But I’m over and done with summery things. I’m thinking rich, dark, autumn things. I just flashed to a vampire-esque room….. meaning rich reds, oranges, browns, blacks…. Autumn spice. A pumpkin spice rolled cake with a ginger whipped cream. Carmelized ginger sprinkled on a plate with a spiced fruit coulis…

Clearly I’ve been thinking food.

So, next experiments down. I would like to find something that actually works……

Kate

Produce Delivery – Day 17

Every Tuesday I am responsible for the produce delivery. Checking it in and putting it away. It’s a rather cool responsibility, both in doing it and it’s kind of cool because I’m in the walk-in… brrrrr. First in first out is applied as older produce is brought to the front. THe new herbs go to the back the older herbs to the front….

Mushrooms go into bins, stacked bell peppers, napa cabbages, broccolini,  lettuce piled high, berries stacked, leeks, fennel, potatoes in the back door, corn, all the good stuff. Boxes of lemons and limes, tubs of garlic and fresh ginger.

Out of boxes it comes and into bins and tubs, small hotel pans and large ones, into water, out of bags. It’s rather an honor that Coffeeman trusts me to put the order away by myself and get the walk-in to rights. I have always liked putting away deliveries since the first chef trusted me to put it away. Course that was a super large everything order. This is just produce, but I love produce. I wouldn’t mind even more time to trim up things, but with baking, well, I don’t have time. This all falls back on the produce business my family had.  Even though I hated the growing part, I loved the produce and seeing all fresh ingredients. Granted, the things coming in this order are not like the fresh from the farm, but it’s still fun.

While I’m never ready for Tuesday to begin, I do like the produce and seeing all the fun things come in is a delight. I think Coffeeman always tries to scare me with ‘It’s a big order’, but I always just think, cool, more to put away. Right on. Bring it on, Chef, bring it on…. it never scares me.  You don’t see the inward delight…. Or maybe you do.

Kate