I am as much as a FNG (fucking new guy) in the kitchen as you can be. If you are like me, and a starting off the best thing to do and everyone will tell you is to trail in any kitchen you can get into. A trail is when you basically work/observe a shift or spend a day in the kitchen for free. Yes for free, I know, your time and labor is just so important that the idea of spending a few hours of your precious time (apologies for taking up time from your research in restructuring the EuroZone) but honestly, I have done a few and even with an externship/stage secured, I continue to find places that will have me. In the kitchen world, not only do you learn (hey after peel a box of apples, you now know how to peel apples efficiently!) especially in top kitchens and bakeries there is a mentality and demeanor that all the cooks have: I want to do better. That is one thing that you cannot learn in any school unfortunately, that drive and desire to constantly do better.
School as much as it is helpful, is a safety blanket and a luxury (working I have met some cooks that will let you know how much of a luxury it is, so having a thick skin helps). The equipment, the unlimited supplies of towels (more on this later) is simply a dream. Sure you always try (at least I do) to make the best cake or something in class, but in the back of your mind, you know that if you completely fuck this up, it is okay. This is not going to cost you, no one is waiting on it and if it taste bad, only you and your dog will really know. Doing a trail gives you a taste (#seewhatIdidthere) of what working in a kitchen is really like, and I emphasize on the “taste” part, they know that you essentially know shit and keep you from completely screwing everything up. I cannot emphasize enough on how much you learn by trailing or kitchen experience, especially for someone that has really never been in a kitchen. My advice (like I am really in any position to give advice) trail wherever you can at whatever you consider the best and do not settle for less.
Here are some interesting observations I have made so far:
1. Towels are a valuable commodity
You get maybe at most, 2 towels. From drying your hands, wiping down you space (got to work clean) and grabbing hot stuff (sorry no animal shaped oven mitts). In school, you basically can get like unlimited towels, but in the kitchen, that shit cost money.
2. Deli pints and quarts are valuable
The plastic containers that Chinese takeout or deli salads come in is like the storage bins of the kitchen. Also, your drinking cup. I literally do not know what the hell cooks did before these plastic containers, they are versatile and people will hide these containers all over the place (found a stack in an exhaust hood or just empties in a refrigerator)
3. Sriracha and Choula is amazing
A bottle of one or both (if you got both in the kitchen, you fancy huh?) are present at family meal. Salt and pepper maybe the basic seasonings on your plate but we will drown everything in this during family meal. Basically you get palate fatigue, especially in pastry, you crave spicy, sour and salt and the cock sauce and Mama Choula gives you that. Respect it.
4. Spoons are universally the most important tool, pastry or savory
Spooning out butter, basting, quenelles or saucing, you need a spoon. Everyone has a few spoons at their station used for whatever. Oh and don’t steal spoons, I pretty sure if in kitchen law, you could die from committing such a heinous act. (or your street clothes may get frozen in a block of ice in the walk in)
5. Your allergies/diet restrictions are no fun
Fine you have celiac or legitimately lactose and cannot have cheese. But some strange ones I heard, “allergic to garlic and onions” or “will not eat meat but veal stock” but be smart and plan ahead. If you are allergic to mangoes, do not order something that has the mango sorbet in it. Do not be that guy.
6. Well done dry aged beef= no
We will laugh at you
7. Veal Sweetbreads do not have carbs
8. There is more to Mexican desserts besides Churros
9. You can always work cleaner
10. Shilling for free food or hook ups, makes you look like an ass. We will laugh at your sad attempts to get “hooked up”
Wow, you will write a good review on Yelp? Thanks! Do you know who gets hooked up in a restaurant? Regulars and industry people and especially people that do not try and shill (I write a blog) for food. I never understood why people ask you for free crap especially if you are in the food industry. It is a business too and cost money people should realize and the “free advertisement” is not a legitimate argument. If your neighbor is a mailman do you ask him to hook you up with free stamps? Here is the deal, if you are a teacher and come into a restaurant and trying to get free food, I want like, markers or boxes of free sharpies or if my kid sucks at algebra, you tutor his ass Fair?
11. Have a sense of humor
The work is hard and the hours are long having a sense of humor helps a lot