I hate people who are not serious about their meals. -- Oscar Wilde

Friday, May 3, 2013

Observations of Kitchen Life (what I learned Trailing)

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

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Back to School...Back to School...

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: Cooking ain’t no Ratatoullie, cute rats cooking food, have you ever seen a NYC rat? Do not want that making a bernaise, rats in a kitchen, total health code violation

Updates have been slow on this blog mainly because I entered a new phase. I decided against better and rational judgment, to finally go to culinary school specifically pastry, sweets and other things from the sugar kingdom. Though I have extensively read about reasons not go to culinary school, besides the ridiculous price tag, I can justify it for the fact I am coming in cold and as a career changer, if you want to call my current job a career, culinary school I have been able to better network and easier to trail at kitchens with the school. As for affordability, I am on the weekend schedule, meaning Saturday and Sunday for the day, I am stuck in a kitchen but I still work my 9-5 on the weekday. I got cash flow and not straight broke…yet but I am going to leave The Institute for Culinary Education (ICE) debt free.
Also, I am the only dude in my pastry class, all my other dude friends are like, hells yeah, surrounded by girls all the time. But I fail to mention that they are basically all married and also, I am sorry, but no one, guy or girl looks attractive in checkered pajama pants and commis hat. If this turns you on…well whatever you are into. Also, I know more about girl drama than I ever want to know; now I understand what being in a CW TV show is like.
As much as I have this romantic notion of cooking and baking, one thing that I made sure and clear when I started this is to accept the facts of cooking:

1.       You are going to be broke. You are not going to make that much money, and if you wanted to make more, take that money and go to graduate school instead. Unless you become a TV whore or create Donkey sauce, you will not be rolling around in dough (and I personally think if that is your end goal, you are cooking for the wrong reasons but that is another time)
2.       You work when people play. Friday, Saturdays and holidays? Workdays and money days. When “normal” people relax, your ass is in the kitchen, which leads too…
3.       LONG HOURS. You may officially put in a 35-40 hour a week as mandated by Labor Laws but if you are working at a top tier restaurant, do be surprised and be ready to work double shifts 16-17 hours Also the curse of pastry and baking, you have to wake up and go in at ungodly hours that only on-call hospital workers and junkies know about. And pastry in a kitchen, guess who is the last one to break down their station? Unfortunately, dessert does not come first.
4.       Your comfort does not exist. Kitchen to hot? Suck it up and don’t sweat on the muffins. Too cold? Think warm thoughts. Hungry at noon? It’s the lunch rush, maybe you can sneak some nuts from your mise. Feet hurt?
5.       Social life does not exist, you are going to miss birthday parties, bat mitzvahs and weddings. All Facebook invites will be unanswered.
6.       Physically demanding job. Cooking is physical, lots of bending down, hunched over and sacks of potatoes and flours are not light. Remember to lift with your knees and girls, chivalry is dead in the kitchen. If I am arms deep in a meringue, I do not have time and cannot move that tray of dough. Just lift from the knees
7.       This is a dirty job which I never understand why Chef whites are said color, I have been stained multiple colors and take your watch off before whisking a bowl of meringue, shit is hard to clean off.
8.       You will get hurt. You will cut yourself. You will burn yourself. Sugar is really hot.
9.       Repetition. Sure scooping out cookies is fun at home, but are you prepared to scoop out trays and trays of cookies of uniform size and amount? And do not think about licking that scooper (health code violation). Lemon curd is not thick enough? Do it again. Broken ganache? Again. Bread ain’t right? Again.

Okay, so I may have written a grim view of the culinary world and this does not pertain to everyone in the culinary world. You can go work corporate and actually have vacation days and benefits. It is possible to have a relationship and a social life outside of work. I just know that these are things that I can expect when working and the sooner I accept these facts, I can concentrate on cooking and making good food. I mean hell, what do I know? I am just a culinary student, I am not doing my first trail until Monday.

 I mean, none of this sounds great. At all, joining the Marine Corps when I had the chance sounds more appealing, so why do I want to do this? Am I a masochist? Is it because I cannot hack it at a normal job? Is the simple fact that I like feeding people a legitimate reason to do this? That I love food and making it? Even when I am tired and sore and half asleep, I still think about making food and how I can do it better? Are these ideals enough to survive on and enough to cloud the reality of the job? I do not know. I won’t know for a while and I may never know the answer to this. Though the more experience and things I learn (in cooking you are always learning, that I am sure and to survive in this business you need to keep learning) my ideas and thoughts change. One thing that changed was the idea of blogging about food were suddenly, now that I am about to be part of this industry, it just seemed weird and awkward to write and critique the food of others. Does having fat kid tendencies and eating a lot legitimate credentials to play blogger? I learned to just enjoy the moment and the food and just enjoy the damn meal.

I will still be blogging, less updates. I may blog things about places I go and eat depending on how I feel.