Saturday, January 03, 2009

I read a lot of food content on the internet. I read blogs, recipes, other people’s strings; I look at pictures. I was reading Michael Laiskonis' blog today and the poetic nature of being first in the kitchen struck me. I, too, love being the first person in the kitchen and when I was on second shift I reveled in the fact I was last out.

I love the smell of the first batch of bread coming out of the oven, yeasty, and buttery smelling. The smell of the first batch of cookies: caramelized sugar, butter, toasted flour and chocolate. I like the empty space. The tables are washed down, everything is put away, and the floors are clean. I love the quiet and the fact that if I want I can totally rock out and shake my booty and sing along to crazy songs while putting together a restaurant order. I love the warmth of the ovens that are perpetually running and the clinks and clanks of the ovens I turn on to start the day.

Regardless of the fact that there are some incredibly undesirable parts of my job, what remains when the irritation is gone is the desire to work hard, to make it mine, to strive to be better (even in that means I have to teach myself and push myself harder). I love what I do and what I can create. The smiles it brings to others, the joy, and the fellowship that often accompanies the products I make. It is the celebrations of life that surround good food and company. Sometimes I need the reminder just to keep going.

Monday, October 27, 2008

You Are Only As Good As Your Waitstaff

Conversation between me and a male waiter in the elevator going to the high end restuarant:

Waiter: "Hey what's that you got there?"

Me: "Oh gooseberries. We got a lot of them for a tasting so we have been putting them on the brulee."

Waiter: "No way. Really? We had no idea what those were. We've been telling the guests that they were DINGLEBERRIES all week."

WHAT!? Dingleberries? I'll have you know that if you type in Dingleberries into it redirects you to FECES! To POOPS! To be honest when he said it that is all I could picture in my have just told the guest that there are "feces" on your brulee.

I shouldn't be surprised though. These are the same people that said that duck was a seafood because it can swim.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Working Smarter Not Harder

In the last few weeks, I have changed stations at work. I am no longer producing thirty pies at a time or baking off a hundred pounds of cake batter. I am working on a restaurant station doing small parties and detail work within several different restaurants. This has also included a change in shifts, no longer am I able to sleep in until nine or ten, but I am up and moving by four or five. I actually enjoy getting up and getting the work part out of the way as the first thing of the day.

The only thing I miss is working with the other person on second shift. She is a very organized person and after working with eachother for more than a year we have gotten to the point where things just get done and very quickly. We either split tasks or split up a recipe depending on the size of the batch and what needs to be done that day. On first shift, however, it is every man for himself. Literally. The idea of sharing does not exist. If we were all on a sinking boat I have no delusions about what would happen. They would all scrabble for the most available spot on the life raft and claim that there isn't anymore room for anyone else.

They not only do not work well together, but they are unorganized and dirty. When you point out that one didn't clean up after themselves they will quickly point fingers at another and claim that it wasn't them. While annoying this is not the thing that actually irritates me the most. It is the time wasting.

One of the girls put a sheet pan of tuille in the oven, set a timer, and stood there. Now this is a busy day, so when I point out that tuille takes at least seven minutes to bake she through me a dirty look. Really?? You are just going to stand there and wait for it to bake? Why not just watch paint dry? Seven minutes is a hell of a long time. I could get a ton of stuff done in seven minutes. Even when I check something in the oven and put a two minute timer on it, I am finding something else to do in that two minutes. I can't believe that people get away with this stuff and get paid for it. No wonder it takes people two hours to cut two sheet pans of carrot cake. If you just stand there is doesn't magically cut itself.

I'll admit that at the end of the day I have to kick myself in the ass to keep moving at a fast clip, after all I have been standing on my feet and moving all day, but at least I am moving, CONSTANTLY! In my opinion, if you are standing aren't working. Sometimes it is probably a good thing I am not in charge, because if it were MY money I were paying these people for a paycheck. They would find themselves quickly without a job.

In our recipe book from school there is a quote from Charlie Trotter: "Always ask yourself these two questions: Am I working good enough and fast enough? The answer to both questions should always be no." The idea in this industry is to get better, to be faster, to be more experienced and more educated, to discover new trends, and to try new things. If you are in this industry and you are happy to do the minimum don't belong in this industry. Period. Leap higher, run faster, fly farther and all of that...sheesh.

Oh, PS: When making french macarons (the non-italian meringue way), you can take out the almond meal and replace it with dessicated coconut. Not only does it turn out beautifully they taste amazing with a little raspberry jam. (perhaps I should try the next batch with some passionfruit curd)...YUM.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Another Good Reason I Should Look for New Employment

We have a new kid at work. When I say kid I mean, barely 18, so he's little to me. He's doesn't know a lot, he went to a skill center and is looking at going to culinary school in the fall. He makes stuff around the bakeshop that is easy. Apple filling, pastry cream, and cookies. The other day he messed up a batch of sugar cookies. Instead of using baking soda he used cream of tartar. The bottles look the same, not an excuse since he clearly should have read the label. Stinks for him, since he messed up a 100lb batch of cookies.

What is worse however is the fact that first shift has been serving said cookies for more than two weeks without noticing several small differences: they don't rise, they barely brown, they smell almost yeasty, and they have a COMPLETELY acrid taste that is incredibly offensive. I notice the first time I am working this station, how can you not, they didn't brown after 25 minutes in the rotorack!

Worse than this (yes it actually can get worse), guests never complained (great now they think we have shitty cookies), and my boss wants to save them (yes, save them) to feed to the employees. FREAKIN' GROSS. The smell is unreal and I know I have a sensitive sniffer, more than most, but the taste is vile. Everyone else thinks it tastes like lemon. LEMON? I know its an acid, but not tasty. Not even close. The search continues for future employment and I am avoiding employee cafeteria desserts from here on out. *sigh*

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Making time to bake bread.

I am not sure how as a society we have gotten to the point where we no longer make bread at home. We buy the pasty white bread that has been so popular for years and slather it with mayonnaise and top it with cheap bologna. For many of us this was a childhood lunch. The tradition of making bread at home has been dwindled down to a small group of devotees. No longer are recipes and methods taught to the younger generation by the one before.

I have only tried to make bread at home a few times. I can remember each incident with perfect clarity as they were each an unmitigated disaster. The first attempt was when I was about 10-12 and I tried to bake white bread. The final product came out dense and hard with no real spongy interior. The second attempt was about a year into my marriage and I was trying to make chocolate bread (I think for my little sister). This time it only rose half way and tasted like burned chocolate cardboard.

I love a good challenge, but this one is incredibly frustrating for me. I spent the first few months of this past year on the "bread side" at work while one of the employees recovered from a broken arm. We make almost all of our own bread for each banquet and for four restaurant outlets. Each bread batch is close to 50-75lbs of dough each. There are about twenty different varieties: bun dough for rolls, sourdough, spelt bread, cherry bread, wheat rolls, foccacia, grissini, ect... Each one, under the direction of the head bread baker, came out a beautiful golden brown, nicely formed and risen properly.

After tasting my results from my last attempt it seems that those few months of working with it day after day paid off. The bread came out perfect! Finally! My days off will soon be filled with kneading dough, allowing the dough to rise, punching it down, resting, shaping, proofing again, and finally baking to that golden brown sweet smelling perfection. There is something about the taste of the bread that was made by hand. It's better. I can't quite describe it without completely sounding soulful, like I am able to nourish my body by something that my own hands have made. Those first few slices hot out of the oven are like little slices of heaven!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

It must be time...

It must be time for everyone in the Pastry World to get a new job. There are several people in my current shop (me included) and others I know who are either looking or leaving. So if that is the case: everyone stand up and shift to the left. I think that would help us all immensely. It would be something new and exciting.

Here's how you know it is time to leave (or just a really funny story): This week we had to make "creme fraiche" gelato. What this really means is....take ice cream base and add sour cream. Yup, SOUR CREAM! Which I have never understood, because purchasing actually has creme fraiche available. But whatever, I am not the Pastry Chef, so we do it.

One of the girls in the shop to put this politely, not lazy, she is a SHORT CUT sort of person. If there is a way to cheat the system she is on top of it. I explain to her to take the ice cream base and burr mix a specific amount of sour cream into the base. About ten minutes later as I am about to take a trip up to purchasing I happen to catch her at the ice cream machine. She is SHOVING spoonfuls of sour cream into the top of the machine.

I stop her and ask her why she didn't burr mix it in to the base like I had asked her. She said, "I forgot and I thought this would work." Um. NO! I tell her to take it out of the machine (which was already spinning the base) and to mix it together. I think I got the eye roll. I can't quite tell what is worse. The fact that she didn't stop the machine the SECOND that she realized she forgot the sour cream, the face that she forgot it in the first place, or the fact that she was shoving utensils into the top of the machine while it was spinning.

Thank God we still have the grate across the top or oops, no utensil or perhaps no fingertips. She will be leaving within a few weeks, but I will always picture her shoving sour cream into the machine with it all over her hands and having it bubble out the top and down the side of the machine. Classic.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Brainstorming new ideas

I have become obsessed with Pate de Fruit. Obsessed. I think about all of the flavors I want to do when I am at work. Unfortunately, we are going through a slow season so I get kicked out before I can play around. I love these little jellies because it is like a kick in the tastebuds. You eat one and WHAM! you get this amazing fruit sensation.

Current ideas I am kicking around:
Strawberry, basalmic (white?), thyme
Carrot, orange, thyme
Blueberry with pineapple sage
Coconut and lime
Chocolate and Raspberry (without burning the chocolate)
Peach and Muscat

My list is extremely long...

Also brainstorming ideas for height on a plated dessert when the humidity is at 98%, it has been incredibly hot lately and the rain is unreal. The final product turns limp or melts depending on what I am using.

-sugar, on top of limestone...bubble? Pulling creates a product that melts easier.
-tuille has been falling limp(perhaps a butter sugar tuille would be more resistant)
-fruit paste rollup

Still need ideas....