I started the day full of nerves. The coffee I'd chugged to jolt me awake for my 6:00AM start time was making my stomach rumble - a tempest brewing. My first day in a real commercial kitchen was going to be a tough one.
I'd been hired a few months before for catering - I was told that I'd be doing mostly front-of-house stuff (setting up tables, polishing glasses and silverware, decorating, serving) but that I might work in the kitchen sometimes too. So after two months of only working front-of-house, my day had finally come. Except now that the real thing was upon me, I wasn't so sure I wanted it. The friend who got me the job wasn’t working my first day and I'd be in the kitchen with four guys I didn't know well. I had terrors the night before, remembering stories from Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly about the harassment that happens in the kitchen.
I walked in that first day full of fear. I clocked in and followed the executive chef to his office where he gave me a chef coat, apron, and baseball cap (to keep my hair out of the food). As soon as I put on that jacket I started getting pretty excited. This was really happening! I was wearing a chef coat!
That's about where the fun ended. I got a list of things to do. Well it wasn't a physical list. The executive chef kept coming over and saying "you cut the fruit", "you make 6 dozen cookies", etc., not waiting for one task to be done before he told me three others, not explaining how he wanted the fruit cut, where to find anything I needed, how to work the ovens or the fryer, expecting me to know all this.
I asked a lot of stupid questions. I did a lot of things the hard way. I didn't cut the fruit right. I couldn’t find anything in the walk-in cooler. I had no idea what a 400 pan was. I made a huge mess trying to sear 500 pieces of chicken. I basically felt like an idiot all day.
I went home that day after 6 hours in the kitchen and felt completely exhausted. My feet were throbbing. My back was aching from bending over the too short metal countertops. All I could smell on myself and around me was that ever-present scent of fryer oil. All I could think about was my 10 hour shift coming up the next day. I felt physically, mentally, and emotionally drained
Over the last month I’ve spent in the kitchen I’ve gotten a little bit more used to things. I know much more now than when I started. But there are still things I don’t know. And a lot of times the work isn’t very fun. Although there are some things I enjoy. A few days ago I got to teach some of the chefs how to make Indian food properly (no one else knew some of the things I did). And every now and then when I’m making a cheese tray or plating desserts I stop and think to myself "wow, I'm really getting paid for this."
The biggest problem I've had with working in catering in general is that I come home too tired to do anything else. And cooking all day at work drains me of any desire to cook at home (probably the main reason I haven't been blogging much lately - sorry!) I've had fun and learned a lot about making food for 100 or 300 or 500 people, but I really miss cooking for 2. I miss getting fresh produce from my garden and coming up with new recipes to try. I miss being in love with food.
My stint in the kitchen and in catering is almost over. I’m leaving in a couple of weeks to move on to other things. Overall I’ve learned a lot. I’ve had a lot of cool experiences, met some really interesting people. I know how to cook for a crowd. But I also know now that I’d rather cook for just a few. I’d rather have energy at the end of the day to go out and weed my garden or take my dog on a walk. I’d rather be a foodie than a chef.