Last night I completed my second restaurant stage. I had set this up with a chef that was a guest speaker at my school in the fall. Much like any job interview in the “business world”, this culture, atmosphere and team were very different from my first stage as was the food. The overall experience was amazing and gave me a lot to think about with respect to my career as a chef, personal growth and how I’ll continue to learn about food.
My arrival was a little different from my first stage. I was greeted by the chef as before, but to start off we had a quick chat at a table. He asked about my experience, but more importantly what I was looking for. I was more prepared this time after reflecting a lot about what I wanted to get out of the experience and stated that first and foremost I wanted a place to learn and grow. I had left culinary school with more questions than answers to which he replied, “that’s how it’s supposed to be”. I also let him know that for now I wanted to start off part-time and that I’m looking for a mentor. All sounded good and I think having that grounding set us up for a successful evening.
Initially I was asked to do some prep, starting with a mirepoix for a soup. I started with one onion and showed the sous chef to see if I was on track. Too small he said, as everything would be cooked and then puréed at the end. They key of course was uniform pieces. Oops, I’m glad I asked. I finished the rest of the task. I thought it would take me all day, but I was done sooner than I had expected.
My next task was to cut up some squash for the soup. A fairly easy task, although they were large. Thankfully I have a 10″ chef’s knife that I had recently sharpened. It’s so important to keep your knives sharp!
The next task was a bit more involved. I had to scrub purple and green radishes that were going to be used for a pickle. The task wasn’t hard, but it took a long time. Nature doesn’t produce the perfect food we find in supermarkets. It really gives you a lot to think about.
I was next invited to the menu rundown. Chef went through the menu and changes. One of the things I really like about his approach to food is to truly use what’s in season and available from purveyors. Everything is made from scratch which I find amazing, but the quality of the food shows it. Chef also prepared the staff meal, a hearty combination of foods and plenty of nutrition to keep everyone going for the long evening ahead. It was delicious.
During service I was put on garde manger to help and observe the person on that station, essentially trailing them. One of the things I was shown how to make was a delicious spiced beet salad. I was also able to help out making a Roxbury Russet Apple salad and some desserts.
During service Chef came over to me and said I could order anything I wanted. I chose the veal agnolotti. It was sublime. I was truly satiated and was even more convinced that this is the type of food I wanted to learn more about.
The evening went well. At times I still felt like a deer in headlights, trying to study and absorb as much information as possible. While I knew I needed to be fast to get food out, I was also keenly aware that whatever goes out represents the restaurant and the chef. I wanted each and every plate I worked on to be perfect.
As the evening started to wind down, I had an opportunity to catch up with Chef. We had a great conversation about starting and said he hoped to hear from me in a few days. I got similar feedback with respect to my work saying that I need to improve on speed and essentially “go from culinary school speed to restaurant speed.” I want that, and know it will come quickly as I familiarize myself with the menu, the approach to food, how ingredients are cared for and handled and more. There is a lot to think about and also a lot to be excited about.
I find myself wondering “what is it about food that I need to understand? Why am I so interested in sacrificing my personal time, body and potentially friendships because I want to learn more about food, cooking and the kitchen?”
I thought my troubles sleeping after my first stage were an anomaly. I found it equally as hard to fall asleep last night. I was so amped up on what I’ll suppose was adrenaline. My heart and mind were racing as my head hit the pillow and it took a long while to fall asleep. I’m feeling great today. Much more ahead.