The first day in anything new can be hard and we tend to over think the easiest things. Over time however things do tend to fall into place. I believe the first three months I spent on the colds section at the first restaurant I worked at to be the most difficult. The idea of putting a salad in a place and making it taste and look wonderful in only seconds took me a while to get my head around. When you have 120 covers pouring in on you and the pressure of all the chefs screaming for you to do the dish right and to move your ass can make your head bobble. Even though it wasn't so long ago I forget the head rush you get when you've only done a few busy services and you don't have someone to cling on to amongst the chaos. And that is exactly what a kitchen is. Calm controlled chaos.
The service wasn't really the hardest thing for me to get to be honest. It's the mise en place, the french term meaning "Putting in place" basically it's the prep list of things to do before service begins. We would start work at 9:30 a.m. and ideally you would want to be done prepping and start setting up at 11:30 a.m. Getting a list of things to do in two hours involves:
- Clever planning
- Methodical thinking
- Quick working
- Incredible multi-tasking
I am which, none of these.
So finding myself, reading or being told how to make 10 different things while trying to figure out how to do something as basic as cut an onion correctly made my ears bleed and my eyes water. Why a person would have hired someone like me I still find insane. But my chef and the chefs around me managed to cope and support me. For that, I will be forever grateful.
Different kitchens have different set ups. In my first kitchen we had four sections and five chefs (including myself) the section were broken down to:
- Cold larder (cold starters)
- Hot larder (hot starter)
- Sauce/Hots (Mains)
- Pastry (Desserts)
The Chefs were broken down to:
- Head Chef (Ran the kitchen, pay, menus, rota, ordering etc.)
- Sous Chef (Second Chef filled in when the head was off)
- Jr. Sous (Can run all sections and if needed can run kitchen if the others are off)
- Chef de partie (In charge of a section, in this case in charge of larder. He was also a really good pastry chef)
- Commis chef ( A young trainee chef with little or no experience, basically me)
On quiet days there would be three chefs, busier days four. On Friday and Saturday night we would have all five in. While I was starting I stayed on cold larder. This allowed me to get simple basic things down like how to use my knife correctly, how to cut vegetables and other cold things correctly. Once I had shown some improvement the chef gave me a shot on hot larder. While I did ok during service my prepping skills and organization were up my ass. I had failed and it was apparent I needed a lot more work, so I was moved to pastry.
|Lemon mousse in a brandy snap basket with berry compote for a wedding.|
This section was the best thing to happen to me. With pastry one can not just simply "eye ball it" it has to be done to the recipe specified. When I got better at setting this section up the chef would throw odd jobs for me to do which I used as an opportunity to better my skills. The faster and better I did jobs the harder jobs would get thrown my way. Which to me was a opportunity not a chore. Eventually I started getting more confidence with dishes and put them on the specials.
|One of the first specials I did. Raspberry parfait, with honey comb and strawberry jelly.|
I was able to learn more technical things like rolling pasta. Which to make just a small tray took me a good while. As I got better and more confident it was apparent my time on pastry was coming close to an end. My CDP (Chef de Partie) had found a job in a much better kitchen and he was soon to leave. On his last few weeks in the kitchen the chef swapped our roles, it was my chance to really push myself to the next level in the kitchen. My college term was coming close to an end and little did I know how big of an opportunity was coming my way.
|First time I rolled pasta|