There’s no doubt that the kitchen is filling up with younger cooks and chefs. There was a time when I was the youngest person in the company. Now it seems I am one of the oldest.
I’m not complaining at all. I think it’s great to see these guys (and I use the word “guys” because I have only worked with 2 women in the kitchen) excited about cooking. I got into the kitchen later in life, something I regretted not doing sooner but hey, it is what it is.
When I made the jump, I was one of the oldest in the classroom. I realized that my life experiences up to that point had readied me for the culinary field. I was a workaholic by nature, I loved food, I was curious about everything kitchen related, and I think most importantly, I had an open mind.
I don’t mind someone telling me I was doing something wrong or maybe I could do it this way or that way. I may be spoiled, but I understand the concept of learning and I knew my place. I walked into this knowing when I finished school I wouldn’t be a celebrity chef. I knew I wasn’t going to make 6 figures, and I knew I was going to have to start somewhere, which was at the bottom and I was fine with that. I’m a quick learner and I understand things. Sometimes though, it seems that the pieces don’t always click for me right away. Which is totally contradictory to being a quick learner and understanding things…I can’t explain it.
Maybe it’s the way it’s being presented, maybe it’s the concept, or maybe it’s me. Who knows. It’s something I’m working on.
As I stated in my previous piece, I was having issues. I was intimidated, I was all thumbs, and I was crashing. Here comes my new job in a steakhouse with the promise of learning butchering in the on-site butcher shop. The first meeting with a coworker and he drops a plastic jar of oil on the floor, it bounces back up empty. The contents are on the counter, the floor, and my pants. Then comes the expletives…starting with mother F*%&er…and then he threw the empty can towards the trash and it broke in two. My new chef was horrified, I laugh and then chef says “well, and that’s Juan (not his real name, but he is Mexican).” We shook hands and Juan began cleaning up the oil.
I get trained on pantry and in a matter of a week, I’m on par with everyone on that station. During the down times, I prep and I watch. I watch Juan bounce around on saute and I watch how he and chef dance through the night shifting pans here and there, plating food, and cooking in unison. It was amazing to watch. They were definitely in the zone.
A few more weeks go by and there is talk of me training on another station. Uh, I don’t know about that. Have we forgotten how my last job was a nightmare because I choked? Apparently not because you weren’t there. I was and I remember.
When time came for me to train on saute, I said to Juan “be gentle, I’m new at this” and he laughed. He’s fast, he’s young, and he is a little mouthy but I liked him. He was funny and was one of the engines that kept the kitchen moving, aside from Chef of course.
Training wasn’t too bad. I started out working the tickets, got the product for him to cook, and I plated. As I became familiar with everything, I starting cooking. His technique was burners running full blast. So, that’s how I learned to cook on saute. Hot and fast. I had to keep up. He pushed me to go faster and faster yet conscious of how the food was sent out.
There were a few times he snapped at me for not using cold butter here, not using the proper technique there, or not setting the station up properly on a busy night. I got it, I understood what he was saying. I wasn’t mad at him, I was mad at myself when I knew better but didn’t follow through with my instinct and I was called out on it. I should have known better.
On slower nights, I ran the station by myself. If I got in the weeds, I worked my way out and I wouldn’t call for help until I knew I was so far in the weeds that I was sacrificing quality. I didn’t want it to be a crutch. I wanted to be able to pull myself out quickly. Sometimes you can’t do it alone.
I was old enough to be his father yet this young man taught me a lot. From the time I started on pantry to the time I took over saute (Juan left for a Sous Chef position), I was always joking with chef, Juan and a few other coworkers. I started coming out of my shell, I quipped back when they made jokes, and we had a good time. He would always joke that he and chef created a monster (out of me) and they were right. My demeanor and outlook changed; I had confidence, I asked questions, and I was part of a team that was building on something more. I was becoming an extrovert…which is weird.
When I am cooking alone on the station, I often reflect on my kitchen experience. One day it hit me. I understood what my previous chef was trying to get me to do. It all started to click. The very essence of what I had become was what my previous chef was trying to get through to me.
Communication, quality, asking questions, being part of a team, pushing forward, learning.
The other day I sent my old chef a text message. I said “Just wanted to let you know, I get it. I was thinking about it all at work and, I. Just. Get. It. And tell Paul he was right, they don’t make the same food…Hope all is well and thanks for everything you taught me.” He responded by saying he was just thinking about me the other day and he appreciated the sentiment. He continued saying “…the beauty of your path is that it’s yours. I stumbled and fell plenty of times but you just have to keep moving forward. Sometimes a step back can be turned into a step forward.”
I won’t deny it, It made me feel good that he was thinking about me. I wasn’t just another aimless cook that fell to the wayside. As the old saying goes: if I knew then what I know now…things may have been a bit different for me in the ultra fine dining world.
Until then, the big takeaway is keep moving forward.
It’s all stepping stones, just keep moving forward.
Also published on Medium.