I’ve been having a terrible last couple of weeks. I’ve been trying to navigate the kitchen on my own and I feel like I’ve been failing miserably. Of course it could just be all in my head. I have a tendency to second guess myself and my work. Or, it could just be the fact I suck. Who knows.
I can’t recall all the details of the last couple of weeks but trust me when I say I have been feeling the pressure. As a new sous chef, I have a lot to learn. I’m definitely up for the challenge but it’s new territory for me. There is so much more to navigating the kitchen than one would think. There are a lot of moving parts and most of it is during service.
Compared to my chef and to my co-worker, I don’t have half their experience. Which can be good AND bad. I’m keeping my head above water but there are times when I feel I’m going to sink.
Take the other day for instance, we are prepping for Friday night service. It’s the start of OUR restaurant week and we’re going to be busy. I get in early and start working on prep items, particularly the weekend specials. I cut the lamb belly we cured and smoked so it can go with a nice flatbread app we have in mind. With the lamb in the 350° oven (something I rarely do), I move on to making 3 different types of lentils for the skate wing dish.
Once the lentils are done, I dump them in a hotel pan to cool down and realize they may be overcooked. Great, maybe they’ll be fine after they cool down. The red lentils however are definitely overcooked and are mashing together. Clearly this isn’t going to work. After a bit, I realize the other two lentils are not as bad as the reds but they too are overcooked. Time to start over, so I place the lentils back on the prep list.
Little by little I move on to other prep items. Then chef comes in with the deliveries. I help put them away and he immediately starts working on some prep items. My co-worker arrives and we start organizing everything that needs to be done. I’ve put stars on prep items that are priority. We’re knocking out quite a bit and pretty quickly too.
I’m halfway through making tzatziki sauce for the flatbread, I go through my mind all the components of the specials we’re running and realize the lamb belly is still in the oven. I yell, SHIT! Can you grab the lamb belly out of the oven? I realize though, it’s a futile attempt at salvaging them because it’s been close to an hour, possibly more, that they’ve been in the oven.
Sure enough, 75% of them (okay maybe 85%) are black, hard, and inedible. That was all the lamb belly we had so now we have to revert a back up plan. I was so mad at myself for forgetting the lamb and burning it. My co-worker said what he does is add water to any bacon and cooks it stove top. It helps with making all the flavors meld together and reduces the chances of burning. I knew this. We did this at the casino all the time and it worked perfectly. I didn’t mention it and said ok because I was so irritated at myself. Chef said he has seen him do that trick before and it’s something we should incorporate. I agreed, all the while silently kicking myself in the ass.
So far I’ve managed to burn the lamb bacon, ruin three batches of lentils and we haven’t even gotten to service yet. I’m having all these doubts about my cooking abilities, I’m doubting myself as a cook, I’m second guessing everything I do. I feel stupid and like a rookie. Then, it happened. My co-worker screwed up a batch of lentils, just like I did. At least I wasn’t the only one. I have to admit, it made me feel a bit better because here I was thinking about how I failed at a simple task and yet, his batch overcooked just like mine and he started over.
I felt less of a failure when he had to remake his lentils. He has about 15 or 20 years more experience than I do and that’s intimidating to me yet, today we both screwed up a simple cooking skill. I have to navigate the kitchen much quicker because I have to catch up and keep up with two people. It’s at times overwhelming, other times frustrating, and all of the time a learning experience. I keep pushing through and I keep moving forward. Learning from my mistakes, watching what they do and every day trying to improve my skills.
The day I stop learning is the day I leave the kitchen. No matter what your experiences are, you should never stop learning. Being in the kitchen is and should be ever evolving.