Chef is always right, and yup, he fucking is

maitai

I didn’t actually mention after my Green Than Neon post that the head chef offered me a job. I’m pretty impressed with myself that after my first night in the back of the house that I got hired! I shouldn’t get so cocky though, because he said it was not so much my prowess with a whisk, but rather my humble attitude. He finds that many culinary students think they are god’s natural-born gift to the kitchen, whereas I freely admitted that I know nothing. Note to self for future interviews.

I have been working every Thursday from 4:00PM until close running the pastry station under the direction of the Pastry Chef and the head chef. Four weeks in, I am maybe, just maybe, starting to get a handle on things and feeling comfortable. One week I had a fight with the industrial stand mixer. It beat me the first time with its broken arm lock, confusing turn on requirements, and slightly frayed extension cord that had to reach over the hand washing sink, but the next week I came for it, and kicked its metal hunk of an ass!

I have found all my Chef Instructors at school are constantly testing me – judging my answers for the just perfect mix of intelligence, knowledge, skill, humility, and confidence. Chef Colin is no exception, and I think especially so in my case because he wants to know, ‘what exactly are they actually teaching me.’

Case in point, I clocked in at 4:00PM a few weeks ago, and got down to business. I checked the note from the Pastry Chef with the production list for the night, and started getting my station set up. At this point the production I’m doing is all for the first time so I’m always a little anxious until I complete it (or redo it) successfully. That particular night I had to make granache from scratch – something I have never in my life done. She left the recipe and instructions, but again, until I did it and it came out ok, I was a little nervous.

I was reviewing the recipe when the chef approached and inquired, “How’s it going? Feeling comfortable?” AHHH! My mind raced like it was at the Grand Prix. If I say yes, I’d appear too cocky. How could I possibly feel comfortable on week two? If I say no, I appear clueless and lost. I tried to compromise by replying, “Comfortable is strong, but I’m ok.”

That’s an X for you, lady! Go directly to jail…He quickly quipped, “Well, you should never do anything unless your comfortable. Here let me see what the Pastry Chef gave you.” AHHH! Epic fail…when someone asks you if you’re a god, you say YES!

I thought I was in for a talking to, but he gave me a really fantastic lesson (and no, I’m not kissing butt in case he reads this, wink, wink). He said the key to starting any project in the kitchen is planning. When you sit down with a recipe, you need to think about all the items you need to gather, how you are going to get them, and what you may need to get them. Then you think about the equipment you’ll use and any pieces and parts you need for that. What might you need during the production? Whisk? Scrapper? Sheet pans? Parchment? Grab that as well. Then what are you going to do with it once it’s made? What is it going in to? Where is it going?

Holy crap – mind freaking blown! This makes a ridiculous amount of sense. Restaurant kitchens are always small with too many people and not enough equipment and supplies. By planning everything out like that you can run a tight, clean and efficient ship. I’m just walking around thinking I’m Ms. Efficient, but nope, this is efficiency. I had no idea this is the way restaurants were run. Wow, super impressed.

There is actually a French phrase for this high level planning and organization, but I had never heard it until I arrived and never truly knew it’s meaning until Chef Colin gave me that lesson. It’s called mise en place – translated: put in place. I totally get it now. You have to ‘mise en place’ everything – not just the ingredients, but equipment, supplies, locations, people.

Damn, wish I had this years ago, but overwhelming sense of satisfaction at getting it: nailed. I deserve a drink…

GET MY HAWAIIAN MAI TAI RECIPE HERE

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