Greener Than Neon: My First Stage


Stage is pronounced like ‘Dodge’ – really like ‘sta-dge.’ It’s basically an opportunity to work for free in a restaurant kitchen. I say ‘opportunity’ because even though the chef is getting free labor, you are are getting a crash course in what a real restaurant kitchen is like. I’m about to tell you below that it isn’t like what I’ve been describing about school.

I’m not sure this establishment would like me writing about it on the world wide web so to protect the innocent I’ve changed all the names.

I met a head chef while enjoying a cocktail with Michael one recent weekday evening. I mentioned being a culinary student, and he invited me to come by his restaurant. The next day after school I did so, and he spent almost two hours giving me a tour of the restaurant. He also talked to me about how soft culinary schools are and how they are turning out whiny, self-righteous brats who can’t stand real hard work and putting in their dues. During that chat, I was both really intimated and really intrigued – this could be some interesting out of school learning time.

He invited me to come stage that weekend. I reiterated that I never worked in a restaurant kitchen and reminded him it was Valentine’s/President’s Day Weekend. He said come by Saturday at 4PM, and I’d be working with the Pastry Chef. Yes, of course, at the very least it would give me this post to write – at the worst, I’d get kicked out within the first 10 minutes. Why not give it a go…fuck!?!

I wasn’t really nervous until I arrived, and the only way I can think to describe the next six hours of my life was from the perspective of an office. I just left 15 years working in various offices so office dwellers out there, follow along with me.

Take a second to imagine your work space. Think about your physical space or office, where people are in relation to you, and where stuff is – the printer, your computer, office supplies, files, cabinets, and how far you have to go to places – the lounge, the bathroom, your boss’s office. Think about how you function during the day – how you work on different projects, how you interact with people in meetings or on the fly.

Ok, got a good picture? Now imagine this office:

  • People more senior to you come and start working in your space and have the right of way, so if you have papers spread out, you need to collect them and wait until the person is done doing whatever they are doing before you resume your project.
  • You turn for a minute to grab something and when you turn back, someone is working in your space. Depending on their rank, you either have to wait, can politely ask them to move, or you wait until they aren’t looking and move their stuff aside.
  • After you go home for the day, other people arrive and use your stuff – it may or may not be there when you return in the morning.
  • Oh, and to get to your desk, you need to walk right through the middle of six offices filled with people having meetings, on the phone, etc. One or two of them are your superior and they are not to be disturbed.
  • In order to get new supplies, you must walk through the six offices to get them. These supplies are in four different locations, all down stairs and some outside.
  • And if you need to go to the bathroom, you have to walk through the six offices as well.
  • While you are working on a project, more projects can come at any time and you always need to drop what you are doing to finish the most recent request.
  • All the time you work, your clients are sitting and watching you work.
  • You are also standing during the entire day.
  • People are also talking all around you – constantly.

Ok, I’ll admit some of these sound like offices I’ve worked in, but sound like a fun place? Well, it kind of was.

The evening sure went fast, and I was just trying to not screw things up. In the process, I actually made creme anglaise and caramel (which I had never done before and turned out pretty well), quarted up a bunch of different product (that is, to put in plastic, washable quart containers for storage), helped to make chocolate dough for tarts, plated a few desserts and made carrot cake batter.

Six hours of that intense of a mental focus left me totally wiped, but with a strange sense of accomplishment plus wanting to try it again so I could do it better.

When I stopped by the following week to thank the chef for the opportunity, I asked him what everyone I worked with said about my performance. He said he thought I did fine, but of course I was ‘greener than neon.’ I think I need to go back for more…at least just to change shades.


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