February 2012 - alvers.info

Just a place for my old thoughts

Yep, still an apprentice
Sunday, 26 February 2012 2:50 pm
(DJ)

A late start this morning so I had the chance to catch up with Libbette and Jaron for brunch. A rare treat lately that I was not going to pass up. Sullied only slightly be a txt from my Sous chef asking why an oven was turned off with pork belly waiting to be cooked. Luckily I could swear on a bible that when I left it was all good to go. Perhaps a power outage or something overnight.

An acquaintance from PwC was in this afternoon with her husband and asked for me so I had the chance to take out their snacks. It was interesting to go from dealing with them for IT reasons to serving Manchego croquettes but was actually quite fun now that I have my kitchen whites. I feel much more like a chef in training and not just a n00b.

Now that I am getting the hang of things I am getting a much better hang on my section and levels of Mise en Plus (stuff on hand). I can say to the Sous Chef that we need XXX by Wednesday or more of something else to make it through Friday. That is a good feeling to understand where we are at and what the consumption levels of the restaurant are.

I am extremely lucky to be working in a smaller place with such an accomplished Chef because it means that I am getting AWAY more access, control and experience than any other apprentice in the same place. Hell, some apprentices don't get to use any heat until their second year!!! I own, (and have a love hate relationship) with my deep fryer. From which I produce the cheese croquettes. I tune it for each batch that is made so that they they are perfectly crispy on the outside and gooey in the middle. No, from a culinary perspective that isn't that exciting but it is the small things.

Or more it is the big things. I love knife work, julienne, chiffenard, fine dice. I could grow to dislike the massive amounts of prep involved. But the service...oh the service. That is when it all happens. Orders coming in, the chef yelling the docket and you pushing dishes up at exactly the same moment so that is arrives at the table perfect. It is truly a sweet moment and something that scared the SH*T out of me only a few weeks ago and now thrills the hell out of me.

Domestically it is all pretty tough really. Deb is working a full on Monday to Friday week and I am on a Wednesday to Sunday. My Sous is conscious of this is does try to give me time when he can but if prep isn't ready then I don't get a break. Think of starting at 9:00am at work, getting a 15 minute break at 4:00pm and then working to 11:00pm. I sh*t you not that is not that unusual a day.

So to get a couple of hours of, 'mid week' when I can rush into the city to see Deb or a late start when I can scramble out of bed to talk to Deb before driving her to the ferry and then getting an hours extra sleep are all pretty special.

The weird part of all of this is just the planning. When I married Deb on that beach all those years ago I never imagined that I would find myself having to plan contact time to maximise our time together. It has just turned out that way. Things will be different as I work through my apprenticeship but for the early moment it is rather strange.

So far though they have been able to give me a few Sunday mornings off with a mid afternoon start which I have to say are pretty sweet. It means I can come home the night before, stay up to 1am just sort of chilling out (seriously this is important), wake up and have a lovely brunch somewhere, get in a 1 hour power nap and then head into the restaurant for service. Pretty sweet really.

Tonight though I rocked in at 3pm and was supposed to be prepping for service but tickets kept coming in for bar snacks, which everyone looked at me to produce. Holy cow!!! I was running around like an idiot, knowing that I was getting further and further behind on dinner prep and thinking that I was going to get killed if I slipped up later. On top of that they had cancelled the kitchen hand tonight so the dish pit was all me. Yey Me! And being Sunday we had a deep clean ahead which takes 1.5 hours with three people. It was going to be a big night.

I had txt'ed my prep list to the Sous Chef in the morning but I'm looking in my fridge for service and thinking 'HFS', where the hell is everything!!!! Keep in mind this is life and death stuff we are dealing with here. If someone orders King Fish and I don't have Frizee lettuce prep'ed then the western world as we know it will destabilise and collapse into a mess.

Forget life and death....this is cooking.

But we got it all together and, thanks to only about 14 covers it was a quiet night. The Commis Chef and I managed to knock off the deep Sunday clean in only a couple of hours and I am home at a reasonable hour.

So there you are. I feel that I am moving from a state of unconscious incompetence, through conscious incompetence to an apprentice level of conscious competence....and that is kind'a nice.


On being a chef
Tuesday, 14 February 2012 2:24 am
(DJ)

Getting any downtime from work has been a bit of an issue for the last two months. Five days a week I wake up, get ready and head into the restaurant with very little time to think, absorb and assimilate what I am learning. Then home around midnight to sit down for 30 minutes before bed. Working in a commercial kitchen is an incredibly different experience and I think it is important to keep taking a step back and reviewing your progress.

So I am really treasuring my two days off each week. It means that when I finish on a Sunday I can sit up a little longer, say 1am, and relax. It also means that I get valuable time to spend with Deb. Yesterday I made some sandwiches and headed into the city to spend an hour sitting in a park just chatting about what is happening at work for each of us. It was also a wonderful chance to chat about what our potential restaurant may be like.

Now, I thought I would be working tonight on Valentines Day so I had booked to go to Moda last night for dinner. Being a Monday the restaurant was fairly quite and the service wonderfully attentive. The food was fantastic and something that I really really enjoyed. It also filled me with the horror thought of if I could produce anything like it. As each course came out I was sort of picking through the ingredients and trying to identity the components. But quite quickly I just sort of surrendered to the enjoyment of great food and forgot about trying to guess the micro-herbs and just enjoyed every mouthful. It does seem to be a different experience eating food that you haven't prepared. It has a mystery of flavour and texture that I think is lacking when you know exactly how something is made.

So, to being an apprentice chef.

Being yelled at

You know Gordon Ramsey, the swearing, the yelling. Yes? Well life in a commercial kitchen is exactly like that. You get yelled at. A lot. During service the expectation is that entrees will go out in 5-7 minutes and mains within 10-15 minutes after the table is cleared. This slips if there is multiple dockets being worked, but you get the idea.

Precision

The yelling comes from the need for precision. To have every dish perfectly executed and delivered to the pass at the precise moment it is required. All of your actions in the kitchen need to be precise, calculated, efficient and quick. No point in covering the same ground twice to get ingredients. Why you only one hand when two is faster. It is about working towards perfection.

Memory

The first day I started the chefs told me that had terrible memories. BULLSHIT! When you watch a show where a chef reels off an 8 cover docket at a huge rate of knots and everyone in the kitchen yells 'Yes Chef' you get the idea. You listen to the call and covert what you hear into a list of dishes that you are responsible for. You then remove the items from your fridge or drop the plates that are needed for those dishes. That is your reminder about what to prepare. You then mentally fit that back into the overall docket and think about when you have to prepare each of your items so that they whole order goes up to the pass as one. All in your head, with no notes, no computer screens and no reminders. Chefs don't have good memories...CRAP!!

Speed...

Speed in the key, for prep you have to move as fast as you can. Again as efficiently as possible. So far Tom the sous chef has been able to show me a few really good techniques for performing certain jobs faster. Also as you get a little more familiar with the ingredients you better understand how they should be prepared which helps to prevent you having to keep going over something.

Cooking

This is the scary part. I feel like I have pushed all the creative part of my cooking out of the way in order to come to grips with the requirements of a commercial kitchen. The meals that I have been producing on my days off just seem too underwhelming. I guess as I become more familiar with commercial cookery that part of the process will start to return. For inspiration I am going to start keeping a notepad or something and jotting down the ideas and concepts with Deb that we have been talking about. I think I'll need that focus to stay grounded and not loose myself in the industry.

If all of that post sounds like a diary entry, brain dump and 'not for internet' then your probably right. But it is the thoughts that I have rattling around in my head at the moment.





I don't know I will ever get used to the hours
Wednesday, 1 February 2012 2:29 pm
(DJ)

Ok, so I am working somewhere between 60-70 hours in a 5 day week. Not a bad effort really. Most days involve starting around 9am and then working to 11pm. No breaks, no time off, just constant prep, service, prep, service.

Now that I have got my head around the whole, work your tail off before service so that it is smooth sailing, I feel much better about things and look forward to 6pm and the first clatter of the docket printer.

My 'weekend' (Monday & Tuesday) were particularly good. Deb had taken a few extra days off work after the Australia Day public holiday which meant that we got to spent time together like on a real weekend.

Best of all the restaurant was quiet on Sunday night so we all got an early night (10pm) and Deb and I sat up watching the mens tenis finals, sweet.

Monday we saw the Muppet movie, had gyoza at Harajuku Gyoza and then headed off for our massage that was a gift from Serena. Oh what a wonderful day. Then I cooked duck on lentils, had a great bottle of wine and just relaxed. How sweet is that.

And no, I have not lost my love of cooking. If anything my approach is definitely changing although I really do need to listen to Deb more when she tells me what she wants for dinner and I go and cook something completely different (Sorry Deb!)

I feel for Chef and the Sous. They are both so very accomplished and myself and the new chef are so very very green. Tonight the new chef underestimated the cooking times for some new fish we had in and the middles were raw. Arrgghh! Not good at all. Nothing to do with me, but not good at all.

As things have started to bed down things like prep lists have become easier to write and understand what I need to get done and in what order. I can generally tell how well I am going based on what time I am supposed to start work the next day. 10:30am, everything is sweet and I am doing well. 8:00am, I f*%ked it up badly and need to do a complete rebuild of my section. You get the idea.

Having said that I have a 10:30am start tomorrow and the offer of an extended break if I hammer through my prep. Let's hope it works out that way.

Oh, and Libbette texted me saying that if we had gone on My Kitchen Rules we would have kicked arse. Yes, I think we would have. Something that I know I am lacking is the creativeness in combining certain flavours and ideas or recognising a great recipe. This is something that Deb is very good at so I often feed from her advice and I think the same is for Libbette.

I think that when I open my own place, it will fall to Deb and others to provide that inspiration of flavour and texture that I think I might be lacking.

Things to look forward too.