Here's the thing, if you met in me in real life I might seem a little awkward and shy at first but for the most I'd seem self assured and at time, probably a little cocky. Here's the other thing: I am a damn fine baker. Oh wait, thing number three: I am one of those people that is so afraid of failure that I will sabotage myself rather than try and let somebody else tell me I've failed.
Saturday morning I immediately started to get nervous about my stage when I woke up. I don't know why, I just did. Maybe it's the being unemployed so long that there's a bit of hopelessness creeping in and I was just starting to freak out in general. Anxiety over not having a job bleeding into my confidence in my own ability to do what I do. So, I decided to eat very little food and drink two cups of coffee in preparation for working in a hot kitchen for an indefinite amount of time. Sometimes I make really good choices. Needless to say, by the time I actually got there my hands were shaking a little and I was feeling quite anxious. The pastry chef there was, well, a pastry chef. She wasn't mean, but she was brusque and all business and it started to make me feel like maybe I wasn't doing what I was supposed to be doing. I mean, what did I expect, a cookie for making gelato base? That's just something I'm supposed to know how to do with the amount of experience I have and the jobs I'm applying for.
Don't get me wrong, stages are stressful. Unlike being in training where the chef lets you know their preference for methodology and helps you get to know the kitchen, during a stage you're basically given a brief tour, some recipes and told to go for it. The recipes usually have only about half the method written out in barely legible chicken scratch which for me, who has primarily worked as a baker and a chocolatier, means I have to think back to culinary school and remember the methodology for a dessert I haven't made for five years. Given the full instructions I could whip it out no problem, but instead I'm getting my knowledge put on trial, and while I will give random food facts to anyone at any time, some of the practical knowledge is definitely a little rusty.
So there I was, trying to find my way around a kitchen, getting brusque responses from the chef, stirring a huge pot of creme anglais with my other hand holding the thermometer in the pot and turning bright red, sweat actually dripping down my back and I thought "This is it, this is the moment when I just say I'm not a fucking restaurant chef. I'm a baker, I'm a chocolatier. I can't do this. This is the moment where I tell the chef this isn't what I want, where I go outside and call my mother on the street crying that I don't know what I'm doing and I can't find a bakery and and and...". Then the other voice stepped in and said "You're a big girl, you KNOW how to do this stuff, deal with it". More than than I had about four other things that I was halfway through and I just kept telling myself, when you've finished this, then you can tell chef this isn't the place for you. Just finish what you're supposed to, be a professional.
So family (staff dinner) roles around and chef has barely spoken to me and I just keep doing what I'm doing continuing to feel anxious and like I want to go in the bathroom and cry and I tell myself after dinner I'll talk to chef. But after dinner I still have incomplete things going so I tell myself to just finish those. I finish those and she sends me to the front of the kitchen where the plating happens and I start talking to the pastry cook up there, brand new at the job and fresh out of culinary school and something just clicks. If this girl can do this, you bet my way more experienced self can do this.
For the rest of the night I stay at the plating station, at first just observing but as the night gets busier and the tickets start rolling in, I just jump in and start plating. At some point I notice chef has come back to watch both of us and is looking at me hustling my ass frying, filling and coating donuts, and smiling. At this point I've switched to working with another new pastry cook who just cannot project, which, when you're plating a lot of gelatos and sorbets is problematic because you have to call for a porter to come get it and the kitchen there is huge. So I just started calling for all the service, even the things she was putting out because everyone was laughing and her barely audible attempts. Of course, as I start belting out "pastry pick up" every five minutes I get my own round of applause and (mostly) good natured teasing, that's just how it goes when you're a woman (and a small, young one at that) working in a man's world. And make no mistake, the professional kitchen is still mostly a man's world.
I ended up working longer than either I or the pastry chef had intended (close to nine hours) but by the end time was flying. After I changed out of my kitchen clothes we sat down and she apologized that we hadn't spoken more and we talked a little bit more about the job and my experience. She told me it was pretty entry level work and that I had a lot of great experience and I pointed out that none of it was in restaurant kitchens and told her some about how nervous I was coming into that environment. At the end she suggested I come in Monday to their smaller downtown location where the environment would probably suit me more and just work a couple of hours during the lunch shift. We didn't really talk about pay, because I figured I would see whether or not I liked the more low key environment before making it an issue but I think this may be a pretty solid opportunity to just get some restaurant experience under my belt and get a little more comfortable being back in the kitchen in general and then I can step it up.
I also have an interview Monday for a restaurant that is opening a bakery next door which, if it goes well, might be the better opportunity for me. We'll see.