Life as a Stage
Posted August 16, 2009on:
As I’m coming to the end of my time at culinary school, I’ve started to spend some more time in different kitchens. My time in restaurant kitchens has been short lived since I’m not quite sure that the fast pace is for me. So I decided it might be a good idea to start spending some time working with the different chefs in the culinary school. This has also been an eye-opening experience.
Part of learning about the restaurant business is spending time as a stage, pronounced st-ah-ge. As a stage in a culinary school, I work with another person to help set up a recreation class and get the chef anything he or she may need. I also help students find anything they may need and bring dishes to the wash area and break things down at the end of class. My first experience was with a lovely chef who spent considerable time in restaurant kitchens and has since retired to teach her craft to different home cooks. She was very polite, always saying “please” and “thank you”. She was a breath of fresh air and was lovely to be in a kitchen with. The students in this class were also very nice and didn’t take advantage of the fact that I was there to assist.
During my first day, I learned how to set up a class and how to properly set up a table for the class’s service, the next day I felt like I was starting from scratch. The chef had completely different criteria. He did not like using plastic containers. (Not a bad practice really.) To this end, I had to find as many hotel pans as possible. He also made the occasional snarky comment about me standing in the back of the class waiting to be asked to do something. After hearing that, I mingled among the class trying to see what needed tidying and throwing out garbage. Well, I also learned my place in a classroom. I was asked, by a student, how to weigh out some butter. I grabbed a scale, adjusted it and placed the butter on it. Granted, I should have known better and placed plastic wrap on the scale’s weighing surface. However, I was quickly told that such interactions would never occur in his classroom and that I should focus my energies on clearing off dishes or other kitchen tasks.
The next day while I was helping another chef (who also happens to be my current chef instructor in my pastry module), he related to her that I enjoyed doing things that were very important, like playing teacher. I then apologized for my mistake in his classroom and told him I used to be a high school teacher, so it was just my past life coming back. He then told me I should embrace my past life. At the same time, the chef I was working with that day was rolling her eyes at his commentary. I have to say that despite that chef being an award-winning instructor, I learned nothing by working with him aside from the fact that I should not talk to students in his class.
After working with two chefs in very different courses, I had the opportunity to also work with my current pastry chef instructor. Since I’m MUCH more interested in pastry, working with her has been a wonderful, yet super-educational experience! I did get to work with her a few weeks ago during the recreational class on French Macarons. These temperamental little cookies are so trendy now that they’re showing up in many bakeries and many people want to learn how to make them. I did have a very important job in this class: oven duty.
Yup, I got to hang out by the ovens and test the doneness of each batch. I also helped set up the class and did some clean-up. Overall though, working with this chef really helped me hone my skills. I learned a lot about a cookie I never realized was so difficult to make. And I learned how to incorporate flavorings and food colorings. We also learned how to make different fillings for the cookies, like butter cream, caramel, and ganache. OK, I knew some of these things already, but it was still good review. And the best part was that I learned that these little macarons taste GREAT frozen!
I also got to work with the pastry chef during a 2-day candy workshop. This class was a small class and was definitely for more advanced students. Many of the students in this class were people with their own businesses as well as people trying to slowly increase their pastry knowledge. (It was nice talking to some of these people and not being yelled at for it!) I had never learned how to work with sugar in its various stages so I really got to learn about it in this class. We managed to make nougat (I made pop rocks nougat!) , caramel and fudge as well as molded, chocolate dipped candies. We also made Pâtes de Fruits, which are basically like gummy bears, made with real fruit and without the bear shape.
While I did do some prep work and some clean-up, this chef allowed me to try my own hand at some recipes and let me practice on my own. Chef showed us how to make candy canes and lollipops, but after a few minutes of working with heated sugar my hands were not tolerating the heat anymore. I then moved on to practicing my chocolate tempering and dipping a variety of candies into chocolate. Overall, I think working with the pastry chef gives me the best of both worlds. I manage to learn a new technique/recipe and the chef gets another pair of helpful hands around the kitchen. It was also very, very nice to hear “please” and “thank you” after every request and at the end of class.
It’s the little things like that that keep me motivated to work with a person and help me develop more respect on an individual level. Tomorrow, I’ll be helping pastry chef with teenagers in a cake decorating class which sounds like a lot of fun!
In the meantime, here’s some shots of the candies that were made in the candy workshop. We all got to take home a LOT of candy! 🙂