Starting a new job is hard. Once the after glow of gratifying verification received by landing the job is gone, the warm fuzzy goodbyes of previous coworkers are said, and the expectant tension is broken by walking into the new kitchen for the first time there is nothing to distract you from the fact that you might not have any idea what you got yourself into. It’s just you and the skills you promised, jumping in head first, and you’d better be able to swim.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t doubt my ability to succeed in my new position in the banquet department at the Rainier Club. But the first week is always a blur.
It may have been an easier transition if I had continued climbing the pastry ladder I was on. It may have been calmer if I had entered another quiet 4 man kitchen in a casual neighborhood restaurant. But during the last part of my shift this Friday, wrapping up my first week, it was clear to me I had definitely chosen a challenge by stepping so far out of my comfort zone and into the uncharted territory of the banquet department.
The banquet department at the Rainier Club is their bread and butter, the driving force that allows the other kitchen outlets to work at such a high level. It does so by preparing massive amounts of high end food daily, which is no easy task. And the only way to keep such a high volume of food going 10 different places is a switch board.
The switch board at the Rainier club is a bulletin board covering an entire wall. An order for a banquet comes in triplicate, the front of the house, the banquet department, and the pastry department all receiving copies. After the banquet department receives their master copy, a second chart is prepared breaking down the requested menu into individual components. These components are then taken to the banquet chefs who make task lists of the steps needed to create each component.
If your head isn’t spinning yet, three simple initials which sat on the list yesterday, BPS, lost me. It started by Tim describing the creation of the BPS, or black pepper sauce. The only words I can pull out of the fog I was lodged in yesterday involve multiple staged reductions, timed additions that involve bottles of Madeira, white wine, roasted garlic cloves, and black pepper I assume. I thought I was up to speed when he described the introduction of Poultry Jus. “OK, what is that, just a reduced stock?” I innocently asked. I should have kept my mouth shut, because when the reductions and additions started rolling off his tongue, my eyes lost focus, and his voice became distant. Plain and simple, I was lost.
It didn’t really get better from there, but I hung on for dear life. At one point I caught myself scowling at the Art Institute culinary intern. I almost laughed out loud when I realized I was jealous of him. I was jealous because he was moving from task to task, he looked like he knew what he was doing. I was still taking 5 minutes to look for items I was sent to fetch, often coming back empty handed. I was being scolded by the chef to quiet my placement of pans in the dish pit as not to disturb the guests sitting at the chef’s table placed in the center of the kitchen (obviously), or walking in the middle of the busy dinner line to fetch something (duh). I was at times caught standing still, a true kitchen crime, because I didn’t know what else to do, or how to find something to do without someone telling me. Me, who was just the confident pastry chef, was envious of the culinary student for the simple fact that he knew what to do with himself at all times.
It will get better, quickly I assume. Keeping pace seems to be the biggest challenge at the moment, and learning to interpret the switchboard. I need some serious brushing up on my culinary terms, so I don’t mistakenly bring out the remoulade when asked to find a remoulage. But I chose this kitchen for it’s emphasis on constant education and self improvement no matter what level you are on. I commiserated with Rudy, the sous chef who was recently put in charge of the pastry department, my old haunt. We likened our new positions to new toys as I slumped off, mentally exhausted, to change and go home for the day.
I’ll start the next week off fresh, and on better footing. Which means I can pay more attention to the food!! Once I can find it on the massive switchboard.