Big Clean


From time to time, I am asked for advice. Mostly about food, sometimes about cookbooks, and quite often for restaurant recommendations, but every once in a while, I get this reoccurring line of questioning; “My son/daughter wants to go to culinary school! What kind of advice can you give us?”

Along with information about various schools and stuff like how to gain experience before getting there, I offer this piece of advice. Have them clean the kitchen at night for a month strait. No days off, no watching TV before, or taking a phone call. Have them clean the dishes, wash the counters, sweep the floor, take the towels to the laundry.

Make them this deal. If they can commit to one month of cleaning your kitchen, then you’ll consider helping to pay the steep tuition at one of the nations many expensive private culinary schools. Be it the fault of the Food Network, or the rise of celebrity chefs, teens are choosing culinary school more and more. Culinary school is an expensive choice, and to ensure your child is aware, put them to work cleaning.

I say this in particular, because cleaning is something young cooks must get used to doing. Every kitchen needs to be cleaned down every night. Not just a once over with a rag, but the kind of clean I do in my house every couple of months. The stove is scrubbed, burners removed and cleaned thoroughly. The grill and flat top cooking surfaces need to be scoured. The fridges are cleaned out, washed down, and everything being kept for the next day is changed into a new container and wrapped, labeled, and dated. The floors are swept, scrubbed and mopped.

You don’t leave until this is done. Every single night. No matter how long it takes you to get home, how early you get there, or how much cleaning you did the night before, you stay until the kitchen is clean.

On a slower night, you’ll take on bigger cleaning projects, the kind saved for rainy days. Cleaning hard to reach places like shelves, detailing small appliances, and getting behind the larger appliances. At the Fat Duck, a crew of 4 would come in early each Sunday and gut the walk in. Every thing was transferred out, the shelves were carried outside to be hosed down and scrubbed, and the walk in refrigerator itself was scrubbed until it shined.

At The Rainier Club, we are in the midst of the ultimate clean smack down. Everything, and I mean every thing is going to be cleaned, inside and out. The pressure washer has been manned by a rotating team of cooks, covered like California Raisins in heavy duty garbage sacks. They are tackling everything from cleaning the entire second floor full of walk-in refrigerators and freezers, to washing the racks, shelves, and bins that we store everything on.

In the pastry department, we have entirely deconstructed the space. Everything was taken off the shelves, and the shelves were taken from the walls to be scrubbed. The bare walls were then scoured with soap and water, and a lot of elbow grease until they shined. Inventory was reorganized and reassessed before being placed back on the squeaky clean shelves. The refrigerators were removed and cleaned back to front, inside to outside, the freezer defrosted. Every appliance was detailed with tiny brushes and toothpicks.

The entire kitchen has been taking on similar cleaning projects in preparation for our summer closure. Like most European restaurants, The Rainier Club kitchen is closed twice a year for two week intervals. This time without diners is used to clean every last inch of space. This practice is common in culinary school, where each kitchen is gutted and cleaned at the end of each term. Your future top chef will find immediately that cooking and cleaning don’t exist separately. If you want to be a cook you have to clean hard and constantly. Thus my advice. Have your child commit to cleaning your tiny kitchen before you commit to cleaning out your savings on the high priced tuition most schools charge.

Now that we have cleaned the kitchen top to bottom, inside and out, the staff is free to do what they will with two weeks. Some stick around and help with maintenance projects, others take vacations. I am using this time to stage. According to Luisa at Moveable Feast, a stage is a professional courtesy. An internship meant for cooks well into their professional career, they take what ever time they can and trade their skilled labor for the chance to see an amazing chef’s style. It’s a way to grow in your career, expand your level of exposure, and keep current with what others who may be leading the industry are doing. I filled an extensive stage two and a half years ago at a restaurant in Bray, England called The Fat Duck, working 16 hours a day, for two months.

This time around, I am traveling to Manhattan, to fill a two week stage with Alex Stupack, the pastry chef at WD-50. A restaurant that is setting the bar for creativity, I am thrilled to expose myself to all that this amazing restaurant has to offer. Provided the restaurant doesn’t mind, and I have reasonable Internet access, I’ll keep you posted. My own blogging began with my last stage, as a way to share my experience with my family and friends. Before I knew it the London Guardian was publishing parts of it, and my cover was blown. Not that I was hiding anything, I just didn’t know anyone but my then boyfriend (now husband) and mom were reading it! It was a bit of a surprise when I had to tell that I had been splashing an insiders view of his restaurant across the Internet and they were publishing it in London’s largest newspaper the next day. Heston reacted simply by walking up to me with a smirk and saying, “I read your diary!” If you are interested in reading a bit of the Fat Duck writings, begin on this page in the archives of my old blog Phatduck, and scroll down.

10 Responses to “Big Clean”

  1. Traca says:

    Dang Dana…what a great post! I’ve worked in the restaurant biz for years and I’ve never seen a place torn apart like that (front of the house advantage, maybe?). I can’t believe that stove isn’t new! Loved the photos.

  2. Sean says:

    I did my culinary school externship at WD-50. Send me an email if you want some advice about his quirks and how to avoid pissing him off.

  3. Dana says:

    Traca- Front of the house atvantage indeed!

    Sean- YES! I do want advice, but I can’t contact you through my space, I don’t have an account! Maybe you can email me at

  4. At the age of 38, I went back to school, and am halfway through my first year of the Culinary Arts program at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon. I’m 1 month in to my first restaurant job at El Vaquero, and guess what? You’re SPOT ON! Guess what I’ve been doing for a month? Yup, nothing but dishes and cleaning. Sure, I take my turn at cleaning at school, but I get spoiled there — te dishwashing machine’s a continuous-feed Hobart. Not so at work, where I’ve been manning an old school Auto-Chlor, the kind where you open it, load in a rack, close it, and wait around 90 seconds before you can load another rack — a rach which, if you’re getting good at this, should take you about 30 seconds to load, leaving you a minute to unload the clean dishes from the previous rack, plus ever 3rd or 4th load carrying all the clean stuff back to its place.

    But it pays off. I’ve already been promoted and am training at the pastry station now — not my favorite station, as I’m a meat man, but at least now I’m only cleaning up after myself and the pastry chef, not everyone in the whole house!

    Hey, its not glamorous. It’s not BAM! It’s hard work, dirty work, exhausting work. But how many people can say they get paid to pursue their passion — even if it means pursuing it through the greasse and the grime?

  5. Correction — I’m halfway through the program, I’ve completed my first year.

  6. Dolores says:

    Although I know you say you are eating as fast as you can, I must disagree. You have listed several cities as “coming soon”, and the listings have remained that way for several years. Will you be adding to your restaurant repertoire any time soon? I am most anxious for your reviews of Houston

  7. Dolores says:

    I have already typed a rather long comment. Where is it?

  8. hillel says:

    Hey Dolores. You’re right. Restaurant writeups will return soon. And I have to admit, Houston is not on the schedule in the near future. We’re updating the design of the site soon and at that time I’ll try and get the restaurant index page current.

  9. Mel says:

    I am searching desperately for TINY little brushes for cleaning my cream whipper – any suggestions?

    Many thanks:)

  10. dana says:

    They make tiny little brushes to clean pastry tips. I have purchased them at Sur La Table along side the collection of pastry tips and bags. They are very small little bottle brushes, and may work for your task.

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