A day in the life: round 2
A quick introduction
As many of you read, last summer I spent the day in Rustic Stone’s kitchen to find out what the life of a chef is really like. It was a bit of a wake-up call- a seemingly endless day of pressure and chopped herbs. Guided by head chef Bernard, I was searing steaks and sending out hot-stones confidently, albeit slowly, for most of a busy service.
Six months on, it’s grown into a bit of a running joke, a challenge of sorts, that I should try my hand in Fade Street Social’s busy Gastro Bar. After one too many not so subtle jokes about my chopping skills, I accepted the challenge. Here’s how it went:
Ready to prep
I arrive through the familiar doors of Fade Street Social just after lunch time, and immediately I’m shown my space in the kitchen in front of a chopping board. Bernard walks toward me with a smile and set of bowls, one nearly overflowing with bundles of herbs. After a quick reminder of how they need to be cut, I’m off. I make it through two piles of chervil before he comes to check on my progress, nodding as he passes to check on his team.
After the herbs come the radishes. They need to be sliced paper thin, and I quickly realise this is not my forte. Needless to say, the next half hour is a bit of a struggle- but I refuse to be defeated by this root! Despite my determination, a significant portion of my radishes don’t pass Bernard’s quality control and a chef with a bit more experience steps in to finish the pile I’ve left behind.
“I hope you’ll have a bit more luck with this,” he laughs as he turns my attention to the meat slicer behind us. At this stage, I feel the first pangs of panic in my stomach. I have this irrational fear of slicing my hand clean off, but I try not to let on as he hands me a set of gloves.
“You’ve got to get them really thin,” says Bernard, “but without tearing them as you catch them.” He demonstrates a few slices and then we trade positions. I’m somewhat unsure of myself at first, but as it turns out, my fears were unfounded. With both hands safely intact, I slice myself a little pile of beef to show the chef. Satisfied with my slicing skills, he shows me how the meat needs to be laid out for service. He takes a piece of bacon parchment and softly lays the beef on top of it. “Make sure you get the spacing even, otherwise we won’t be able to use it,” he cautions as he prompts me to take over.
I fulfill my beef quota, and the last prep task I’m given is slicing the delicate octopus terrine. It was prepared by someone with more skilled hands than I, however the general idea is the same as with the beef- or so it seems. The octopus consistency is different, and whatever way the blade slices through it, it feels different in my hands; I tear three sheets before sheepishly asking for help. Without much time left to finish the prep work, I’m quickly shuffled away from the octopus, feeling somewhat like an elephant in a china shop. He confirms my feeling as he teaches me to assemble my dishes, teasing that I’ll need to develop a more delicate touch in service.
I’ll show you delicate, I think, as I eat my dinner ahead of service.
Stepping into the kitchen
Re-joining the team of chefs, I’m given a red bandanna and headset so that I’ll be able to hear the orders as they come in. My plan: ignore all the noise and listen out for beef and octopus. I take my place at the far end of the open kitchen and eagerly anticipate the first call for carpaccio. When it comes I delicately transfer the meat from the parchment to the board and gently drop the mushrooms and radishes into place. I skip to the pass with a smile, and before I know it my first dish is at the table of one of our early diners.
It’s a sunny day, and customers are ordering nothing but carpaccio. While the first five or six orders are exhilarating to prepare, the pressure turns up when multiple orders come in together. Bernard wanders down to my end of the kitchen, watching like a hawk to make sure I don’t miss any detail.
I manage to get about half way through service before disaster strikes. In my haste to refill my delicate wasabi mayo bottle, I don’t screw the lid on tightly enough. I’m sure you know where I’m headed. I cover my clean station, plus the planks of carpaccio I’ve been working on and my partner’s tuna ravioli in wasabi mayo. I signal for help, and Bernard tries to suppress a smile as he begins cleaning up my mess- literally. “It happens to everyone, just get your section clean as fast as you can and start over.” I know I’ll never hear the end of this, but for the moment all I can think of is getting past these 4 dishes and getting back on track.
Service continues, and under the watchful eye of my carpaccio partner chef, (probably so watchful because she doesn’t want me to ruin any more of her dishes) I send out another 10 or so boards, all of which pass Bernard’s quality control. As the service comes to a close at 10pm, I’m lucky to be exempt from cleaning duties and I quickly take my leave of the warm kitchen.
I think I’ll stick to writing
I found my evening in the Gastro Bar to be utterly different from my experience in Rustic Stone. Working directly in front of customers is probably doesn’t affect these experienced chefs much, however I found it to be one of the most difficult aspects of the job. When the lid came loose, especially, there were a few choice words that very nearly escaped my mouth. Maintaining a high standard with so many small yet significant details that make up each dish was much more difficult than it always seemed to me; it reminded me that though the plates are small, an immense amount of work goes into each one. In fact, I felt more pressure with significantly less work in front of me in this kitchen than in my previous experience.
Bernard laughs at me as I quickly hand back my apron and headset, and before he can tease me with another invitation, I tell him I don’t think I want to try my hand in the restaurant kitchen.