Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tips for tedious work

People often romanticize working at a Michelin starred restaurant. How exciting to be in the hustle and bustle of the kitchen, working with your hands all day on your passion, and eating! However, what I actually do all day is hardly glamorous.  In fact it can be monotonous and dull.  With one friend in particular we joke about how different our lives are. She is giving seminars on unplanned pregnancies while I am picking the stems off of baby spinach, followed by slicing, dicing, peeling, shaving, picking, cutting, tearing, chopping, washing, and more. As a prep girl starting at the bottom, sometimes getting through it can be a battle. In my few months as prep girl I've developed some coping techniques. All cooks, even those from home, should heed this advice and make your kitchens (and therefore your lives) more efficient (and delicious).  Do more with less time!

Tips for tedious work:
  1. Most important – do it as quickly as you can (aka move your hands faster). It will suck much less if you finish sooner.
  2. Try not to tense up your hands – stretch them out when need be.
  3. Arrange your work space so that your hands are moving around as little as possible.
  4. Work into and out of something.  Commonly I use containers: One for the produce in it's original form, a scrap container so you don't make a mess, and a container for the finished product. Place them side by side or front to back, however makes sense. (The container system may vary.  Depending on the volume and product small piles may work as well.  Always keep your piles very separate.)
  5. Keep your work space clean and organized.  A dry or damp towel can help with this. 
  6. Don't let the menial job distract you from the end quality. It still has to be pretty, mostly.
  7. Get comfortable with your pairing knife, peeler, chef knife, mandolin, or tool of choice. (Or maybe you just need your hands!).
  8. Not necessary – but some music or NPR in the background certainly takes the edge off.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Going out to eat, brown bag in hand

Photo courtesy of google images.
When eating at a friend's house it is polite to contribute and show appreciation by bringing a bottle of wine or the like.  As a cook eating out at a friend's restaurant the custom sticks:  Bring the kitchen (your hosts) beer (and they will be kind to you...).

As I prepared to come in and eat with my family where I work, the AM sous explained to me the beer etiquette I should follow.  Despite the fact that this practice seemed mildly inappropriate (to walk into a nice restaurant with beer in hand), I know it's typical based on what the other cooks have said and done: The garde-manger cook coming in to eat with a massive bottle of beer in a brown bag, and the PM sous complaining that her friend's restaurant didn't send anything extra even though she brought a six-pack.  To keep with tradition I wanted to go out and get a little something for my team.  As it happened there was not much time between when I got off work and the reservation so I informed the staff I'd bring them beer the following work day instead.  I think I must be the most awkward beer-giver of all time (partly because of my tardiness and partly because I'm not much of a drinker and an aura of young innocence surrounds me).  But the staff was cool and in the end I felt like I played my part.  In return they treated us with such warmth and generosity that the beer fizzled in comparison.  They're pretty cool like that.