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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Reflections of a Pastry Cook.



On November 22, 2011, I sat on this bench and took a few deep breaths to calm my jittery nerves before I walked over to work from the parking garage. It was not only my first day working as a pastry cook, but also in a restaurant environment. Coming from a cake background, everything about the kitchen intimidated me. That day, Downtown Los Angeles felt so, so big and foreign to me.

Yesterday, on November 20, 2012, I sat on the same bench and took a few deep breaths in hopes to lighten my bittersweet heart. I quietly sat and reflected back on my journey as a pastry cook. The past year had gone by so quickly that, in all sincerity, the whole year felt like one long day. As opposed to my first day, Downtown Los Angeles felt so small to me. The tall skyscrapers, the busy streets, the constant honking, and the ear-piercing sirens, all felt so familiar and comforting. Unknowingly, this place had become my second home.

For the longest time following culinary school, I thought I was not fit to work in a restaurant environment and I was just not interested in doing so. I skipped through all the job listings available at restaurants or hotels and only read those pertaining to cakes or bakeries. However, one day, I had a somewhat random urge to work in a restaurant and decided to apply to the first listing I saw. It also happened to be the only restaurant I applied to. A few days later, I went in for a stage and a few days after that, I started my first day.

I don't know where to begin my story, or what to say first besides the fact that I cannot thank my chef enough for giving me a chance to put my foot forward. It was definitely a year well-spent and a year full of countless blessings.  Sure, at times things were challenging and I wanted to cry, but more times than not, I smiled as a sense of accomplishment tingled my fingers.

As a professional, I was able to refine my skills and I learned what it was like and what it took to survive in a fast-paced environment. A month into the job, I was left to run the pastry station and train a new pastry cook (who was trained to be a hot-line cook and did not have much knowledge about baking), all while still learning the recipes myself. Reflecting back, I don't know how I did it, or where the courage and confidence came from, but I did. Right when I was about to catch my breath, I had to train another cook. Before I knew it, I was the leading the team. At times, the responsibility overwhelmed me because I was responsible for some of the mistakes made during my absence. However, I have no complaints because the overall experience was definitely so rewarding that it makes me choke up. For example, after struggling for months, when one of the pastry cooks made his first successful batch of macarons, I almost jumped up and down and hugged him. When the other pastry cooks initiated and started completing projects from the exact point I left off without my instructions, I wanted to do the happy dance in the walk-in fridge. We grew together as a team; all while forming and defining our own styles.

As cliche as it sounds, I grew much as a person. I used to be really quiet and shy-- to the extent that one of the sous chefs wondered if I would ever talk at work. I am still reserved and quiet today, but I have learned to crack a joke when things in the kitchen get really tense and have developed the leisure to hum or sing to myself while prepping. I have learned that it is crucial for me to take a breath or two when five order-fire tickets with multiple desserts hit me at once and I am the only one on the station. I established strong leadership qualities and have learned I need some improvement with my communication skills. Overall, to cut things short, I have learned to feel more comfortable in my shoes. Now, I can confidently say I am proud of my passion even though some still label it as hopeless.

I have formed a deep appreciation and respect for all chefs and cooks working in such fast-paced, and at times dangerous, environment. If you still think most cooks are under-educated, hopeless, and dreamless, then shame on you. Many cooks hold multiple jobs to make ends meet and even in the midst of all that, are extremely well-rounded and cultured. Some are judged for their tattoos or sleeves, but some had no choice but to get them because the burn scars they have acquired were so dark, deep and many. Oh, and how can I forget the runners? And the dishwashers? If anything, they make the foundation of a restaurant.

During my year here, I have come to cherish the fact that a restaurant cannot be successful just because of the chef's ability to cook food. If anything, it is the effort of the dishwashers, runners, servers, cooks that provide the stage for the chef to shine. The next time you send wine back to the chef, please don't forget the dishwasher as they go most unnoticed and under-appreciated by the patrons.

Today, November 21, 2012, my journey as a pastry cook ended- or at this establishment at least. As I reflect back, there are a few things I could have done differently, but I leave with a content and peaceful heart.

I told myself I would not cry, but I ended up crying on my drive home from work.
I will miss everyone and though I did not show it, you all have molded me into the silly girl I am today.
The jokes, laughter, sweat and tears we have shared have become a strong part of my identity.

2 comments:

  1. Aw, sorry to hear that you cried, sometimes it's better to release the tears than to bottle them up. I've been very emotional recently, I guess I also have some big decisions coming up as I finally finish my studies in a couple of weeks.

    Good luck with whatever's next, sounds like you need a rest first!

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  2. I'm very impressed and inspired by you and your work. Seeing you grow as a person the past few years has been nothing but a pleasure to me. I am truly humbled by your dedication and hard-work. But more importantly, you recognized your lifelong dream and pursued it with a full heart, accepting nothing but success.

    I look forward to seeing you attempt and conquer the challenges in your future. It's a long, hard road but I am fully confident that you will one day realize your ambitions. Never be content with mediocrity, and never accept failure. And I hope that one day, you'll be the inspiration for another young girl to chase a similar dream.

    Great job, keep it up, and know that lots of people are proud of you.

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