November 26, 2009
Thanksgiving is an easy holiday to love. You get to think about everything you’re thankful for as you chow down on a mountain of delicious food. If only we could do this every day.
I am thankful for a lot of things - too many to list here, so I thought I’d concentrate on one new development in particular. I’ve waited to mention this on the blog until I got my feet wet at it, but I was recently given a part-time job at a bakery! As I’m sure many bloggers do, I’ve long had dreams of what it would be like to work in a professional kitchen or even to know how it would feel to open up my own bakery. However, without any real knowledge of what that would be like, I decided it was time to find out.
I sent a few resumes out and received a response from a wonderful local artisanal bakery. Without much previous culinary experience, I was hired primarily to make coffee and wait tables with the stipulation that should the opportunity arise, I could help out in the kitchen. Luckily for me, I started around Halloween when the kitchen was busy with holiday orders and was given a chance in the kitchen right away.
For Halloween, I got to decorate some fun ghost cakes and pumpkin cookies. For Thanksgiving, I got to make pear galettes, ice a bunch of cakes, and experimented with the royal icing techniques. I didn’t work quickly enough for the leaf on the bottom right, as you can see the surface is bumpy. Royal icing is temperamental stuff!
Working in the bakery has been a fun learning experience and I realize that there are probably a lot of you out there like myself who wonder what it would be like. I thought I’d share a few things I have learned thus far:
- You often (maybe always, depending on the kitchen) measure by weight in grams, not with measuring cups.
- You are sharing a kitchen with other people, so you have to keep your space clean and put things back where they belong. I will admit to being a bit of a mess while baking, but didn’t fully realize it until I started working in someone else’s kitchen.
- Get used to saying, “behind you.” When people are taking over-sized large sheet pans out of the oven, you don’t want to accidentally come in contact with one.
- Nothing goes to waste. Anything leftover gets labeled and refrigerated/frozen or put into to something else.
- Things go a lot faster with a stand-mixer and a high-powered food processor. If I could have these both in my own kitchen, I would do a little dance.
- Comfy shoes are absolutely vital. I am a graphic designer who spends many hours a day on my butt in front of a computer screen. The transition from sitting all day to standing/running around all day has been a little daunting for my feet.
- It might be helpful, again depending on the kitchen) to brush up on your Spanish. I had read this in Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and it has rung true. The majority of the employees in my bakery speak Spanish as their first language. Even knowing the few words that I can remember from high school (caliente = hot, donde esta… = where is…) have been useful.
- You will likely come home smelling like food. Taste Tester does not shy away from telling me so. :-P Though I came home smelling like apple pie the other day with all the Thanksgiving orders… that wasn’t so bad.
I am unquestionably more exhausted at the end of a day at the bakery as opposed to the end of the day in front of the computer. But I’ve learned something new every day that I’ve spent in that kitchen and hope to get more chances in there soon.
In a little ironic twist, the bakery doesn’t actually produce any chocolate and peanut butter products! However they are currently working on developing chocolate peanut butter truffles which, obviously I am excited about!
I can think of many times that I’ve served a dessert and those who have tasted it quickly followed their first few bites with, “You HAVE to open your own bakery!” I am thankful this year for having the slightest glimmer of knowing what that would be like.