But just about everything I’m seeing wants at least a year of experience and/or a culinary school background. I have neither. When I was in high school, I had a summer job at a small cafeteria for university students participating in a summer work study program at a biology research station. It was thrilling to me, even though my main job title was dishwasher. The head cook quickly realized that I was good for more than just scrubbing dried egg out of pans and started me on other prep work. I was put in charge of the salad bar and shortly thereafter, desserts. I got to make giant batches of cookies and huge sheet cakes. I even helped out with bread from time to time. I learned about the joys of Pink Floyd, heard my first Tom Waits album and talked politics with the other cook on duty. I loved that job. How many people can say that about a minimum wage high school gig?
Unfortunately, a few months of work in high school over 10 years ago don’t seem to be cutting it with my job search. I knew I could do the work; I just needed someone to take a chance on me. Then I happened upon a random job posting that I almost passed by. Bread baker. According to my husband, it’s at a café run by hippies. But he calls anyone that recycles and composts a hippy – that’s pretty much everyone these days! The place has been around for ages and is known for good homey food. It’s where I had sweet potato fries for the first time and buffalo is a common item on the menu - something I’ve missed since I moved to the Midwest from Montana. I immediately send them my info. A couple long days go by and I get a callback! Hallelujah, I’m halfway there. I chat with the head chef about my expectations – I want to ease into this. I’m not giving up my full time job just yet. He’s totally cool with it and is willing to be flexible. We schedule an interview for the following week.
Suddenly it hits me, I might just do this! I feel like I’ve had 15 cups of coffee in five minutes. I’m bouncing off the walls with excitement and planning out my work schedule, seeing myself quit my job two months down the road. But I can’t get ahead of myself. One step at a time. And I have no idea what to expect from this interview. Will I have to bake him something? Is he going to quiz me on gluten development and leaveners? Baking bread is something I truly love, but I really know nothing about the science behind it. Crap.
Interview day comes and I decide I’ll just wing it. I’m surprised that I’m not as nervous as I thought I would be. I’ve had interviews for other web dev jobs and I’ve sweated profusely, stuttered and lost my ability to speak logical sentences. I feel none of that now. The minute I enter the café, I feel like I’m back in the cafeteria in high school. It smells the same.
Chef Louie comes out in his whites and apologizes for his appearance. He’s been frying bacon, ripped his pants on some equipment earlier and seems to be dusted in flour. Brilliant. We take a seat at the bar and he tells me a little about himself and the café.
“Have you ever been on one of those dates where the chemistry just wasn’t there? But you were nice enough to sit it out?”
“Of course, haven’t we all?”
“Well, we came to the Farmhouse for breakfast, and I thought to myself, at least I’ll have a good meal. Then the food came and there was a hair in it. This place needed a lot of work when I started – it still does. I want to look back a year from now and think, remember when? We survived that. So here’s an example; when I started, the servers were making the salads. They’d go out back, smoke a cigarette, come back and make a salad without washing their hands. I have the cooks making the salads now and they don’t smell like Marlboroughs anymore.” He was almost beaming with pride.
Louie ends up doing most of the talking and I love his philosophy. He’s got loads of first-class experience, but he’s working here. He likes what the café stands for and he just wants to make good food and have fun doing it. I’m in awe. Through my haze of admiration, I manage to mumble about my passion and confidence in my abilities. Somehow I make it through this round and onto the next. He invites me to come back over the weekend and bake him some bread.
It’s funny, I don’t even have to think about what I will bake. The answer is just there. It will be Swedish Limpa bread.