To say that the kitchen at the Farmhouse needed some work might be an understatement. It was old and outdated. It was poorly laid out. The pipes in the refrigeration units leaked. The ceiling leaked in some places when it rained. The bathrooms were the sort you might see in summer camp or at a rest area. The ovens were impossible with their missing shelves and their unpredictable temperatures. There weren't always the appropriate tools for measuring and mixing. Equipment just sort of disappeared sometimes only to turn up later in some random unexplained location.
The kitchen was also quite hazardous. The floor could be notoriously slippery if oil or water spilled on it. There was an odd pipe with some kind of lever on it where I worked on my bread and I'd whacked my ankle on it more than once. There was a hill in the floor of the kitchen halfway between the walk-in refrigeration and the line. Yes, a hill. Or rather an incline. Originally the Farmhouse had been two storefronts that eventually merged together. Apparently, they were on two different levels of ground and no one bothered to even it out when they brought the two together. Regardless, any employee that made their way from one side of the kitchen to the other had to make a mental note to pay attention to the floor, or risk making a face plant onto whatever hot food or pans they were carrying.
One Friday evening after working at the Farmhouse for two months, I arrived and made my way back toward the kitchen as usual. Louie caught up with me half way.
"I wanted to see your reaction to things."
As he said this, I paused to take a closer look around me. One wall of the kitchen had been completely removed. Fresh paint had been applied. The bathrooms had been renovated. Everything was moved around to different locations. I felt my stomach sink. I had just gotten comfortable with the set up and figured out where everything was!
"What do you think?" I could tell he was eagerly awaiting my approval.
I hid my selfish dismay, "It looks great!" I assured him. And it really did. It felt so much more open and light.
As I started to prep my station, Louie informed me that the cafe had been closed for several days while the updates were being made. Most of the staff had come in to help through the entire process; painting, cleaning, demolition, you name it. I was sad to know that I hadn't been included in the project, hadn't been there to share the experience with the rest of the staff. Would they judge me for it? I wanted so desperately to be a member of the team.
Another nice addition to the kitchen was a set of large bins on wheels that had been filled with rice, sugar and a variety of flour. Before this bin system, many of the open flour bags had been poured into large tubs that had previously held things like pickles and peanut butter. Definitely an improvement.
My first concern of the night was that my oven mitts were missing. I had gotten tired of burning my arms on the scorching hot oven walls when rotating and moving the bread pans with thin dishtowels, so I had gone out and bought a pair of really nice, silicone, hot pink oven mitts. Yes, I looked like a complete dork with them on, but I had not been burned since. Fashion wasn't always everything! I was desperate to find those gloves. I asked one of the prep cooks, but he was in a hurry and didn't have time to help me. Then I approached Javier. He immediately went back to his locker and pulled them out for me. I could have kissed him I was so relieved and grateful. He had cared enough to move them out of the way of the construction and paint and general disarray. I'm sure he had no idea how much that meant to me. Silly girl with her hot pink gloves.
Armed with my mitts and a whole new confidence, I went back to work on my batch of whole wheat bread. As I loaded it into the mixer, I noticed that the consistency of the dough was drastically different than usual. It was much stickier and darker in color. It wasn't becoming smooth or elastic in the mixer no matter how long I left it there. Something was not right. I ran to the back office to find Louie.
"What kind of flour was in those bins? My bread dough is completely different tonight. It's really sticky."
"I loaded the all purpose myself. I'm pretty sure the other one should be wheat. Can you just add more flour to the dough?"
I shook my head inwardly. Pretty sure it was whole wheat flour? And was he so sure he didn't pour rice flour in instead of all purpose? Also, why on earth wouldn't they have labeled the bins? Who pours random flour into a bin and doesn't label?
I sullenly went back to the kitchen and tasted the 'all purpose' flour to stem my worries. Blech. I was no expert on tasting plain flour, but I was pretty sure I would know if it was rice. This seemed like good old AP to me. I decided to make my usual two batches and wait it out. Maybe I would get lucky and it would all turn out. I could dream, couldn't I?
But I should have known better than to be an optimist in that kitchen. When I shaped the loaves, they were dense and heavy and the dough didn't roll out like it usually did. As it proofed in its pans, it started to split down the middle of each loaf. It didn't rise a whole lot during the second proofing.
When I pulled it out of the oven, the loaves were like dense little bricks. I almost cried. I had baked a double batch of bricks. Louie showed up as I was setting them aside.
"I'm pretty sure it was rye flour that was in that bin," I informed him.
"Oh no, really? That's awful. Do you think you could make a couple more batches of regular wheat? We're gonna need it for the weekend rush."
At that point, it was already getting pretty late. I didn't want to be there until the wee hours of the morning, so I agreed to come back the next day and try it all over again. Hoping to save a little time, I made another batch of dough before I left and put it in the walk-in. Louie promised to take it out a couple hours before I showed up, so it would be ready to put into loaves when I got to work. I tried to reassure myself. Yes, I was giving up more of my weekend, but it would only be a couple more hours tomorrow. I could get there early and be home in time for dinner with my husband. It was the perfect plan.
But what was it that they always said about best laid plans?