Rolling Pin and Flour

Rolling Pin and Flour

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The lonely hearts club

When Pam started as the head chef at the Farmhouse, she promised big things; more organized storage, better food, a cleaner kitchen and best of all, a new prep kitchen with new ovens.  When I heard all of this, I couldn't help but think, "Yeah, we'll see about that."  I've seen people start things with the best of intentions, only to be met with the cruel reality of it all.  Change is not easy - especially in an establishment like the Farmhouse. But over the course of several weeks, I watched as the back of the restaurant was gutted and baking as I knew it was thrown into complete disarray.  

First, everything that was in the dry storage area was moved into the corridor between the front of the restaurant and the back offices.  This included freezers, shelving, food, cookware, buckets, old newspapers, toilets and such, until there was a narrow little path between giant piles of precarious stuff.  At night the space was very poorly lit, which made searching for things even more frustrating than it already was.  I feared that the bases of the springform pans were lost and gone forever.

Next, all of the food in the giant walk-in refrigerator was moved into the tiny walk-in at the front of the restaurant.  It was so full, you couldn't even get to the back shelf without moving and stacking boxes, crates or buckets.  It was like a game of Jenga with much less stable blocks.  Once the big walk-in was cleared out, it was leveled, the debris removed (after sitting in a pile on the floor for nearly a week), and finally, a new walk-in freezer and refrigerator were erected.  Progress?

Little by little things changed.  A sink was installed in back, then the new ovens were delivered.  And then one night I walked in to find all of my baking equipment gone from the main kitchen.

Jesse, one of the new line cooks greeted me, "Hey, we just got all of your stuff moved back to the prep kitchen today."

I should have been thrilled.  There would be more space for me to work.  No more fighting for a few inches of counter space.  No more working with the ovens at the feet of the cooks on the line.  No more blazing hot, fire of hell oven.  No more oven that barely heated enough to melt a stick of butter.  No more listening to the terrible open mic performances or the Spanish radio station.  But instead of being overjoyed, I felt like a sad, wet blanket.  It felt like I was being banished.  As insane as it was, I had really loved working in that kitchen.  It was my dysfunctional home and I had made it work.  

Since there were no other prep cooks working that night, I was completely on my own in the new kitchen space.  It was quiet, dimly lit, and still completely disorganized.  The dishwasher didn't know where to take things yet, so most of my baking tools ended up at the front kitchen again.  I had to make numerous trips back and forth.  I was missing an open flame for boiling water for my cheesecake's water bath and I couldn't boil down the syrup for the apple pie unless I wanted to make the trip through the labyrinth of the back of the restaurant (where random people popped out of doors every now and then) with boiling hot liquid in a scalding hot pan.  And I couldn't figure out the ovens.  Since they were convection, they were highly more efficient than what I was used to.  I couldn't get the temperature right - everything was cooking way too fast.  My cheesecake browned in a matter of minutes.  My apple pie crust browned, but the filling didn't bubble.  I had no idea if my final products were going to be cooked through or raw in the middle.

There seemed to be one bright spot in the new space - I could listen to whatever music I wanted to.  I had spent countless nights next to a boombox playing a radio station that repeated the same ten Spanish songs over and over again.  I didn't know what they were singing about, but I sure as heck had the words memorized.  So many nights I went home with a song stuck in my head in a language I didn't comprehend.  Tonight would be different!  I pulled up my Pandora account excited to listen to my choice of tunes.  But every artist I chose gave me a mix of utterly dark and depressing music. 

I languished.  I felt displaced and alone.  I missed being in the warm, brightly lit kitchen with my co-workers. I missed hearing the commotion of the dining room and the sizzle of food on the line.  I missed the chatter of the servers and the jingle of the dishwasher.  All of the things that had felt like sensory overload when I first started at the cafe had become second nature for me.   The silence of this new kitchen was more than I could take.   I also missed getting fed at the end of my shift that night.  I had been forgotten. I couldn't wait to get out of there.

That weekend, I found myself dwelling on my new working space.  Wasn't the whole point of me getting a job in a kitchen to actually spend time in one?  Observing and experiencing and interacting?  In this new prep kitchen, all I could observe and experience was myself, my desserts and my shortcomings.  And that terrified me a little.  I could take Pam's judgement or anyone else's for that matter, but my own?  Four to five hours alone with my fears and doubts and criticisms might be more than I could handle.  It was ironic.  After everything I'd been through in that restaurant; the dysfunctional ovens, the missing and inadequate equipment, the endless renovations and reorganizations, the changes in chefs, the changes in job duties, could this really be the last straw? So I made up my mind.  I would give it one more chance.  If I left feeling lonely and dejected again, I would call it quits. But if I survived this lonely prep kitchen and my inner critic, then there would be no stopping me.

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