Sunday, June 22, 2008

Calm before the storm

It's a relaxing Sunday, lounging in bed with the Macbook on my lap, yet the butterflies in my stomach have me thinking about exactly how hectic my life is about to become.

Sunday morning disheveled attire with my monkey, Mocha

This week may be one of the most challenging weeks of my life yet, no exaggeration; probably on par with the last week of my senior year of college before my comprehensive finals were due and I was pulling out my hair (and crying a lot) trying to get my B.A.

But that was seven years ago, and a lot has changed since then. For one, I don't feel that impending dread of "I just want to get this over with." In fact, I am so excited about this coming week, I've been blathering like a nutcase to anyone who will listen about my new job I haven't even officially started yet. There are probably very few people in the world who are as excited as myself to be a pantry/prep cook, but then again, very few people make it into the kitchen of "a top-tier professional restaurant" (the executive chef's words) with no professional kitchen experience whatsoever. Really, it's kind of a miracle, and I'm still stunned.

Credit, however, should be given where credit is due: I know I wouldn't have been able to achieve this without my chef instructors' guidance and genius at culinary school. Exercises that seemed trivial at the time, such as equipment identification tests and knowing how to cut a fine brunoise (1/16" cubed), served me so well during my stage, that I felt great not having to ask someone what a nine-pan was or the dimensions of a julienne or how to cut an orange into supremes. All the training we had on proper seasoning seemed to help me the most: Too often, beginner cooks are afraid of salt, for fear of making something taste salty, but when properly applied, salt only serves to enhance the existing flavors.

This little miracle has resulted in what will be 40+ hour work weeks at the restaurant, on top of what is already 25 to 30 hours at school, five days a week, and possibly weekends at work. Basically I'll be doing 14 to 15 hour days, mostly on my feet, involving repetitive and strenuous labor (and LOTS of cleaning).

Who would be nuts enough to do this, much less look forward to it? Only us crazies who love creating something extraordinarily delicious, who revel in gently manipulating the freshest of ingredients, who crave honing their methods and skills, who happily turn up the speed when orders are flying at us, and who get off on making a patron's night with an excellent meal. It's the ultimate in instant gratification.

But let's not get too romantically carried away. The exec chef made it clear that I'm getting myself into something really big, and I have very large shoes to fill (again, his words). Not to mention I am the first woman to be hired in this kitchen of foul-mouthed, testosterone-driven men, as most cooks tend to be. The night of my stage, I kept getting disclaimers from the chefs about the fact that their kitchen has been all-guys for a long time, and they hope I don't have delicate ears. Ha! My reply to their disclaimers: "Sounds like there's far too much man-love up in here. You need a girl around these parts."

I admit that being the only female to be hired in that kitchen makes me more proud of myself. Yet the chef has said, "Just so you know, I'm not going to take it easy on you because you're female," and I would expect no less.

I don't fool myself into thinking I'll be perfect at this job from the get-go, and I know I'll have many tough days where things don't work out as I planned. But I've never been more excited to step into new and unexplored territory. I have a lot to learn, A LOT, and it's a matter of keeping up the energy and enthusiasm I had the night of my stage.

Oh, did I mention I have a comprehensive test at school tomorrow, midterms and a kitchen practical on Friday, plus the five-minute mirepoix drill showdown?

Here goes nothin'. Or everything.

p.s. - Anyone out there ever been in a similar situation? I could use some friendly coping tips (especially ones that don't involve drinking or general substance abuse). And thanks again, everyone, for the support. I have a feeling I'm gonna need it in these coming months.


Tonya said...

"Sounds like there's far too much man-love up in here. You need a girl around these parts."

*dies laughing* Spoken like a seasoned pro. Somehow I knew you'd be able to handle yourself just fine with all that testosterone. Lol. Atta girl!

Tonya said...

P.S. I can't wait until they give you a kitchen nickname. I bet it'll be a good one...

Ingrid said...

Hee hee :). I can dish it when I need to, and I have a feeling I'll need to A LOT. I'll keep you informed about the nicknaming!

Ruth said...

Yea, Ingrid! Talk about action...this is such a great opportunity and you deserve every single moment of it. Meanwhile, I'm looking into flights to Portland, this minute.

ml said...

wow school + full time at the restaraunt. be careful so you don't wear yourself out!!! but i know you can do it!

Brian said...

Can't wait to hear how your week is going.

Good luck!!