Welcome to my tales of cookery school, food and travel

The first 30+ posts of this blog describe my experiences as I complete a nine month cooking course - the City and Guilds Diploma in Food Preparation and Culinary Art. I did this after I moved out of full time employment and it was purely selfish - I love food, cooking, eating and drinking. Subsequent posts are about, food, travel and adventures.

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Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Weeks 33, 34, 35: Yes Chef!


And so we get to the sharp end of the course - three weeks of work experience which we must find and secure for ourselves.  I organise mine well in advance, last year in fact, and approach a chef whose food I really like.  Dave is the head chef at  Wither Hills Winery Restaurant just outside Blenheim.  The restaurant seats 60, plus another 40 outside on the terrace during lunch.  There are also several function rooms as well as an out-catering arm.  Working with Dave are two sous chefs,  two commis - no, that isn't a reflection of their political views, it simply means chef below the sous chef - and two kitchen hands making up a day and evening shift.  The restaurant is open every day for lunch and for dinner from Wednesday through Sunday.
Dave's food is modern European but classically based, featuring all those wonderful stocks, jus and sauces I talk about  in Week 3: Hot stock and several smokin’ sauces. It is worth repeating my opening paragraph from that blog to highlight the quality of the food.

Next time you dine in a good restaurant and order something delicious that comes with a really, really flavoursome sauce and you close your eyes and swoon at the heady aroma, savour the unctuous texture, and deliberate over the subtle but deeply delectable underlying seasoning, I want you to pause for a moment and remember this: 18 – 20 hours of labour went into preparing that sauce.

AND we serve Pomme Marquise (last seen in Week  31: The cruel hand of fate) with our Chicken Supreme!  
During my weeks of work experience I learn the true meaning of the words preparation and mise en place. You see, it turns out that working in a restaurant kitchen is, like many jobs, 90% routine (and potentially tedious): slicing, dicing, chopping, kneading, rolling, baking, searing, simmering, and 10% adrenaline infused action, also known as service.  The routine of preparation means that unless you are changing your menu every day (impractical) you are preparing and cooking and serving the same thing every day. The only variation is in the quantity. 


I am lucky in that three weeks of food preparation gives me lots of variety as I work some lunch shifts, some dinner shifts and an out-catering function for 130.  I get to prepare part or some of most things on the menus so it is interesting and enjoyable.  However it is also an enlightening experience as it confirms my thought that I am unlikely to work full time as a chef.  I had thought it was the hours and the tiring nature of it that I wouldn't want, but actually it is the repetitive nature of the work that would do me in. 
As is often the case in work places, someone asks if this is pay week. To shock and awe I state that in the past year I haven't earned a single dollar.  Niki, the commis says she  worked all though her training, doing her work experience when very pregnant.  She is a little mollified when I reply that I worked for the 38 years prior to starting the course.  When the entry level hourly rate for chefs is about $15 or $16  I feel it wise not to mention my charge out rate was about 20 times that -  I hasten to add that wasn't my wage. 


But this does set me thinking.  Cooking and serving good and delicious food makes people happy, both the cook and the consumer.  I don't think I can say that any other work I have done has made people happy in the same way.  Solved their problems, yes. Satisfied or pleased them, yes.  Met a need, yes.  But it is hard to believe anything I did actually made a someone happy in the genuine sense of the word.  Or is it not the purpose of business to make people happy.  Answers on a postcard, please, before I get too introspective.

Back at school in a couple of weeks' time, for the last week of theory/revision.  I will be able to bring you up to date on the antics of my classmates and their various experiences at work.  I hear there is an update on Jiggly whom I last mention about week 27, though he was still with us for another couple of weeks before the inevitable slide.


In the meantime it is(was) Easter and as we have the Designers to stay for the weekend, I make Hot Cross Buns - not the Kenyan kind, see Week 16: Sure to rise - and Easter Biscuits.