Chef Life #5 HOLIDAY SPECIAL

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Being my first summer in the kitchen, and knowing how crazy Christmas and New Year’s get at my place of work, I decided to keep a daily diary of our first proper week of busy-ness. The numbers for breakfast and lunch are how many items/dishes we put out. The lunch numbers look small in comparison but this is because we have an affiliated pizza place next door that people were also ordering from (while dining in the restaurant). Although I’m used to working this time of year, I do somewhat envy those who are able/forced to take it off. Would I willingly do it again? Absolutely. Will I though?? Only my head chef’s patience will tell…

26 December  – Breakfast 124 / Lunch 63

Despite the numbers, today didn’t feel as busy as I would have expected for it being a public holiday and not really knowing what I’m doing.

I wanted today to push me and I’m disappointed that it didn’t. But maybe I’m a hypocrite because whenever I DO feel my limits being pushed (every time the gas hob takes longer than two seconds to light) all I can think about is how I’d rather be doing anything but cheffing, even if that means my least favourite FOH job: running the till.

The most eventful thing that happened today was splashing myself with oil from the deep fryer. I snapped at a workmate when he asked how I did it for three reasons: I didn’t really know, but it was definitely my own fault, and I was slightly embarrassed.

Also my fault was night shift running out of fries less than halfway through the afternoon. The error was conveyed to me at home via a Facebook group chat titled “communication”. I’d say I left the chat without saying anything but that would only be a half truth because I actually started a separate chat with the head chef and gave him attitude and excuses while taking no responsibility for the situation whatsoever.

27 December – Breakfast 158 / Lunch 38

Holy crap a day off! Since I started at this particular workplace in 2012 I’ve worked straight through from Boxing Day until the second week of January so even having one day off during this period is a real treat. I spent almost the entire day on Reddit with a brief pause between 2.30 and 4 for a nap.

Story time: one year after a particularly prolonged holiday stretch (14+ days) I decided to revel in my first day off with an hour long full body massage and a dinner booking at Elephant Hill. I was awoken from an afternoon nap by my assistant manager who needed me to come in and cover because her mother had been in a car accident. I will never forget the very deep disappointment I felt during that post nap haze as I reluctantly cancelled my dinner booking and got dressed for work. This was not the first time I’d had to cover my assistant manager but at least the time before this it was funny because she’d eaten too many “sugar free” lollies and went home after too many trips to the bathroom. Her Mum was fine by the way.

28 December – Breakfast 127 / Lunch 50

Hot side. Shit.

I told my head chef before Christmas that I wasn’t ready to do hot side over the holiday period. Luckily he’s here to save me if all starts to crumble beneath me. Chance would be a fine thing. The bastard is sick, leaving me with a junior who has about my experience but 99% less common sense and our baker who has common sense in spades but not a whole lot of working knowlege about doing a kitchen shift. The boss gave us a beer between breakfast and lunch which served as both my breakfast and lunch which was amazing. Also the junior doesn’t drink beer so I drank his too. We also got to have a drink after service. I love not worrying about my manager’s certificate and drunk driving anymore. Oh yeah, the shift. No complaints (from me anyway).

29 December – Breakfast 156 / Lunch 35

Cold side. We were told today was busier than yesterday but it’s all starting to feel the same at this point. I thought that regardless of the numbers it would feel busier in the kitchen compared to past summers as FOH but in reality it feels the opposite.

My theory is that although you’re multitasking, cheffing is a single focus job, executed within a confined area. For the most part you cook one dish per person – one indirect interaction. FOH also requires multitasking, however your work space is larger so you’re traveling longer distances to complete your tasks. It’s also where ALL THE PEOPLE ARE. Not only are you interacting directly with the same people on multiple occasions but it’s not just diners – you have drinkers too. Although we can see out of our semi-open kitchen over the pass, I’ve walked through the restaurant many times and been surprised at how many people were actually there. We’re a little isolated/protected in the kitchen, and that’s why I think it might not feel as busy as it is.

Today one of our senior chefs asked how I was doing, to which my reply was positive. Despite feeling overwhelmed at times, I don’t feel overwhelmed overall. I am attributing this to another theory of mine that treating the holiday period like I’m on holiday with the rest of them will contribute to my sanity. I knew the hours would be crazy so I let myself take two weeks off from FEED and the gym. I’m eating and drinking as I please. I’m working like a bitch but I’m more than making up for it in my downtime.

30 December – Breakfast 142 / Lunch 58

Yesterday the head chef offered me or my hot side compadre the day off today. We very diplomatically decided to split it. Taking the afternoon portion might not have seemed like it was the wise choice but I was just excited for a sleep in.

It was VERY novel coming in for a lunch shift feeling fresh as hell after waking up late and eating Ferrero Rochers for breakfast (as opposed to feeling spent after a breakfast reaming).

While breakfast hot side and I overlapped for the midday changeover, I started putting things away and arranging the service fridge how I like it (things I need in front, back ups in the middle, breakfast at the back, duh). With complete and utter disregard for my well thought out system, a container of chorizo (a breakfast only item) was shoved in front of my kedgeree (a breakfast AND lunch item). I seethed internally until the chef left, after which I proceeded to seethe both verbally and animatedly.

31 December – Breakfast 136 / Lunch 41

I expected punters to be saving themselves and their cash but today was surprisingly busy for the day before the big night. My old bosses Annie and Olly from Trade Kitchen in Wellington came in for breakfast with their children and while I didn’t have enough time to do more than hug hello and flail my arms in surprise, their visit truly made my day. I was excited and maybe even a little bit proud that they got to see me in this new role. Appropriately they ordered dishes with heavy involvement from my section. I was so happy to see them that I shouted their breakfast. I mentioned Olly in Chef Life #1 as my inspiration for wanting to learn to cook and even in my management days I thought about them often – usually when being given a hard time from staff and remembering what they had to put up with from me. I wasn’t always the committed, loyal, industrious, diligent, and competent worker I present myself as today. For a long time I’ve wanted to treat them somehow for having to put up with me and today was my lucky day.

Other than that highlight it was just another service. I’m still butthurt about the chorizo but that’s barely worth noting because holding grudges is something I do on the daily, especially at work.

1 January – Breakfast 128 / Lunch 51

Another bustling yet surprisingly manageable shift. I only did 56 hours this week, which surprised me. If I hadn’t done that half day I would have cracked 60.* Overall, I feel that this week went as well as it could have. I always say that this time of year is like the weekend but every day. I haven’t done that many weekends in the short time I’ve been cheffing but it must have been enough to get me through without any major meltdowns or fuck ups.

*The small part of me that lamented this was slowly and painfully quashed over the next 140 hour fortnight.

EPILOGUE: Friday 15 January 3pm

NOW I feel overwhelmed.

I’m three hours from finishing a 12 hour shift. I’ve done 54 hours in the baking section this week. I have one day off and it’s tomorrow. I still have one more shift to go.

It’s not really the hours though, it’s having been so busy catering to a group of 70 (including two vegans, one gluten free, one gluten free vegetarian who won’t eat gluten free bread but will eat fish, and “several” vegetarians) this week that I’ve had almost no time to put anything interesting in the cabinet. When I do the baking I try to make something new each day. Some things are keepers, some aren’t. To not be able to do this was a real let down. Even though I knew I’d been busy, I still felt bad, like I could have tried harder, been smarter, worked faster, worked longer.

When I started managing this restaurant four years ago and was going through a difficult period I told myself I would never let this job get the better of me (in other words: never cry) and I’ve taken this attitude into the kitchen. With this in mind it’s hard to know what my psychological limits are work wise because I’ve never let myself tip over the edge, either in anger or anguish.

This afternoon though, I was close. Already battling with a soul crushing level of general discouragement, I presented a baking failure to the head chef to confirm it’s bin-worthiness. Before saying anything he told me I looked “downtrodden.”

“I am downtrodden!” I replied.

However, unlike the disgruntled nature in which I approach simple kitchen frustrations like gas hobs and coworkers messing with my set ups, this afternoon didn’t have me wishing to be somewhere else doing anything else – I just wished that I’d done a better job.

 

 

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