Chef Life #6 Give Me Compliments

feed hb chef life pies

The quote, “work hard in silence, let your success be your noise” has been popping up in my head a lot lately. But it hasn’t stuck with me because I believe in the sentiment. You can’t trust anyone else to give you the credit you deserve, nor can you absolutely guarantee your success due to multiple factors; unexpected/undesirable life events, natural disasters, and personal shortcomings being some of them.

Taking and receiving credit is one of the (many) core difficulties I have with working in a kitchen.

I LOVE compliments. Tell me how good you think I am as much as you like and I’ll soak it up like a dry sponge. However, this is dependent on how worthy I believe myself to be of the compliment.

Due to the nature of the commercial kitchen, no single person is responsible for everything on one plate. You could have one (or more) chefs working on each component of a dish, whether it’s roasting vegetables, trimming meat, or simply preparing garnishes like picked herbs or chopped nuts.

This team effort arrangement makes single focus positive feedback like “compliments to the chef” difficult to process. “Compliments to the kitchen”, “well done team”, or “good job not fucking it up” are all acceptable alternatives.

Recently one of our restaurant owners commended me on a slow cooked beef and cheese pie I’d made for the cabinet. I didn’t cook the beef filling, I certainly didn’t make the puff pastry, and I might not have even made my own egg wash. On a conceptual level, it’s not an original idea, and it wasn’t initiated by myself either. COMPLIMENT DENIED.

On the occasions where credit has been given from a customer, my immediate thought is: I’m just the assembler. A cog in a machine. A worker on a factory line. An unfeeling, apathetic, joyless husk in a chef’s jacket that I don’t deserve to wear.*

It’s great to have a system so good that I can count on one chef to break down and marinate four pork shoulders, another to put it in the oven the next night, someone else to take it out the next morning, yet another chef to reduce the juices, a kitchenhand to portion the cooked meat, and finally one more chef to heat the pork and squirt gochujang on it before I (or maybe even they) place the meat on a plate containing a coconut sauce which I may or may not have made (but I definitely heat up), and then garnish with a slaw which I may or may not have prepared.

But if praise is being thrown around on the back of that dish and the combined forces of up to six other people I can’t take any of it. 

As far as credit for the job itself is concerned, you can forget about that.

Cheffing is HARD. You’re not paid well in relation to the cost of your training (if you decided to go to school and pay the same, if not more tuition per year as a law, science, or architecture student (yes these things take longer to study but while they’re doing so, many of these students are being trained as chefs on the side and earning money for it). You’re not paid well in relation to what I would consider a similar trade. Your hours are unsociable and long. You get breaks if you’re lucky. You get fed if you feed yourself, usually crouched next to your service fridge with a view of the rubbish bin. You’re stuck in a room of variable size, uncomfortable temperature, on your feet, using dangerous tools and equipment.

But you go into this field knowing all of the above. May a higher power (your head chef) help you if you don’t! There’s no thanks for doing your job and all of the above conditions are just that – a chef’s job. So you’d better work hard in silence because rarely will anyone pander to your needy ass by telling you how well you’re doing.

Now regarding my success being my noise…

My one year cheffing anniversary came and went without much fanfare other than my own (see above). Twelve months in the kitchen was what I set out to do originally, and while I’m relieved that I achieved that, it didn’t feel like much of an accomplishment. 

There were times when I desperately wanted to quit, wondering if I would really care if I didn’t hit that target. These times were mostly during the tenth hour of a shift, after seven and a half hours of service, trying to finish the prep list before the next relentless groundhog day. Honourable mentions go out to faulty equipment, covering absent staff, never enough beer, and wondering why the fuck I volunteered to do this in the first place.

The point of training in the kitchen was to give me a well rounded experience of how a restaurant operates in case I ever want to start my own. I was also ready for a change of scenery (BOY DID I GET IT), a challenge (THAT TOO), and to learn something new.

Based on those criteria, I achieved everything I wanted to in the first three months. But the other point of entering the kitchen was to document it. To put into words my personal struggles and highlights, and that of the people I’ve worked alongside for so long but never truly been able to empathise with. While I’ve stepped into someone else’s chef’s crocs (not literally because I don’t like a loose shoe, I HATE scuffing, and eww), I haven’t said much about life inside them.

This isn’t for lack of ideas – I have heaps of them, and opinions to go with.

At the end of July I am leaving my current work place and most likely, kitchens, for good. Between now and then (“then” being an eventual piece about why I’m not cut out for cheffing titled “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”), I’m hoping to work on my list of Chef Life topics while I work out my last month at this restaurant, and while I’m travelling in Asia and attempting to learn my mother tongue (follow me on Instagram, etc etc). What I’m hoping from you is that you’ll maintain interest in what I have to say, and that my year and two months in the kitchen (in addition to ten plus years in the industry) is enough time to give me the experience and authority that I wanted to be able to write about the life of a chef from a credible perspective. Because above all else, this was my main goal.

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*For the record this comment is half hyperbole, half truth.**

**For the record that footnote is all hyperbole.***

***For the record these footnotes are designed to confuse you into not knowing whether I was being genuine or facetious in my original comment.****

***For the record, whether I am joyless or apathetic or a husk or not, I am 100% absolutely: an asshole



chef life feedhb

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.



Chef Life #4

chef life at milk & honey

In the early days I distinctly recall telling one of my ex-coworkers (who now revels in the joy of an air conditioned, Monday to Friday office job) that cheffing was a “piece of piss mate!”

Her response?

“It’s not summer yet!”

My personality demands that I excel in one particular area – acknowledging when I am wrong.* AND BOY WAS I WRONG ABOUT THE PIECE OF PISS PART.

From Boxing Day until the second week of January, the restaurant I work at goes MENTAL. It’s like a slammin’ weekend day except it’s every. Single. Day. While not quite as mad, the rest of January up until the end of March is an extension of this two week period.

As the holiday season approaches, we are consistently getting busier. Two weeks ago I worked hot side with another junior and between us we served 70 people for breakfast. On a Wednesday. Weekend breakfasts can average anywhere between 70 – 100 even in winter. Last Saturday we did 120. With three of us thank FUCK but even that was hard.

This particular busy Wednesday, after a decent (in other words, challenging for someone who’s always undercooking her steaks and who’s mother agreed when told “sorry, your fish could have been better”) start to lunch service and while explaining to my coworker why I needed him to STFU, I realised exactly what is making this job so difficult for me right now.

This is not my second nature.

I’m still a complete and utter rookie. 

And as much as I love banter and inane conversation (my convos are basically nothing but), I CAN’T FUCKING CONCENTRATE WHEN YOU’RE TALKING AT ME BOY!

I got very comfortable very quickly in the realm of toast and salads, at a pace that was conducive to knowing what the fuck I was doing. I somewhat managed to gain control over more than four dockets at a time, and as I grew used to the cold side – and admittedly bored – I felt very much ready for the summer ahead. 

Coming back from almost two months off work (to temporarily live the dream in Japan with a week either side), I went straight back to hot side, for at least half of my weekly shifts.

Hot side at breakfast consists mostly of eggs with a bit of putting sides in the oven (another job I prematurely branded as being “easy”). At lunch we pan fry fish, grill steaks, and make stuff in a wok more or less.

I don’t recall feeling this bewildered and overwhelmed when I first started on cold side – even when it was busy – but on hot, it feels like I’m back where I started except worse. Once the orders stack up, it takes an immense level of concentration that I’ve never had to apply to anything I’ve done in my life. Ever.

When a waiter tells me my Mum’s in, I can only bark back, “cool!” I definitely don’t have the spare energy to make small talk with or be remotely friendly to delivery people. If I’m asked a question by anyone – waiters, other chefs, THE chef – it’s extremely difficult to muster a response, let alone a correct or relevant one.

Because if draw my attention elsewhere, and away from the house of cards that is the five plus dockets I have on order (please imagine the cards are actually made of till roll for an accurate representation of how delicate a grasp I have on mentally and physically coordinating multiple orders at once), the entire structure will come falling to the grease lined floor. Much like I feel like doing when there’s another two and a half hours to go on top of an eight hour shift because it was too hectic to think about your prep list and even if you had the luxury of a third chef they were too busy helping out during service to get everything done.

I thought this problem was reserved for my hot side shifts until we did that 120 for breakfast last week. I was on cold side – plating mueslis, slicing fruit, binning shitty avocados while cursing, making toast, the usual. Our head chef stepped in to help (coming in on his day off to cover a no show – that’s real #cheflife for you) but even the help was overwhelming.

“What do you need?”

I honestly don’t know. What is he doing? What am I doing?? I’m spinning in literal circles trying to figure out what’s going on and why I decided to do this, that’s what.

When orders are coming in steadily but at a pace we can handle, hot side and cold communicate timings in order to have tables come up at the same time with individually prepared and team effort items. But when it’s mother fucking balls to the wall busy, it feels I’m in a rip drifting out to sea and hot side is dragging me sideways, trying their best to get us both out of this mess, except I’m a shit swimmer and I’m swallowing water and I’m definitely probably doing to die from secondary drowning

Really though, the overwhelming part is keeping track of your dishes/toast, what you have and haven’t done/toasted, where you’re at with all the individual components/toasts, and looking down the line at what to start/toast next. That and operating more than one timer simultaneously. 

I went back over my past blogs to see if I’d already made a point similar to the above and it turns out I have. I might be better at managing dockets now but not by very much it seems. And the main challenge working in the kitchen is still coordinating multiple orders at once.

Our most demanding shifts at present are not even the most demanding shifts to come. Last pay cycle I did 88 hours over nine days – an average of about 9.75 hours per day. That’s almost 10. That’s with no sit down breaks (and no stand up ones either because I don’t smoke), without a proper meal (a cold poached egg downed in one bite – two if I’m taking my time – doesn’t count), and sometimes so little time to spare, that my usually VERY regularly scheduled bowel movement is postponed to later in the day, or worst of all, cancelled altogether.  

I don’t know at what point an inexperienced chef manages to rise above these difficulties – whether it’s time and therefore experience, increased training and therefore increased knowledge, or eventually you have an epiphany resulting in a higher level of kitchen functioning where nothing is a problem and despite being three coffees deep in as many hours into your shift you’re so zen you can’t feel your heart beating.

But until I reach that point, please think of me this summer – guessing which timer is going off for what, flashing my rare sirloin under the sally, still burning the fucking toast – and laugh, because after more than ten years working alongside chefs and adjacent to kitchens I’m a damn fool for not realising what I was getting into.

*Please note that acknowledgement is not the same thing as admitting. There’s a huge difference between a huff/grunt/sigh and actually SAYING “I was wrong.”

Image via my hilarious boss, taken after a busy breakfast during a long weekend. Originally and fittingly captioned “the breakfast section has some prep to catch up on.”

Chef Life #3

Hatch, Ahuriri, Napier

A couple of months ago I ran into one of our suppliers at work and after a friendly exchange about my move to the kitchen he asked, “do you miss the customer interaction?”

I still get asked on a regular basis which is better/harder/more enjoyable between kitchen and FOH and whenever I do I keep coming back to that customer interaction question. 

I didn’t think much of it at the time, but after much further consideration I’ve concluded that it’s probably been one of the biggest changes for me aside from the obvious shift in day to day activity. 

Dealing with any situation slightly out of the ordinary as a new waiter is extremely difficult as you don’t have the experience both in your job and at life to know what the best way to respond is. Customers tearing you a new asshole because they don’t like your Margaritas? Arrogant middle aged man four gin tonics and a bottle of pinot deep demanding you go to the dairy to buy him smokes? Someone doesn’t want an egg on their dish and is upset and offended when you ask if they have an allergy the kitchen should be aware of, as your training requires you to do? Fries are cold/steak is overdone/French toast is dry and often enough the customer does exactly what you’re not supposed to do: shoot the messenger.

Even as a semi-experienced waiter it’s hard to respond to these situations because you toe that fine line of knowing it’s your job to be polite and try to smooth things over as best you can while not feeling dead inside from all the ass licking you feel like you don’t get paid enough to do.

And further still, even as a manager when you’ve finally realised that you’re not licking ass, you’re basically a novice actor (but probably paid more), getting off on the fact that you can pander and smile while ultimately knowing that if someone’s going to be a cunt, more the fool them because you’ve done your best while NOT being a total shit head –   those situations are a straight up hassle. Especially if it results in the waiter (or you) (I definitely don’t mean me) crying out back.

In the kitchen you’re more akin to a cog in a machine than a cognitive being. If food gets sent back, you make it again or you make something different. If it’s busy you work faster. Or you don’t, or it’s so fucking busy that you can’t, and you run behind while FOH deals with hangry guests asking where their eggs on toast are.

Not a lot can happen in the work day that requires or elicits an emotional response. This isn’t to say the job doesn’t require brain power or that being a chef isn’t mentally taxing, but that particular level of personal impact that customer service has on you is completely removed from the lower ranks of the kitchen.

Fucking up in the kitchen is completely different to fucking up out front. As a chef you can put your head down and try harder next time. You can apologise to whoever’s in charge, and you might get told off by a senior, but in the context of a customer complaint, you will almost never have to face the complainant themselves.

As a waiter, whether or not a complaint was your fault personally, you have to deal with it personally, apologise personally, and take on whatever reaction the customer chooses to have – personally. Your manager might even be stressed enough about dealing with this complaint that they take it out on you too.

In my career as a waiter/manager, I was never trained to deal with the effect one or multiple negative reactions towards me would have during a given shift, or over many years. And to my own discredit as a manager, I never systematically trained anyone else to deal with this either. I didn’t realise how massive this aspect of working FOH was until I took some time out from that environment.

Now and then a guest will come to the pass, poke their head in and say thanks/good job/best *blah* ever. And it’s awesome! But never have I ever in my hospitality career seen a guest come up to the pass and criticise the chefs, or attack them for doing a shit job, and nor have I ever heard of it happening.

Disregarding entirely the multitude of reasons for negative customer interactions, this facet of the customer service experience is reserved for FOH only, and is one quite big reason that I am glad to be done with it for the time being. Because from the top to bottom of the FOH hierarchy everyone is exposed. No one is safe, shielded, or sheltered from impatience, disrespect, lack of reason, intoxication, or sheer rudeness. You might encounter these things in the kitchen – but you’re not expected to smile at the person responsible afterwards.

TL;DR I was asked if I missed interacting with customers and I answered politely yet truthfully while also omitting a resounding FUCK NO.

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Image credit to this local photographer at the opening of Hatch last December. Cheers Bruce!

Chef Life #2

So it’s been a month in the kitchen and I really though I’d have more to write about by now. For once, my laziness is only partly to blame for a lack of content – mostly it’s the fact that days spent making and buttering toast, assembling salads, and deep frying don’t make for entertaining reading.

For clarity’s sake, I don’t work in a shit hole like the above responsibilities make it sound. The restaurant is a popular, long standing local business, with a creative and interesting menu. It just happens that at breakfast, most people want eggs on toast and from 12pm onwards every fucker out there wants a bowl of fries.

This is probably the reason I’m working cold side during the day and not at night. I don’t know what cold side does at dinner and I am nowhere near qualified or trained to touch hot side even at breakfast. In the comfort of my own kitchen with only one person to judge my failures I can’t poach an egg let alone cook a steak medium-rare.

That said, almost anyone can throw bread in a toaster, slap batter into a waffle iron, cook oats (my demi-boss would disagree), dress leaves, and gingerly place halloumi on the flat grill so as not to burn themselves when it spits.

It’s the co-ordinating all of the above and more that’s the challenge. Being able to multitask in one context does NOT make you an automatic ace in others. As a waitress/manager I can run a busy section while maintaining a close eye on what’s happening in the other areas of the restaurant, including bar and kitchen. I can do this with my eyes closed. But I definitely don’t manage my time well in my personal life. And keeping my head above water when I’m only five dockets deep can be hard. At lunch time in any case.

During breakfast I am in charge of bread/toast (french toast included), waffles, certain sides that don’t need the oven or stovetop, anything with the word muesli or fruit in it, and oats. Breakfast is simple. On my side of the kitchen breakfast is almost all about the prep. Toast is surprisingly demanding to keep up with when busy but the logistics of body and mind are straightforward.

Lunch however, apart from bowls upon bowls of fries, consists mainly of putting salads together. Of course this is prep based too, but there are many components to each salad (the most using 11 different ingredients – if I haven’t forgotten any). All of them require at least one cooked element, and all of them include fresh herbs chopped to order. Chopping, mixing, frying, plating, dressing, nutting – these are all tasks that require many small movements and thus, much physical and mental coordination. I’m now at the point where I’m not forgetting to put key elements in salads… as much as I was before. And I’m tweaking my set up every day to work more efficiently. But it’s a process, and you can’t be taught how best to set your section up for yourself. You just gotta work that shit out as you go.

As well as service, there are other jobs that need doing throughout the day. Making sandwiches for the cabinet, hoping your head chef doesn’t shame you online when he doesn’t like your fillings, completing jobs on the prep list, leafing through the recipe folder multiple times, not finding what you need and having to wing it with someone else’s help (next blog: Consistency Is Key Except When It Isn’t), function catering (read: more sandwiches), and switching playlists on Spotify when we get sick of Rihanna and feel like throwing back to the early 2000s (KIDDING – I am never sick of Rihanna).

These jobs are done in between and during active service. If they’re not all finished before the end of lunch? Tough luck mother fucker – you just gon’ stay until they’re done, and no-one gives a shit if it takes you 90 minutes to make a batch of falafel while you’re crying on the inside. And the outside. Because onions.

When I first started in the kitchen everyone was asking how I was finding it, and people still are. I don’t really know what my answer to that is though. On the one hand it’s easy. In and of themselves, my duties are relatively straightforward. On the other hand, I finally  understand why it can take so…



…for a bread and fries docket to go out. Or why an easy breakfast order like fruit, bircher and oatmeal can take 20 minutes on a quiet morning. Because if you’re not looking ahead and managing your time with the utmost of efficiency ALWAYS, by the time you see the docket the people who think they’re ordering a quick little breakky have already been waiting 5, 10, 15 minutes and the new girl keeps fucking up their oatmeal.

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Chef Life #1

I’ve been in hospo since I was 14 years old, working for $4.50 an hour cash on weekends. Eventually I was offered a promotion to night shifts at $8 an hour – exciting shit for money hungry school kid in 2003.

As a teenager I spent my Friday and Saturday evenings waiting on tables, a foreshadow of what most of my adult life would entail.

I ragequit that job when at 16 my employers wouldn’t let me be the weekend maitre d because I was “too young”. I thought I was more than capable. I wrote my bosses an angry letter, and despite them being lovely enough to call to my mother to say they understood why I was upset and they would love to have me back, I felt scorned and was stubborn a little asshole.

I left high school early to work full time, mostly so I could leave home because I was and still am fiercely independent and/or a touch overconfident. Since then my only breaks from the industry have been for small but frequent bouts of travel, a journalism diploma, and a brief stint of unemployment.

The journalism diploma (which I never ended up using unless you count 2 – 3 blogs, all failing due to lack of interest both from readers and myself) had me move to Wellington, where I worked on and off in various capacities at a restaurant called Trade Kitchen. The owner/boss, Olly Edwards, was an inspiration. His background was predominantly cheffing however at TK he was front of house, and he was damn good at it. I admired that he was able to assume the role of head chef when needed, but was a professional, charming, intelligent leader of the floor team. I decided that if I was ever to open my own restaurant, I would need to train in the kitchen so I could be called upon to do anything the business needed and to be able to direct kitchen staff with first hand experience behind me.

In late 2011 I moved back to my hometown of Napier, and after a couple of shitty jobs I found myself working my way up the ladder quite quickly at a popular local restaurant. I had been thinking about doing a chef’s course but my job had momentum and I was learning so much that I decided to stick with it and forget study for the time being.

Four years later, still at the same restaurant, and after 10+ years as a waiter and manager, I’m ready for a change. Owning a restaurant isn’t in my sights right now but I’ve started this FEED lark, and what better source of material than a fish out of water slicing her fingers, crying over onions, and burning herself on the oven?

I am lucky to work with a head chef in the form of Hayden Esau, also a member of team FEED, who is game/dumb enough to let me in his kitchen for the purposes of a blog. I am also lucky that my bosses were happy to go along with the ride.

This week is my last as a restaurant manager and though I am under no illusions that these will be my final shifts as a waiter, I will be celebrating this change with enthusiasm, alcohol, and a blatant disregard for my impending pay cut.

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