A Baker's Life: The Beginnings
Sorry I've been missing for a couple days. I've been wanting to write this posting for several weeks now but have been too exhausted. From doing what you ask? Well, for those of you who don't know me, I've been toying with the idea of going into culinary arts - professionally, for quite some time. Writing and doing video cooking segments are still my love, but I think it was definitely time to graduate from more of the home cook connoisseur to the professionals.
Now, I know there are a ton of people like me who are thinking about this jump and I just thought I would go ahead and document my journey with you every now and then. In the "A Baker's Life" series, I'll include daily tips and tricks I'm learning as a professional/commercial baker and also include full experiences - like how tired one can get after standing up for 9 hours straight and really give you that full insight into being a professional cook (when you're coming from more of that office setting).
One of my first tasks: Rolling out 1,500 mini cookies
Freeze them first and then box them up
Things I've Learned After Day 1
1.Cooks/Bakers/Chefs...they don't really get lunches or breaks. What I mean is, coming from more of the corporate setting, I remember HR talking about how it is necessary to provide a half hour for lunch, two 15 minute breaks per 8 hour work day, etc. etc. Now whether you chose to take that break or had time to was another story. But in the kitchen, and I'm serious when I say this, there are no set breaks. I mean, I guess you can grab a piece of biscuit that broke while you were lifting it from the tray, and your boss does let you have a free bowl of soup and what not, but "lunch" is something where when you finally get a free moment, you ask the chef whether you can go and grab a bowl of soup for like 5 minutes - really. Now what is fair is that if you are hourly, like how most cooks start off, you don't get lunch deducted from your pay - which will lead to my next point.
2.I guess this is not necessarily something I learned, but something I've realized and am constantly stressed out over. I'm talking about the pay. If you look at sites online, most will tell you that cooks starting off start at around $10/hour and I mean, you do work your way up, but the pay really never gets that high. And so if you come from more of a corporate office setting like myself, it is a bit unnerving even though you sort of know this fact already, that you're working 9-10 hour days on your feet, sometimes exhausted out of your mind, and on top of that, might have some serious problems paying your rent and possibly saving up for the bigger purchases in life.
I'll tell you the strange thing and a lot of people in the culinary profession can probably identify with is that most of the cooks and even the pastry chef I work with have second jobs. It maybe bar tending or working at a department store and even more overwhelming - another 8-9 hour restaurant cook job where you're on your feet until about midnight. I don't know how these people do it, but the one thing you can say is that they are definitely hard workers. Some have families and children and hardly get to see them...guess that's the tradeoff when you work in the restaurant biz - if you do want to settle down and have a family, and I guess have enough money to support them, you might not get to see them much. This is a bit different from corporate execs though because although they may not get to see their families much, most of them have a pretty nice income they are racking up. The cooks I work with do not.
3.I've mentioned this one several times, but you would not believe how your body aches after being on your feet for 9 hours straight. I mean, the first couple days, I was more or less stationary - rolling out dough, occasionally crouching over while rolling the dough (thus explaining the back pains), but if you're not use to standing up the whole day, you might be in need of Tylenol for the next couple days. I'm sort of getting use to it now, but those first two weeks were brutal. Whereas in the corporate setting, you came home exhausted - maybe from lack of sleep or from stress or I guess just being overworked, in the restaurant industry, you come home PHYSICALLY exhausted. Every part of your body aches. It's almost like going to the gym for the first time in years...and you need a couple weeks to get in shape before you get use to the pain...yes, kind of like that. I'll tell you, it's pretty easy falling right to sleep after a full day of work. Props to all the restaurants chefs out there because this is really no easy job.
4.My last realization I learned comes from actual baking. I think I'll have more of these in the future so that the home cooks out there can really benefit from this, but it comes from rolling out cookie dough. When you're a home cook, I think the most cookies you ever really need is about 20. No one ever needs to roll out 1,500, but in doing so, it made me realize how important and difficult being consistent really is. You'll be surprised after you cut out cookies from your dough how some are significantly thicker or thinner than others - and that can lead to trouble when you're baking it. The owner of the bakery was telling me that next to cleanliness, consistency is probably the most important thing in a commercial business. I mean, you don't want your goods coming out like they've been manufactured by a machine, but at the same time, they need to look pretty darn close.
Tip: Because the dough I rolled out was fairly thin, using a ruler would prove to not help. Instead, what I did was to take a wooden skewer - the ones for fruit or meat, and make a small mark with a pen as to the desirable thickness I wanted for my dough. This helped out A TON when you're rolling and cutting out cookies at the volume that I do. Keep in mind that usually, the larger you roll out the piece of dough, the more cookies you can get out of it, thus saving you time. But the bigger the piece of dough, the more difficult it gets to handle and roll out - thus more inaccuracies. Usually, the center of your dough will be thickest, while the edges will be thinner. Note though that if parts of your dough do get too thin, you essentially can't cut the cookie from that part anyhow, so I guess, just make sure you start off small and work your way up to a comfortable amount you can roll out.
Ok, well that's my 2 cents for the day. I'm truly super tired, but really still enjoying myself and learning lots. Can't wait for you guys to follow along and hopefully get something useful out of this experience.