Thursday, April 26, 2007

Big bowls and making sacrifices

Nearing the end of my third week of my practicum, I can take a breath and reflect on my progress. It has been a sharp learning curve, especially gaining comfort with new types of equipment and techniques. For example, the largest mixer used is a Hobart which sits on the floor and is almost as tall as me. I am quite certain that I could easily take a bath in its largest mixing bowl. Learning to attach this huge bowl to the machine was a lesson unto itself.

Other new things include using trolleys to cart your ingredients around since it is inefficient to carry things yourself, having a dishwasher person to clean everything, and working in multiples of hundreds rather than tens. So far, my role in the pastry kitchen has been to assist whoever needs assistance. I have never assembled so many fresh fruit tarts nor halved so many strawberries in my life. The most interesting experience to this date has been participating in the large-scale plating of banquet desserts. All the various components are divided up (the individual entrement, the sauce, the strawberry half, the tuile), about 12 people hover around six tall stacks of plates, and 24 hands fight to put their component onto the plate as fast as possible.

Soon, I will be expected to take more initiative and begin taking on more responsibility for the production list. Learning how production flows and how information flows within the hierarchy of the pastry kitchen will be challenging, especially while I am still struggling to learn how to make these products! Meanwhile, my role as a practicum student has not been forgotten; I have weekly assignments which I choose myself and review one-on-one with Chef Ted. Last week, chocolate tempering and decorations were my topic and just when I thought I had mastered this skill, I am reminded that I have so much more to learn. His technique for tempering includes seeding, a wet towel, and a heat gun.

Perhaps, the biggest adjustment for me has been facing the reality that in the food industry, especially with hotels, regularly sacrificing your evenings, weekends, and holidays such as this upcoming Mother's Day, is expected. I am still not very accepting of this and unsure of how willing, ultimately, I will be to make this sacrifice. During my practicum, however, I realize that I need to embrace every opportunity to learn, regardless of what day or time it might be.

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