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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Departing with Strong Lessons in Hand!


Learning to be a professional cook (7th and last in a series)

My conversational misstep has cooled a bit and I’m now focusing on learning the menu for my new job.  Alan is on site every day helping me to get my mind wrapped around the kitchen’s flow.  I have immediately spotted a few things that I should work on and that is a step-by-step process for learning each dish as well as general organization to better manage day-to-day activities.

For instance, the “to go” bowls are stored at one end of the kitchen and the lids at the other end.  Not rocket science but general things that will help immensely.  I also notice that the ordering process in cumbersome having to dart around the kitchen like a mouse being chased by a cat.  I have all these things I want to do running through my head all-the-while trying to learn the menu.

First-things-first; understanding the food and its place on the plate - I’m a bit perplexed why I’m training at my own facility as I’m so very green and not setting a great example in front of my crew fumbling with efficiency, substitutions, remembering items for each omelet, salad, sandwich, etc.

My plan was to train in another store so I could then step in at my place ready and able to set a good example for my team – this, of course, didn't happen.

I’m also a bit stupefied as to why I’m suddenly working expo (after only a week on the job) making mistake after mistake.  This is a busy restaurant (very, very busy 600 to 700 covers per day) and my BOH director has decided to baptize me by fire.  I was told to “just work through it” – really, just work through it?

A loaded ticket bar at Patachou in downtown Indianapolis
At the end of one particular shift we were alone and I told him that I felt it was “criminal” the way I was being taught.  His voice immediately raised a few octaves shouting that there was no formal program in place to train me; he exclaimed “do you see any pictures on the walls?  Were you given a handbook? No, because they don’t exist” and my heart sunk to the pit of my stomach.

The next day Alan came in and apologized for exposing a fundamental lack of organizational support and committed to help me learn my craft because at this point I’m so confused and upset that I feel like I’m running a marathon backwards while working out algorithms in my head.  I’m physically and mentally drained at the end of each shift and felt I haven’t learned a thing and sense as though I’m “un-learning” or learning in reverse.  Alan fell far short of his goal and actually set me up for failure, very puzzling.

Being of strong mind and will; I persevere on my own taking the reins into my hands and reflect on all the training I had done as a process engineer back up in Detroit as well as in prior jobs.  Some of the best culinary training I’ve ever had was at Cypress restaurant in Charleston, SC.  They were patient and pragmatic teaching me something new as I grasped the old.  I remember one of my chefs saying to learn 3 or 4 items one night and we’ll see how things go tomorrow.  I learned at my own pace and was comfortable doing it this way.

My work station at Cypress Restaurant in Charleston, SC
So I will do this on my own and set forth to train myself just like I did in Charleston.  Slowly but surely I became proficient with the menu and also running the window expediting dishes for the customer.  The mistakes began to disappear and words of “thanks” and “improvement” and, more importantly, “good job” began to fall out of my co-workers mouths.  I had clearly turned the page and I now realize that getting over perceptions are almost always impossible but fixing a problem on your own is a bit priceless.

My take-away’s from my time at Café Patachou are that you need to tread lightly when you arrive but understand a sense of urgency and attack with inner strength.  In time ….. I learned to re-design a kitchen for better flow and efficiency, discipline is never easy and always necessary, sometimes you ARE an island, organize-organize-organize and mistakes can be capitalized into strengths.  Oh yeah, I also learned what NOT to do.

The tickets are evaporating as the end of shift nears at Patachou
Although I was absolutely miserable at this job; it has taught me more valuable lessons than any other and they will all come in very handy when I begin my new position as Sous Chef at Yellowstone National Park in a few weeks.  I’m very lucky to be doing something I love and even luckier to now be doing it in the landscape of one of Mother Nature’s greatest creations.  See you soon.

Have a great day and never give up!

Mark (Sparky)

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