I am a firm believer in celebrating even small victories, so here goes. Today, I did not have to pick petite herb salad. PROGRESS! I was pretty excited when my station lead broke the news to me, but then he followed up with a more daunting task: we had a party of 50 for which to prepare passed hors d’oeuvres. And this was another case where “we” really means “me.” Before long, the joke had passed throughout the kitchen — by the end of the night, I would be known as “Shrimp Cakes.”
But first, I was ecstatic to get to use my knives. My newly sharpened chef’s knife and paring knife finally got a workout today as we pushed through the extensive prep list. I used the (very sharp) mandoline to slice paper-thin onions and radishes for dinner service; meanwhile, my station lead was mixing the shrimp paste for the infamous shrimp cakes. Then I was tasked with making 60 uniform little discs, using a fancy little mold and everything. I was quite proud of my shrimp cakes. After 9 rows of 7 (to ensure we had a few extra as backup), I pressed the last one and popped the tray into the freezer.
Next I moved on to another passed hors d’oeuvre – the tricolor skewer, basically an antipasto on a stick. Cubes of avocado and fresh mozzarella, halved heirloom cherry tomatoes, and neat squares of basil leaf… all arranged on bamboo skewers. “Have fun with it!” were the instructions I received. But I found I worked quickest with a consistent pattern. Tomato, basil, mozzarella, avocado, basil, tomato. One after the other, until I had sixty of those as well. Work fast but work clean and smart — that’s the unspoken kitchen mantra.
While I was working on the skewers, the shrimp had had plenty of time to freeze solid. Time for dredging! Each disc of shrimp paste was dipped in flour, beaten eggs, and panko, then set back onto a tray, awaiting the deep fryer. I shared a station with Chef and got to chat with him briefly while we worked. I also learned some good tips about pane (breading) that I’ll probably apply to future dinners at home ;)
As we were getting set up for service, one of the sous chefs pulled me aside and asked me to help with family meal. My contribution? An awesome (if I do say so myself) mirepoix for their pseudo-jambalaya. Just as I was handing off the mirepoix to the hot line, my station lead directed me to the walk-in so he could show me how I will be plating the passed hors d’oeuvres, including adorable shot glasses filled with cucumber soup and garnished with a crouton topped with tuna tartare. (Have I mentioned how much I LOVE the tartares here?)
I ended up spending a good chunk of the evening in the walk-in, aside from making a few salads during happy hour before the party of 50 arrived. Occasionally people would come in to grab something they needed but most paused to chat with the sniffling stage pouring soup into a seemingly endless parade of shot glasses. As I pushed out plate after plate of the hors d’oeuvres, I inadvertently ended up having a heart-to-heart with the charcuterie guy who was also working in the walk-in. He asked me what I thought him, honestly. (Truth: he’s kinder than his physical appearance would lead you to believe.) I asked him the same. He told me he thought I was too nice to hack it in the kitchen, especially this one. His insight was that the guys here would treat me well but that it could take years, if ever, for me (as a girl) to move on to the working the hot line. It gave me plenty to think about — things I had already suspected about breaking into a male-dominated industry, things I’ve been considering with where I want this culinary career to take me.
For now, I know one thing is true. In just about every industry, it takes experience to get experience. Even if eight months down the road (to borrow charcuterie guy’s hypothetical timeline) I’m still working the pantry station, at least I will have increased my chances of moving on to another kitchen with that much garde manger experience under my belt. So, I told him half-jokingly, I’m going to keep coming here until they get sick of me. :)
Coincidentally, he invited me to work the charcuterie station for a bit tonight, showing me how to plate the various terrines and teaching me a few tricks for presentation (like making prosciutto “flowers”!). Every Saturday I feel like I learn so much, and every Saturday night, I come home exhausted but so grateful for such an amazing opportunity.
This week, there was no question of my return. My name was posted on the weekly schedule. I was so excited I had to take a picture of it. :D
Till next time~!