What Happens In The Kitchen….
In the world of cooking for a living, bakers tend to be the loners. They usually have the unsociable hours. They get kitchens to themselves, they play music loud, or not at all. They make pots of coffee just for themselves. I am by no means a ‘real’ baker but I do share some of the baker qualities. We also tend to be a bit perfectionistic. We’re the measurers of the cooking world. We’re careful. We read recipes repeatedly. We don’t fling and estimate and toss ingredients around.
I’m a good solitary creature. I like dark, early mornings. I like getting the coffee started and having a cup by myself while I pull out ingredients to come to room temperature. I like reviewing my stack of recipes for the day. (I also really love walking my dog in the early morning. Or going for an early morning run. I’m just an early morning person. My mother used to say that once I could be trusted to pour milk on my own bowl of cereal, life became more manageable for her. Because I could make breakfast and would then happily read by myself until the rest of the world wanted to wake up.) Innkeeping and baking came pretty naturally to me and my body clock. To all of those people who used to say they felt sorry for me having to get up so early, I really did mean it when I said it was OK. (I’m also pretty sure that this time alone was one of the things that kept me sane in the constant, hectic whirl of innkeeping/restauranteur/small business owning).
Once I had my early, early time to myself, next came one of the great parts of restaurant work. The prep kitchen. At our place, that meant 2, 3 or 4 people in a small space, working towards a common goal. The chat, the companionship, the camaraderie, it is unparalleled. (I won’t go into it now, but throw in that you also do the crash and hustle and zaniness of an evening shift with these same people, and that’s a group of people whom you adore. You trust them to work hard, maybe complain, but never not do the right thing. They can fling knives around without hurting anyone. They’ll curse when things go wrong while simultaneously coming up with an immediate solution. You can hang out while it’s slow and find endless, ridiculous things to talk about. You hardly need to speak while you’re flat out busy. Watching great kitchen teams has been compared to watching a ballet, and it’s not wrong. There is a synchronicity and trust and smoothness in the world of dance that also happens in sweaty, hectic kitchens.)
Tangent! Back to prep time. Prep time for us happened during and after breakfast service. And so even though, as a loner baker type, I could happily work for hours by myself, I also loved the companionship of the prep kitchen. Even when I was the only one focused on my particular tasks. (And, even when everyone else always complained about how many bowls I used. A few too many bowls was only fair, really, you should have seen the square footage that was allotted to “the pastry chef”.)
Once guests had finished their breakfast and gone off for the day, we usually had the building to ourselves. We’d crank up the radio and chat and work. Housekeepers would wander in and out. You know how the kitchen is where everyone congregates when you have a party? It’s the same magic, even when it’s a work environment. You’re all doing something and you keep working. But it’s the chat that happens around this. About life, about serious things, or about insanely ridiculous things, that makes the glue. It is so different from ‘normal’ workplaces because you can do all of this while you work. So you do. You get focused on your onion chopping or your ingredient sifting and talking frees up. Day to day, you never know where chat will end up. It is companionable and friendly and inclusive.
But finally, of course, there is also the golden rule of the kitchen: What Happens In The Kitchen Stays In The Kitchen. So, yeah, I’ve got some great stories, but for some of them you just had to be there.