It has also made me reflect on my time there, what I am getting out of it, and my food life in general, not to mention the importance of keeping my standards high. Like ballet, at first, nobody ever believed that I would be a dancer. My childhood ballet teacher in my hometown of Virginia gave me the run around, playing with my mind, turning it into egg scramble of verbal abuse and discouragement, and attempting to prevent me from becoming a dancer on a daily basis. But, because of her disbelief in my potential, I basically showed her my really long middle finger by being accepted to the School of American Ballet in New York City at the highly mature and responsible age of fifteen until I was invited to join to this "little" company in Seattle called Pacific Northwest Ballet. Thus becoming the first professional dancer from my childhood school to ever get a job as an honest-to-goodness professional ballerina. The rest is history.
Not an easy history, but a fulfilling one at that.
I don't feel discouraged in the same way at The Restaurant. Well, not yet. But I do feel like people don't believe I am serious about wanting to become a Chef. People ask me, with a subtle laugh that I can see on the inside, if this is really something I want to be doing. Well, yes. I think so? But, like many others, the chef world is largely a male dominated profession, and I am starting at the bottom, naive and ignorant to the amount of work it requires, and talent pool I am joining. I feel like the runt of the puppy litter, hoping that someone will pick me, believe in me, and guide me as I grow.
I learn new things. Daily. Stupid things that The Chef's would assume to be common knowledge, but not so much as a "home cook". I burn my arms while taking giant pans of biscotti out of hot ovens, forget even the most basic recipes (rather, methods) that I thought I had known intimately like my eye color or shoe size, and constantly, constantly, constantly make mistakes. More mistakes than I have ever made before.
The other night The Owner came in to The Restaurant. I am immediately flustered because my station is not busy, and I must look stupid standing there like a wallflower twiddling my thumbs with nothing to do. He says hello to me, and gives me a vigilant look. Maybe he is thinking they are not keeping me busy enough? Is he wondering if I am actually learning anything from The Chefs? He walks away, and sits at the seven person bar with The Reviewer from a magazine that is writing an article about The Restaurant. I immediately ask Chef M what I can do to keep busy. He has me change clean out the ice pans in the fridge, and replace the ice. Relief.
That only took me ten minutes. Now what?
I come back to my station and an order has come up for The Owner and The Reviewer. Chef M starts the order taking careful time to create lines from squeeze bottles filled with herb sauces, slice heirloom cherry tomatoes and Persian cucumbers on the ceramic mandoline, and clearly plate the dish as if he is painting on canvas. I watch, mouth slightly ajar, no drool.
A few minutes go by, and Chef M tells me to take the next order. It is a monochromatic dish I have plated many times: hamachi, prosciutto, and marinated grilled mission figs (which tastes as amazing as it sounds). I start to slice the fish, something I have just started to get a hang of with his long Sashimi knife. I salt it, and start to plate it as I always do. Chef M looks over and tells me we are going to plate this dish differently because he didn't realize it was also for The Owner and The Reviewer (and who wants The Stage cooking for them!). As he goes to rearrange the fish from a fan stack, to individual pieces lined up on the plate, he discovers that I have not sliced the fish all the way through at the very bottom ends. They hold on like a seedling root in a Spring garden. Oops. I guess I knew that this could have been a possibility when I first sliced the fish, because it has happened before. But for some reason I let my standards go, and did not check it to make sure I had sliced it all the way through. What if they had given that to The Reviewer? Would she have noticed?
I am horrified.
Luckily, besides a little well-deserved sarcastic comment, Chef M handles my "mess" up pretty well. He saves me from being the lead in a my own personal horror flick. One in where The Owner yells at me, and tells me to get out of The Restaurant in the middle of service, because quite frankly, I can't even slice a damn piece of fish correctly.
But, when I finally ate at The Restaurant the other night after working there all summer, I realized the importance of every plate looking and being perfect. It was by far one of the most stunning meals I have eaten in a long time. It was odd being in the front of the house, removed from the action and banter in the kitchen, having my friends serve me, and wondering and imagining all the hours of preparation that went into each dish before The Restaurant opened.
My group ordered everything that The Head Chef made. I never get to work with him, so I feel like I know his cooking style, and palate the least out of everyone. I was stunned with every dish that came out; each one different in flavor and style. And, each one cooked to perfection, plated with elegance, yet understated. I told you in was in awe of The Head Chef.
Crazy as I am, this made me want to become a Chef even more. The jubilation that I had, eating the food of The Chefs I think so highly of, made me understand the difference between The Restaurant I "Stage" at, and the plethora of other places who do not have the same standards. I yearn to be able to create the same experience I just had when eating in The Restaurant. It reminds me of the stimulation I get while watching another ballet company, and itching to jump on the stage, and dance with them.
Through these moments of horror and self doubt, though, nothing has changed. I am still in it for the long run, and I am eager to get back to The Restaurant like I am eager to get on that stage while watching a show.
I just need to practice slicing that damn fish.