August 13 1998
Cold Meat Injection
"Keep that thing away from me..."

The task of the day:

Another Prep Day

Today was another prep day. Tomorrow will be another very large buffet put on by our class. Should be pretty decent stuff. However, today was not a spectacular day in the kitchen.

The best thing about today was getting to brine a turkey breast. The marinade is injected into the breast with a rather scary looking pump device with a needle on the end. The needle is inserted into the breast, and the pumping of the device sucks the marinade out of a bucket through a hose. Sort of like a cross between a bicycle pump, an eight inch hypodermic needle, and a Wagner Power Painter. My teammate was rather frightened by the device, hence the quote for today's entry.

Our team figured out some interesting plating ideas for tomorrow, and we made several additional sides and garnishes to go with the main items. This sort of thing is always fun, because you get to be a bit creative. In order to give ourselves time, we've been making out cue cards for each day to drive the gathering of ingredients, the preparation, and production.

* * *

I haven't talked much about the mood in this class, because it's been a bit poor. Lots of it finally came to a head today. There's certainly some friction within the groups, because some folks with professional experience have been placed with folks who have very little (remember that these courses nominally require two years in the industry, but not always in the kitchen). This causes some tension, but normally it can work itself out.

The problem comes because our Chef can get very demanding and abusive at times, particularly when there is time pressure. The problem is that he causes some of these troubles himself. He wants us to plate things ourselves, but if there is anything he doesn't like, he wants us to make changes. Sometimes he has us making changes without a liking or disliking as a reason. I've seen him require a change to a perfectly attractive plate simply because that isn't the way he would have plated it. This happening not an hour after he tells us to be creative, and that not everyone has the same style. I guess he ment "be creative my way."

One of the other "team leaders" (I use this term in quotes because we aren't assigned leaders other than the type that tend to form naturally in groups) and I had a small rant session after class about it today. Turns out that she's had this Chef for three other classes, and said this has actually been a good week for him. He's ridden her especially hard, and she feels frustrated because her group is all pretty inexperienced. As a result, she's been helping them, and then getting yelled at for not having her own work up to some mystery standard.

I guess the thing that annoys me the most about this is that the yelling can take place over the most trivial thing. Typically, when you ask for clarification for a task. For example, we had placed all of our prep onto a large tray for storage overnight. Chef wanted us to put it into the fridge, and I was about to do so. I asked where he wanted it, because he had specifically pointed out to another team "place your tray here." "Don't ask, just bring it over!" was the response. Okay, fine. So I started to wrap the tray in Saran Wrap (you have to do this to keep things from falling off, or getting stolen by another team, plus for some health reasons) and hear a shout of, "Where's group four's tray?!?!?!?" and five seconds later "Now! Now! Now!" When I finally bring the tray over (all of 15 seconds later) I hear "Excellent! Saran Wrap, good idea!" Grrr. Make up your mind. I'm 100% sure that had I walked over there "now now now" without the Saran Wrap I would have been yelled at for no Saran Wrap. You Can Never Win.

But the point of all this is: why make such a big deal out of such a little thing? Our team had everything cleaned up early, whereas other teams were still in the process of cleaning. In fact, once we placed the tray, we were done for the day, but others had about 10 more minutes of work to do. 30 seconds wasn't going to kill us, or make the class as a whole get out any faster or slower. We stayed and helped the chef put away equipment and do other cleaning that needed to be done. Our group is always lending a hand that way.

But don't forget the best part. Our tray was actually put away over half an hour before. The only reason we took it out and unwrapped it is (see if you can guess this) because Chef told everyone "Take your trays out so I can look at them." Yay!

In some course that this Chef taught a while back, he was ridding the class very hard to plate "Now!" and had been being an annoying person all week. The entire class just stood there, not moving a finger, I guess in some kind of non-violent protest. When Lisa (the other group leader) moved forward to begin plating, he yelled at her, "No no no!" So, she backed off and watched as the Chef attempted the plating of all five group's platers (and, of course, failed). I hope that kind of thing doesn't happen tomorrow.

Maybe the problem is that the Chef is confusing between us, and irresponsible young students. Generally, we don't need to be told multiple times, or yelled at, in order for us to do something. Stuff like this doesn't normally upset me, but I'm not sure why we have to be putting up with this from a professional level class. Perhaps I'll lodge a complaint.

* * *

Oh well, only one more day. I hope. There's always the chance that I'll have this Chef again for another class. I think that would be a bummer, because so many of the other Chefs here are really excellent.

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Copyright 1998 Tom Dowdy