Thursday, 25 February 2010

A little confused and stressed

Its been a few weeks since my last post and a lot has happened during this time. One demi-chef de partie left on Tuesday and the other will be finishing tomorrow which means that all 3 "original" team members will be gone by the time I am working next......its been sad cos they were all great guys to work with and nice people as well :(

The last few weeks have been stressful for the following reasons:
  • The learning curve has been really steep and compounded by everyone leaving. 
  • There has been no routine to my weeks as I need to work as and when I need to, so at the moment a lot of double shifts (16 hour days) which is not easy. 
  • The fact that no replacements have been found for the leaving pastry team members potentially meaning an unbearable workload and schedule.
  • Finding myself "in the weeds" during service and having to call the pastry chef for help.
  • Being under a souffle curse where it burst and I had to make another one in the middle of a busy service - my confidence is still fragile from this.
I was also starting to notice things about the pastry chef which weren't all entirely positive. Even though we are desperately short staffed (to the point where some of the cuisiniers have been drafted in to help out), he does not seem to bothered and still waltzes around the kitchen, spending a lot of time in the office when I would've expected him to be more "hands on deck" and mucked in with the rest of us. I understand that he is the chef but at the same time, it does not exactly set a good example for others who were led to believe that we are in dire straits. Between this and the stress caused by the above, I found myself a little down over the last few weeks and started to question why I was even doing this and was it worthwhile? It all to came to a head when I was plating for a big table of desserts (and getting stressed!!) when the pastry chef came upstairs and at the time, made things worse for me. He got upset and said that he thought that I had no confidence in him. It was the wrong time to discuss this in the middle of service but I had to explain that it was not easy for me because:
  • The memories from being shouted at by the manager a few weeks back haunting me every service (despite the fact that he was wrong and is an asshole)
  • The last time the chef helped me out with a table, he left halfway through and left me in the weeds. 
I expect him as a chef to take charge of a situation and provide me with clarity (like the junior sous chef) rather than slouch around in the background not saying a word and fiddling with a few things with no conviction or communication. He later told me that he believed communication was very important to him and yet, he did not feel the need to tell me when he was going to change the desserts menu for the restaurant (he only decided to tell the demi chef de partie). He explained that it was the demi chef de partie's job to relay the news to me - understandable when the team is large but when there are only 4 people in the team, I find the hierarchy a little excessive and not exactly morale-boosting when he refuses to communicate important information directly to the only person who will be staying in the team.......ME!    

The good news is that I have just finished another 3 double shift marathon and things are looking up:
  • There are 2 new people joining the team on Monday meaning I only have 2 doubles, 1 day off and 3 doubles to endure before getting back some sort of routine in my life.
  • The changes to the menu have meant less mise-en-place and complicated plating which gives more time to breathe.
  • I am getting faster at my work as tasks start becoming more familiar.
  • My souffles are not bursting anymore but need to sort out the tilting.
  • The services are starting to feel calmer and I have not had to call the chef for help, even during a busy service like last night which was a good feeling.
  • After a phonecall to the chef at the previous restaurant that I worked at to chase on my P45, it really put things into perspective when I realised what a wanker he is and in comparison, my chef here is actually quite a nice guy despite some reservations on a  professional level.
Fingers crossed that I will be able to get through the next week or so, especially when the big man in charge comes to visit the resto at the beginning of next month!!

Finally, a few pics (apologies for crap quality) of some of the desserts I plate, bon app! :)
Pre-dessert: A "lollipop" containing banana caramel and mandarin sorbet, dipped in white chocolate

The beginning of the plating of tart selection - upstairs, we have the addition of a quenelle of ice cream :)

Chocolat tendance - a signature dessert of the restaurant consisting of dark chocolate cream, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, crispy rice pearls, chocolate mousse, dark chocolate sorbet, and oreo cookie crumbs.

Sometimes there are requests for "birthday plates", which means writing Happy Birthday with melted chocolate followed by a piece of tart on the plate. As you can see, my 1st 2 attempts were pretty shoddy so 3rd time lucky (2nd pic!!) The top one is done by the pastry chef, the bottom one is by moi!

  A nice perk from the kitchen - some excess burgers so I got to sample one. Really delish, not a fan of foie gras but it really added to the flavour! (One affluent customer last week ordered this burger with no meat and no foie gras which seemed a little crazy!!)

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Double shift challenge

After a bit of a stressful weekend of moving flat, it was back to work on Monday morning - despite having had a couple of days off and knowing that I would be off Tuesday and Wednesday also, it came as a bit of a surprise that I was flagging by the evening......a little worrying as I had 3 double shift awaiting me towards the end of the week.

My double shift challenge started on Thursday which wasn't too bad as I spent the whole day doing mise-en-place.....our demi chef de partie had come back early from holidays to help out so I did not have the pressure of service for the night. Friday and it was just me and the pastry chef at work - we had the help of a junior sous chef from the cuisine which provided some relief for us and she was also a big help to me when I was in the middle of service and everything seemed to pile up on me. Initially, the pastry chef had come up to help me with service and halfway through disappeared - at the time, I thought that maybe he had gone downstairs to get something but no, he had left me in the lurch! The junior sous chef arrived shortly after and with her help, we managed to get the place back in order and the desserts out OK. Its great to have someone working with you who commands respect with the waiters and has the ability to call them over for service - not an easy job as our station is a bit isolated in the corner of the dining room. If only every day was like this......

Saturday went OK in the morning as well since we had an extra pair of hands again for mise-en-place - the senior sous chef was helping us out and I was able to focus on what I will be needing for service. Later, the chef de partie who had left last week was called back in to give a helping hand for service - kinda tough for him as he had been out clubbing the previous night and didn't get home until 8am! The pastry chef is extremely lucky to have such a decent friend to rely on on tough times......especially when he has just quit as well!!

To say that service was shitty on Saturday night is a massive understatement - I guess it affected me badly as up until then, things had been going pretty well at the new job with no serious cock-ups. Well, that all changed when my first souffle of the night had a massive hole  in it and the waiter said that it was not possible to send it out. Unfortunately, the backup souffle was just as fucked so I would have start from scratch, meaning an extra delay for the guests. Eventually, with the help of the pastry chef, we managed to send a decent looking souffle out but the hole issue would haunt us all night and even now, I don't know what caused it?

So what else went wrong?

  • Got shit from one of the managers complaining that a particular table had been waiting 40 minutes for dessert. He confronted me and there was confusion at the time cos I was stressed out with another table ordering souffle, I thought he was talking about that? After he had a chat with the pastry chef, it turns out this asshole manager ( I say this on the basis on what other staff have said about him) was in the wrong anyway cos he had put the order in for dessert and it was for the tasting menu. The protocol for tasting menu desserts is that a ticket is issued at the time of ordering at the beginning of the menu and when it is time for service, it is the responsibility of the waiter to inform the pastry section that desserts can now go out. The confusion is the ground floor restaurant does not operate this way (which is where this manager normally works) and his reaction was to lay the blame fast and thick on yours truly. Not exactly what I needed in the middle of a shit service. He didn't learn from his mistakes either since he enquired about more tasting menu desserts at the end of service and when I asked for a ticket, he gave me a look that basically said that he had forgotten what the pastry chef had told him......again.
  • Chantilly cream that the senior sous chef had made for me was not whipped hard enough which resulted in creamy water oozing onto my dessert plate - not a big deal usually, but I was desperately short on plates and this was not the cockup I needed.
  • Bloody decor on the pre-dessert kept on falling off every time I went to serve them so had mashed up yellow chocolate flowers strewn across the floor of the station.
  • Chocolate sauce for the most popular desserts decided to stop working and block up in the bottle which really wasn't what I needed.
  • Not enough time to drain babas, which got a word from the pastry chef saying that the rum could not penetrate the pastry.
  • Running out of semi-sphere chocolate decor for choux dessert on the very last table of service!
  • Not enough plates.
  • Waiting staff being their usual un-cooperative selves.

A lot of negatives and as you can imagine, I was shattered come the end of Saturday night. However, there isn't any point on dwelling on all the shitty stuff so what has been going well?

  • I have been put in charge of service on my own (for the most part) for a 2-Michelin star restaurant desserts section after maybe 2 weeks in the job? Not bad for a novice in the industry!
  • I got a compliment for a perfect souffle the first night I made them (it might have been beginners luck but I have made a good souffle before and need to recapture that magic again, toute suite!!)
  • The pastry chef has told me that I am doing well and that he is happy with my work.....he even said service was brilliant last week and despite my shitty service on Saturday, he didn't think it was so bad......we have a good relationship and hopefully, this bodes well for me :)
So yes, I ended the week on a bad note but in the grand scheme of things, its not going so bad.......again, because of the hecticness, no photos of desserts......however, I leave you with a picture of "afternoon indulgence" - our resto's mini-version of afternoon tea served in the bar in the late afternoon/early evening - this tier of goodies, along with some tea and a glass of champers will set you back only 14 squid! Bon app!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

All good

Week 2 of new job and so far, so good :)

First of all, I reverted back to what is supposed to my normal schedule....working mornings Monday through to Wednesday and then doubles on Thursday and Friday. Of course, the hours are still long but at least I get a decent night's sleep at the beginning of the week which gives me some chance of getting through the 2 doubles at the end of the week :)

Obviously, everything is still very new to me but am slowly finding my way around the kitchen and getting into more of a routine with things. The demi chef de partie who I was shadowing last week was on holiday this week, which meant I was left to my own devices on Thursday and Friday night service....more than a little daunting. Luckily, the pastry chef did not leave me on my own but most of the responsibility was still left to me for setting up the open kitchen and making sure that we had everything for service. Luckily, the demi chef de partie taught me well and I managed to get around 80% of things right. Service was a bit hairy on Thursday but not bad on Friday and I even got a bit of an adrenaline rush from it!! Made souffles for the first time on Friday night (albeit with the pastry chef's supervision) and they turned out to be the dessert choice of the night, char! The icing on the cake for the night was getting compliments from the pastry chef for a good service, as well as compliment from a guest on a lovely souffle so a big pat on the back to myself :)

We are desperately short-staffed in pastry at the moment which has meant that my schedule for February has gone a bit pear-shaped to make sure that we have enough resources. So far, on my 3rd week, I have worked a double and had 2 days off. Starting tomorrow, I will be working 3 doubles straight and I am secretly praying that I will be able to get through it!! Fingers crossed!!

Apologies but still not pics of the desserts served in my section, I never have enough time to take a quick pic before service but here are some more of the desserts on offer on the ground floor :)
Le Marron: chestnut cream and ice cream, apple and pear compote, caramelised pecans and meringue crunchies

Paris Brest

Les tartes: (from left to right) lemon, praline rose, cinammon, chocolate caramel, apple curry.