Friday, July 22, 2005

Hacker in the Kitchen

I've often thought (and said) that I should have been a programmer. I have a certain analytical bent ("Really?" you ask), a penchant for orderly systems, and a creative streak. I like solving problems elegantly and parsimoniously (and some would regard those things as redundant, especially when it comes to programming). At the same time, I recognize that the first pass at something is, pretty much invariably, a hack. It cobbles together what you think will work, a couple of stabs in the general direction, and, if you're good and/or lucky, a large enough bit that works (or fails spectacularly) in ways that help you get it right next time around. (There's an Elvis Costello reference for you, in lieu of a Friday song.)

It turns out I'm working the same way in the kitchen. I've always done that at home, but at home people only care what it tastes like, pretty much, and enough butter will make just about anything taste good. At school, though, I've got an expert pastry chef--someone with nearly 40 years of experience of one kind and another, if you count his early years in his father's bakery--critiquing everything. Which is, of course, why I'm there, but my style of working may not make it clear whether I can actually do this well. Based on what he's seen so far, I'm guessing he has to have a few doubts. (We didn't have our evaluations today after all; not enough time.) I have a few myself, but if I can produce a couple of things on the second (or third) try that get closer to where I want to be, then I'll clear up some of my own doubts, and, with any luck, some of Chef Fred's. This weekend I want to practice a few things--strudel, for sure, given that I have the rest of our strudel dough, and brioche, if I can get the butter tomorrow, because I'm unhappy with my brioche. I need to practice the puff pastry, too, but that's just going to have to wait. I have a ton of vacation days stored up, so I'm seriously considering taking off a day a week; this schedule is grueling, and I want to get the most out of school that I can. That means I need time during the week to read the recipes, read the side notes, make notes to myself about what's working and what's not--and still give fair shrift to my employers. I envy the people who either have enough industry experience to assimilate all of this quickly and well or have enough time to go home and practice. Wish me luck with my strudel this weekend . . .

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