Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Teamwork, Part I

Not quite as much with the butter, but still with the sugar and chocolate. Oh, wait, I have to do the theory stuff first, don't I?

One of the things that is completely fascinating about this whole experience is the actual classroom experience, particularly the blend (or not) of different styles, approaches, and experiences. In most classrooms, the teacher lectures; I primarily taught discussion-based classes, but even in those I'd do mini-lectures on particular topics, I'd nudge discussions as necessary, and/or I'd provide guidance and interpretative nuggets. Some classes worked quite well because of the students; others not so much. It doesn't take but a couple of people to set the tone--negatively or positively--for the whole group. Sometimes the negative and positive forces can counteract each other, which is useful for preventing a class from going to hell in a handbasket. Except in extreme situations, though, most classes, at least at the college level (sorry; high school was too long ago), are pretty much right down the middle. There might be a person or two who's kind of an asshole, there might be a person who knows everything, there might be a couple of people who say interesting things or spark interesting discussions, there are almost certainly a couple of people who just kinda sit there. I suspect lab classes are different, at least the ones where you work with a partner, but I wasn't a science major so I have only my experience in high school for that one.

Two, possibly three, things seem to be making a difference in pastry class. (Okay, probably more, but you know how I get.) First, the people who have no or limited experience working or coordinating with others are at a disadvantage. Take as a counter-example my current partner, who, although he's only 23, I think, is ex-military. As far as I can tell, the military is all about working with other people, subsuming yourself to the mission at hand, so he's extremely good at the teamwork thing--really a pleasure to work with. He's also assertive, which is useful, and generous, which is also useful. The assertive thing comes in handy as we check each other's work or the organization of our tasks, and both the assertive and the generous are useful as we do various tasks. He's already been to regular culinary school, so if there's something I suck at doing or want more practice doing, he's extremely generous in offering to let me do it, or, in the case of Monday's Italian meringues, do it more than once in a day when normally we'd split that up. We seem to have the cleaning up worked out pretty well, and I think we're getting things done in an orderly fashion.

There was also an interesting interaction today, only part of which I witnessed. Each team has assigned clean-up tasks for the week, and the tasks rotate. Our tasks this week have not included wiping down the refrigerators and freezers, but we've ended up doing it every day this week. (When you finish your tasks, it behooves you to just keep cleaning rather than just wander away.) He got a little . . . peevish is way too strong, but pointing in that direction, about that, so he looked up which team was supposed to be doing it and went and found one of the members. She was extremely apologetic--she works her butt off, and is not at all a slacker--but she and her partner had divided up their tasks at the beginning of the week and her partner was supposed to be doing the freezers and refrigerators. But my partner had no problem mentioning it--politely, respectfully, but mentioning nevertheless. I was really impressed with how he handled it, if you want to know.

So if one thing is experience working with others, another is experience working in a kitchen. The latter gives you something similar to the working-with-others thing, but making and serving food is much more immediate than most other coordinated activities and therefore requires attention to details at a much higher intensity and speed. You can't just throw stuff in the oven and not check the temperature, timing, or doneness. You have to bake like things together. You have to coordinate your baking, if some things are at one temperature and other things at another temperature. If you're sharing ingredients or tools, you have to take turns--and clean up when you're done. It's a much more intensive coordination than in most other fields--I imagine surgery is similar, in some ways, but even then you'll have a single person at the head of the team and others who are subordinates. In the kitchen it might be the same way, but in this classroom, or in any kitchen that functions more like a team and less like a hierarchy, you have to organize and coordinate yourselves. The people with kitchen experience are better at that.

Okay, enough of that for today; more tomorrow when I remember where I was. Today's goodies included the aforementioned Opera Cake (which I still say was too rich for my tastes), chocolate financiers (yesterday we also made financiers, but they weren't chocolate and they had a raspberry instead of an almond in them; yesterday we also made chocolate espresso tarts and coconut rocher), madelines (according to the chef, the butter has to be screaming hot when you add it to the batter; I find that a little yelping sound effect helps, too), and tuile (pronounced "twill"), which is caramel with almonds that gets a little crispy and which can be covered on one side with chocolate.


Blogger landismom said...

Do you have any sense of how this will play out when you actually get into a kitchen? What I mean by that is, is it different to work in a restaurant kitchen (where presumably the pastry chef works earlier in the day and more or less alone) vs. a bakery kitchen (where everyone is a pastry chef)?

7:21 PM  
Blogger jasmine said...

Exquisite information on culinary school. I have a culinary school secrets blog if you want to see some cool stuff.

11:10 PM  

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