Sunday, March 26, 2006

Pastry Chefs Gone Wild

Last night I got to see not one but two of my ex-classmates, one of whom is an intern at the school and the other of whom is working as a pastry chef in a fine-dining restaurant. The intern and I had some dinner down near my place and then headed out to the burbs to see the pastry chef; of course we ended up with both three comp desserts after dinner (because it's the Asian place where Craw and I always go and we got our favorite server) and four desserts at the fine dining place, so I think I've had my fill of dessert for awhile. The latter were really quite nice: almond beignets with almond ice milk (that one was kind of eh; the beignets didn't quite work, and neither did the ice, but it wasn't terrible); a chocolate cake with sauce and ice cream thing that apparently our fellow student came up with and that was quite good; ice cream made from organic cream and strawberries, which was cosmic; and a three-cheese (mascarpone, cream, and fromage blanc) mousse with a graham cracker tuile and rhubarb (which I ignored) that was also cosmic. The only problems I had were that, first, yesterday morning my brain decided that 3:00 am was a FINE time to awaken (I have to disagree, but there wasn't much I could do about it), so I was so tired I was about to tip over, and, second, I found myself drinking massive amounts of water as we ate our desserts; I have no clue why I was so thirsty. It was kind of strange, really.

The intern is very happy with the internship, in many, many ways--how could she not be, given that she's spending so much more time with the chefs from the school, who will be even more willing to help her do whatever she wants to do next? But. As she will tell you, she doesn't get to make much stuff (though I'm really, really hoping that will improve for her, and it might), and one of the pickier chefs comes up with tasks for the interns like "rearrange the storeroom THIS way." It's an entertaining contrast to my situation, where several concepts--like having all of the recipes in one place, or labeling all containers in the walk-in, or knowing how many of what are being sold on a given day, or organic anything (though I think we have some organic flour for a couple of the breads)--are really quite foreign. On the flip side, however, I don't just GET to make stuff, it's my JOB to make stuff, in mass quantities. I think, quite honestly, if I'd gotten the internship I'd be regretting it right about now (not least because the lack of money involved would be seriously problematic for us). I've hesitated to say that, because I really don't want it to sound like sour grapes, but, given the problems I've got going on right now, it would have been extremely difficult to sustain. In addition, of course, my boss is great (despite his politics, which we assiduously avoid discussing), he's extremely good at what he does, and he's very generous with his knowledge--he knows I want to open my own place, and I suspect, when the time is closer, he'll help me in whatever ways he can.

The other grad, the one who's a pastry chef, is both happy with the experience and a little disgruntled. (Hell, his personality is such that he's ALWAYS a little disgruntled; he makes me seem positively Pollyanna-like.) He doesn't much like service (i.e., the plating of desserts for restaurant service), and my guess is that the pay and the hours aren't what he would prefer (he's probably making less than I am--certainly no more--and he probably doesn't get home until after 1:00 am). I knew that I wanted nothing to do with working in a restaurant, even though, if you get into a good hotel restaurant, you can make decent money (one other grad started at $13/hour with very little experience on his resume) and, because they're unionized, you get health benefits. (Most places do not offer benefits, including my place.) I suppose I'd do it if I had to, but I'd really hate it. I don't like the rush of service (at the bakery, what's happening up front has nothing to do with what's happening in the back); I don't like the fact that the pastry people are always the last to finish (because everyone ends the meal with dessert); I don't like the drug-and-alcohol-related craziness that's rampant in the industry (read Anthony Bourdain's books if you don't know what I mean--I'm way too old for that shit); I would absolutely hate the hours (I do not want to finish work at 2:00 am); and I would not put up with the abuse that's rampant in the fine-dining portion of the program. (For example, one local and very famous restaurant is notorious for Wal-Mart-type abuses, i.e., you punch out--and then clean for four hours. At many places, you're paid a certain amount of dollars for a "shift"--and if the shift were actually eight hours, it would be decent pay. However, you're expected to work about 12 hours for that pay, so the hourly rate drops pretty significantly. At other famous places, people are literally on a waiting list to work there for free, because then they can put it on their resumes. I get paid for every minute I work, plus overtime.)

So, all in all, I realized again that I've really fallen into a great place--for me. It wouldn't work for everyone--if you really want to become a famous pastry chef, for example, it would not be a useful place for you, and it wouldn't work for anyone who really needed to make more money, though, if that were true, then you're in the wrong damned industry.

I couldn't stay out too late last night, though--by 11:00 I was practically falling asleep at the bar. The Intern drove me home (she had her dad's vehicle last night), which was extremely nice of her (I'd come prepared with a book so I could take public transportation), and I was asleep within ten minutes of walking in the door. Now, though, I have to clean this place up a bit and get some copyediting done--maybe get most of it done today, which would be useful in several dimensions.

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