Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Tomorrow never comes

Just kidding, it'll be here at its regularly scheduled time.

So many delays. We passed all our inspections except for our plumbing inspection on Tuesday. Thanks, union plumbers. It's fixed now and we have our C of O! I participated in my first health inspection, which I guess in my mind was more of a rite of passage than it actually ended up being. So we are cleared for opening tomorrow! It's going to be a short-staffed weekend; lots of changes to employee schedules, mine included thanks to graduation. Messing with the schedule is giving me quite the headache--I thought we were in the clear but there are days that we don't have an evening manager and that's bad mmmkay?


I was up about 4:15am today due to monkeymind, good training for tomorrow. I have so many things I am still confused about. They are 99% to do with the cash register procedures. Today I am also going to finish the OMR handbook (FINALLY), buy ice cream scoops and brown sugar (the package Sysco sent was busted and covered up with labels), call Sysco about said package (as well as a destroyed tub of chocolate icing), call Johnson Bros, and be at the bakery by 3pm to knock out a whole mess of prep work for the week with the baking crew. I feel mostly great. Wishing this weren't all happening at the same time as graduation and having my family in town, because I want 100% of my undivided attention to each of these great events but instead I can only commit so much to everything.

All right, let's lighten the mood! Marnie opened Pandora's Box the other day. She and Jennifer, our other morning baker, were cleaning up the bakery when a friend of the owners came in to inquire about when we were opening and what we would be selling. Marnie went through the menu. When she came to the cake pops, the customer was confused, which is sort of understandable--even though they are trendy and have been popular on the internet and in other cities for quite some time, San Antonio is really behind on trends. We are making two cake pops currently: both round, traditional cake balls, one confetti cake and one peanut butter/chocolate cake. Very tasty, simple, attractive.

So Marnie, bless her heart, says "oh! You should look at, they have lots of cake pops. That's sort of what we're doing."

The customer goes and looks at (and you should too, they're fabulous) and instantly goes, "Great! I want 30 Hello Kitty cake pops by this Friday!"

For reference, what the customer wants:

Darn it all, Marnie.

So this is what happens when you take these bakers:

And have them make Hello Kitty cake pops. I call it "Ohno Kitty."

Be sure to note the expressive, intensely worried eyes....the slightly perplexing placement of facial features....the bullet wound in the side of the head. Masterpieces.

(We had a really hilarious and wonderful time practicing, I have to say.)

It's just our luck to have two jokers in the bakery, huh? Tough break for us. Fortunately, we have other employees, more mature, respectable, GROWN UP employees like our manager Lizzie who can keep these clowns in lin---

Oh dear.

Maybe tomorrow SHOULD never come.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A sample "to do" list for a manager

*Email our rep from Ben E Keith again since he didn't respond to the one I sent last week. We need to set up an account so we don't have to shop at Sam's Club and HEB to get through the week!

*Message the remaining two employees about what time they should come in tonight for training (they missed it Saturday because they were doing their Gala dinner at St Philip's. Awww memories). This involves figuring out what they need to learn and how long that will take. Also how late I really want to be out there if I have to wake up at 4am tomorrow morning. (Did I mention how, in freak Texas tradition, it is supposed to be in the 40s tomorrow morning? ARGH.)

*Send out this week's schedule. I wanted to send out the schedule I drew up for the rest of the month but Tom and Laura need to OK it first.

*Get Tom or Laura to complete the credit card authorization form for Restaurant Depot, a restaurants-only warehouse in town where we will be purchasing our boxes to package up our food in. Go buy said boxes x 200 each as well as a couple other items.

*Finish fixing Focus (our POS system) to the best of my abilities. Mark, our rep, will be at the bakery this afternoon to install and answer any other questions but I want to be as ready as possible before then.

*Get Rodney (our evening baker/manager) to tell me his chef coat size and then call H&M Uniforms to order it.

*Be at the bakery at 11am to give a check for the remainder of the Blue Bell purchase to their rep.

*Be back at the bakery at 1pm to finish setting up and training. I don't know who else is going to be there at that time and I'll be irritated if I'm the only one, what with everything else up there ^^^. Maybe I'll hold off on fixing Focus until I'm on site, that will pass the time. (ETA: After talking with Tom I have a nice list of cleaning to accomplish as well as the times everyone else will be there. Problem solved!)

*Tonight we need to train the remaining two on Focus, opening/closing procedures, the employee handbook and the recipe book/sidework. We also need to train on ice cream scoop procedures which I don't know and I haven't seen any of the equipment yet so that's a big ol' blind spot there. We will also test the proofer/ovens on some products and make test batches and some bags of dry ingredients to expedite opening tomorrow morning. We don't have every ingredient yet; some things are on their way and some things we just won't start with. But for the most part we will be ready to rock and/or roll tomorrow!

*Oh and somewhere in there gosh darn it I wanted to finish the Original Mexican Restaurant handbook. It's so close, it just needs a bit more time. Which I'm out of. Hmph.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Catch-up, update, and pics!

The short version since the other day: everything worked out. I made it to both my classes and the goods were received. Needed a new tank of gas after it was all said and done but it was a great and successful day. Huzzah!

We expect to open Tuesday! The delays right now: finishing the plumbing (we are leaking all over), grouting and cleaning the tile floor, installing shelves and IKEA-style boards to hang our tools in the back, setting up the tables and chairs in the front, and getting our last batch of supplies that Sysco did not provide. (There's a few headaches involved in that.)

We trained almost everyone yesterday as well as some hardcore cleaning and rearranging. Miracles abounded. All of our major equipment fits in the back better than Tetris. All of our food purchases fit in the fridge/freezer. Everything works and is holding the right temperatures. Our coworkers are mature, hardworking and get along. Nothing exploded or caught fire. (But our fire extinguisher is installed if something DID catch fire. That's called "preparation!") We are still getting random walk-ins hoping that the bakery is open already. Our neighboring businesses (particularly Willie's Icehouse and a brand new nail salon, called something like Uniquely Heavenly) are thriving and pulling in a lot of traffic to the area. I mean, seriously, we are set up to win!

So I wanted to share some photos of the process. They are generally a progression of how the bakery is slowly but surely getting rearranged, scrubbed within an inch of its life, and reformed into something very chic, trendy, and clean. I couldn't be prouder.

My first shipment of ice cream!

The front room with Coke machine not where it's going to be and the empty dipping stations (where the ice cream goes).

Hurray for ice cream!

The view from behind the counter, earlier in the week. Plumbing and electrical work not completed.

Without storage (or room to install storage with all the construction in the back), we stacked our dry goods off the ground in the front room.

Much improved! This was our status yesterday. With the lovely giant pictures hung, it looks much more complete. (The vagrant Coke machine moved but is still not in its final destination.)

Our ovens are beasts, lasting for decades of use. But they ugly.

A bit of elbow grease fixed them right up!

And our shiny new refrigeration! I am just amazed at how everything fits. It was like we were meant to be here.

Today: shopping at Sam's (yes, Sam's) for our remaining ingredients that we didn't get. We are going to set up with Ben E Keith in hopes of timely, organized and complete service. But for right now, everyone's thoughts are on getting started and getting through the first week. It's happening, people!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Everything all at once

I am standing inside the bakery. Sysco should be delivering our food today at 1pm but suddenly they wanted to come earlier. Like now. Now is coincidentally also the time I wanted to be preparing material for training this afternoon, fixing our pos system, picking up uniforms, and studying for my test today. I have two classes I can't miss today that I might miss. I have training to do that isn't ready. And I am here to receive a delivery that isn't delivered. Rough morning.

Monday, April 25, 2011

One week!

I have completed my 256 hours of internship! Boerne Stage Bakery is set to open next Saturday, April 30. Lots of work is going into preparing for the opening. The highlights of my week were: 1) placing the order for our first (estimated) week’s delivery of food with Sysco, 2) attending the Ben E Keith trade show (I even got a VIP pass!), and 3) training on the POS system, Focus.

In addition, we had our first meeting with (almost) all the employees of the bakery, where we were able to introduce ourselves, see the bakery’s state of completion, and discuss schedules for this next week and the opening. It was a good orientation and I think it was necessary for the employees to see firsthand what Tom and Laura are dealing with on their end, which sheds some light as to why we may not get the immediate communication on deadlines and schedules that we were hoping for. It’s just too soon to say, beyond “here’s what we’re looking at now. We’re going to be flexible to change.” Fortunately, everyone had a great attitude and seemed very willing to bear with the growing pains. Also a good sign: during our 1.5 hour meeting at the bakery, no fewer than 5 people stopped by and tried to enter the bakery, thinking we were already open. Hurray potential customers!

As for the other highlights, I was very pleased with my performance overall. Placing the order with Amy from Sysco was very satisfying; I had everything ready to go and she was very cooperative in person. I am really happy that even though I led that meeting, Tom was there to observe and learn. He is really determined to be knowledgeable about every element of his bakery, which makes me respect him a lot. I can tell that he is relaxing and gaining confidence in his decision to hire me as manager the more he sees me in action. It feels great.

The Ben E Keith trade show was a riot. It was in the convention center, and everything from seafood to sorbet, paper goods to pastry, cooking demos to coolers was there. I could have spent hours sampling goodies if I had been left up to my own devices. Fortunately, I was greeted and then shown around by Henry McCrary, a very friendly and helpful Ben E Keith rep; after I got my bearings, he then turned me loose to gather information and literature on products relevant to the bakery, such as Tupperware/bins, gloves, eco-friendly flatware and to-go boxes, and various food things that we didn’t have settled with Sysco such as ham and chorizo. It was a lot of fun to wander with a purpose, and I look forward to sharing my findings with the owners.

Finally, we began training on Focus, our point-of-sales system. I love this system for the most part; it is very intuitive, does not present too many or too few options, and generally seems very reliable. It was easy for me to understand how to run reports and what those reports would tell us, which is good because that will be a significant part of my job. I took the POS system home and updated the menu options and graphics so it reads in what to me is the most logical and correct way. I trained Marnie on using it and got her ID set up as well, so I feel fairly confident in my ability to train the remaining employees.

Lots to be done yet this week. Wednesday we get our delivery of food, which I will receive and inspect. Wednesday is also when we will all come and clean the equipment and front of house until it's shiny and fabulous. And then Thursday and Friday will be training and a "family & friends" tasting before our grand opening on Saturday!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fun with food

The opening has been delayed.

Dunno until when. I'm really quite relieved; we drove by there today and I stopped and pressed my face against the glass. It's still a wasteland as far as I could tell; no sign, paint isn't quite done, tile isn't installed, no equipment in the front of house at all. It would take some kind of Christmas miracle to get that place ready for the "friends and family tasting" that was due to happen in 6 days. And really, I want us to be better hired and better trained than would be possible in a week and a half. So overall right now my overwhelming feeling is relief.

Regardless, it was a super fun weekend of playing with food!

Marnie and I tackled the remaining menu items enthusiastically. We have a great quiche made with a Sysco biscuit dough, San Manuel chorizo, and Rotel tomatoes and green chiles. We want to find a pan with Texas-shaped mini loaves and make them Texas quiches. So cute. They taste fantastic! And we have a zesty quiche with Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage, cheddar cheese and jalapenos on a really yummy sweet yeast kolache dough. So our breakfasts are set, costed-out, procedured-out and fabulous.

We also took on a couple of our "signature breads." We have one with chopped black olives and feta, which was just beautiful and the little pockets of flavor were wonderful. We have another with rosemary and parmigiano cheese--the most fragrant by far! Exquisite. And we have a sweet honey and oat loaf. We may only start with these three as our "specialty" breads and I'm okay if we do; these are three that I can stand behind 100% and I'm not even really a bread person.

(But oh! if I have to try another carrot cake muffin in the next 5 years, I am going to give up baked goods forever. We have tried 5 carrot cake recipes in search of one that will meet Tom's very precise mental picture of The Ideal Carrot Muffin. We are pretty sure we nailed it. But I really loathe carrot cake at the moment. I could never work as a taste tester.)

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Testing products

Done, done, on to the next!

So far for the Boerne Stage Bakery we have a pretty complete menu. There are a couple items we are doing from ready-made products (more on that soon), some items we are doing from recipe (aka from scratch), and some things that are a combination of the two. This is really the best strategy for a small bakery with a limited kitchen and a very limited number of employees--if we tried to make everything from scratch, we would have to charge $10 a cupcake to make a profit on the small volume we could produce. But the combination of the two ensures that we can have a steady stream of fresh baked goods in the proofer/oven/on the shelves at any point in time. It will just take careful mise en place to make sure we have it all timed right.

Those of you who know me are aware that I can be somewhat of a culinary snoot. This isn't to say that I don't like food; I really love food. But I have preconceived notions about terms like "fresh, local, organic, made from scratch" and terms like "ready-made, pre-packaged, convenience." To me, it's a black and white difference. One category is made with love, the other is made with preservatives. "I'm selling out," I glumly told myself at the thought of abandoning my three years of culinary training in favor of a frozen bread product.

I'm happy to be proven wrong.

True, not everything--not most of the things--that we've tasted from Sysco have been as good or better than homemade. Some things were as unpleasant as I'd expected. But other things are really, astonishingly palatable. I would put my name on them without cringing. And boy is it hard to turn down a flaky little puff pastry danish that you pull out of the bag onto a sheet pan, pop in the oven, ice and serve. It simply defied the hours of labor that went into my hand-made puff pastry. Hours and space that we don't have. So much butter. So much time and pampering. Versus frozen puff pastry that any of us would have been happy to claim on our final exam in Laminated Doughs.

So we're going with those, as well as dough bases (sourdough and wheat) that are incredibly easy to personalize, proof and bake. We have excellent recipes for banana streusel muffins, apple granola muffins, blueberry muffins, chocolate chip cookies and ranger cookies. We have cake pops that are an entire universe better than Starbucks'. We are finalizing quiches and kolaches (YUM!). We still want a good sugar cookie, pecan bar, and to revise our carrot cake muffin.

That's the food side of things. Just delighted with our progress. My job right now is to get these recipes to a science and make a recipe book with precise measurements of amounts, procedure, and time rested/proofed/baked. It needs to be all spelled out. Fortunately Sysco is very accommodating to new businesses starting up and they gave us a bunch of the product to play with. It should be enough.

In other news, we had a bit of a setback with staffing and need two more bakers to work evenings. No idea on front of house. I am officially on the full-time payroll in four days.

Yep, moving, shaking and baking!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Olives Ole

Finally, Olives Ole. This week was extremely long and taxing physically and mentally, but I got to learn many new things and apply them. What kept me going was not sweating it when things didn’t go right—because inevitably they didn’t. And it all still worked out okay. I might consider that one of the most important lessons I learned doing this event.

Monday was devoted to collecting all the lists of volunteers that had been posted in the St. Philip’s hallways and emailing all the volunteers with information regarding the event. Tuesday we had a last-minute meeting with about 20 Dames, most of whom had not been at any of the other meetings. It was apparent that there were gaps in the communication; one Dame had been collecting volunteers for the non-concessions and had no idea that St. Philip’s was providing the volunteers for the concessions despite the fact that we’d been here all along. There were some changes made to the menu; Sysco contacted me and informed me that they were unable to procure lamb chops, so the decision was made to go with ribeye instead and keep the side dish and sauce.

Thursday, all the food product was delivered to St. Philip’s and I was the one to receive it. This was significant for me because even though I have taken Purchasing and understand the general idea of how receiving inventory works, this was the first time I had put my learning into practice. It was really difficult! We were speaking different languages, so to speak, and I had to translate on the spot. I had my checklists and the delivery order from River City Produce and another from Ben E Keith. Di-Anna had received the dry goods and paper goods from Sysco at the Botanical Gardens, but I wasn’t initially aware of this and did not know from which source we were supposed to be receiving the food. So this took a bit of adjustment for me. Even more of an adjustment was the way large quantities of food is packaged and shipped; it was not at all like how I had written it in the ingredient requisition, because I just didn’t know. I would say “60 each butternut squash” and I ended up getting 3 cartons of some butternut squash by the pound. So I’d have to look at them and calculate/guess if the amount they sent was indeed the same as the amount I requested. Sometimes it was. Sometimes it was not, and sometimes not even close. There were items they were unable to procure for us (pomegranate juice). There were things they procured some of, not all of (24 heads of collard greens instead of 40). There were things on the list that we didn’t see in person (but they ended up being there after all, oops). The best I could do was go down the list, try to translate it as best I could, and check the quality of the items (that at least I could do well). Ultimately another couple of shopping trips were made to supplement the missing items and we continued onward.

(Since the food was donated, it wasn’t hard for me to keep from getting out of sorts about the missing things…something about not looking a gift horse in the mouth.)

Friday was prep day. I was one of five chefs in command, and ultimately was the kitchen manager of all three classes prepping ingredients and making 10 dishes, most of which for 600 portions. This involved assigning recipes to groups of students; gathering fresh ingredients from the food truck outside, dry ingredients from wherever we squirreled them inside St. Philip’s; and following and/or changing the recipes. Some changes were forced because ingredients weren’t available in the desired amount, and some were adjustments we made a la minute to the recipes (e.g. not adding a pound of black pepper to the chicken salad). In some cases we made great use of our time and cranked things out faster than I expected, such as the mashed sweet potatoes, zinfandel pomegranate reduction, and chocolate chipotle brownies. Other things took far longer than they should have, such as the hummus (thanks to not getting enough cans of chickpeas which forced us to cook our own, a time-consuming process that ended up not being necessary as I will discuss in a bit), the peachwood smoked chicken salad (in one part due to the laborious job of smoking chicken and finishing it in the oven, and in another part due to the decision to chop 60 red bell peppers by hand rather than running them through the buffalo chopper which is what should have been utilized for all mass production of vegetables). Overall, the classes were very receptive, hard-working and focused. At the end of the day, all the prep work was completed and everything tasted delicious.

Finally, Saturday was the event. I felt completely in my element all day as I collected volunteers when they arrived, ordered them to set up, grab food off the truck, man a booth and plate food, or run errands for all the Dames. We had an astonishingly good turnout of volunteers (out of 49 that signed up, only about 6 were no-shows), and a handful of those scheduled until 2pm stayed with us until 4pm which was wonderful. Once again, nothing went totally right. But we rolled with it all the way through. I kept morale up, checked in with the volunteers to make sure they understood how we wanted things and ensured they got breaks and a chance to eat and drink, and overall the concessions were a success.

Was there room for improvement? Absolutely. I had to send people back to school to pick up the zinfandel pomegranate sauce that I had forgotten to load onto the truck, and to Central Market because foolishly we had neglected to bring salt, pepper and chicken base to the event. Some ingredients were not in sufficient supply for the paella station (thanks to the missing red bell peppers). We had far too much of everything else, especially the stupid labor-intensive hummus. We returned what we could, donated what we could, and gave as much away to the volunteers as they wanted, and still threw away probably 15 trays of food. The biggest financial calamity was that the ribeye, which was prepared at another location by one of the Dames’ caterers, was not held at a food safe temperature. The health inspectors came, checked it, and ordered it destroyed. The Dame in charge of that station made the decision to go purchase racks of lamb at astonishingly awful prices at Sam’s Club just to have something to serve. (Incidentally, Tavis said it was some of the best lamb he’s ever eaten, so it was not a complete waste.)

As far as labor goes, St. Philip’s made this possible. I don’t know how they could have done it without us. Setup did not take as long as expected; breaking it down at the end of the day took longer. The Dames, as often as they had complained that breaking it down was the part that they were least-prepared-for in the past two years, had still not devoted sufficient time and planning to ensure that they would be better prepared this year! Our volunteers were done by this point, physically and mentally. Many of them had cooked the night before or been there since 7am. We were culinary students, we had prepared and served food, and asking more of them was ridiculous. So this is definitely an area for improvement in future years.

Throughout this week, I learned so much about my ability to thrive under the pressure of long hours, a huge amount of multi-tasking, and being diplomatic to every stressed person under trying conditions. I am hugely proud of myself and I know that I came out of this event knowing once again that when I’m put to the test, I can and will do a great job.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ramping up

I've been scouting for talent this past week. I will settle for warm bodies if we get close to the start date and I have to, but I'm trying for talent. The only people I know are at St. Philip's, which is just all sorts of pros and cons in itself. A pro: they wouldn't be in culinary school if cooking/baking didn't light up their eyes. A con: our school is not remotely close to the bakery, and generally that holds true for the students attending this school as well. A pro and a con: they are learning cooking/baking techniques. In other words, yay we have some food knowledge. But boo we are all basically students still, entering into a completely new business with owners who do not have a professional culinary background either. A giant con: they're all going to have to be part-time because they are currently students. That means a huge juggle of schedules and more employees needed to fill in the gaps.

Other pros and cons outside the student factor: they are all friends of mine. And every one of the three bakers I have found are people I have worked with in close quarters, in high pressure situations, and for long hours. I have seen them during slow times and stressful times. I have seen how often they skip class (rarely to never) and for what reasons. I have seen AND TASTED the products made by their own hands. I can't think of a better recommendation, a more objective and thorough evaluation, than that of the experience I have shared with these three people.

I know the theory behind why it is difficult to go from being peers to being boss/subordinate. I understand that it's harder to discipline, fire, or give negative feedback to a person that is also a friend. That there may be complaints of favoritism, especially when I have to hire other people that I don't know yet. That I may struggle making the schedule fit around each employee's needs because I want them to have time to spend with their family even though we don't have anyone else to cover that shift. And I know that in the couple of years that I was a manager, my biggest weakness was making my team a family first, a business second. I was lacking the "tough" in "tough love." This is something I absolutely must improve, and now, and always.

For what it's worth, I have weighed all of this carefully and I still wouldn't do it any other way. These people are just too good.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

You can stop holding your breath

I got the job! Anticipated start date is April 4, with a list of tasks to complete on a very nice hourly basis until then. Excitement abounds! We are waiting for Marnie's official acceptance letter but they alluded to her directly in my "list of tasks" so we know she got it, just not if they agreed to her hourly wage.

Times are happy.

Olives Ole is doing well. The ingredients and supplies list can't stay completed no matter how hard I try; as soon as I send it off, I get two emails letting me know things have changed again. I need to take a 5 Hour Energy and crank this sucker out while I still have time.

And yesterday I finally got into the swing of writing out all my notes for the Original Mexican Restaurant into quiz form. It's a lot of fun and it will be very helpful for new hires to have the menu knowledge really drilled into their head before they begin.

This past week I got to be the student rep for the San Antonio Culinary & Restaurant Committee luncheon again (two semesters in a row! Lucky me!) which meant eating great food made by one of the Management & Food Production classes--the best gazpacho I've ever had, plus lamb chops (mine was killed) and a really interesting baklava cheesecake. (See below.) I was also treated to the best breakfast tacos in San Antonio at Mitman's (sorry, Tink a Tako, you've been replaced), fed chipotle chocolate brownies that we'll be selling at Olives Ole, and more free fried pickles, bison burgers and sweet potato fries at Earl Abels during last Sunday's Olives Ole meeting. For as much work as I'm putting into this semester, I sure can't complain about the food.

It's the little perks, really.

Overall, I am feeling great and really delighted in everything that is being accomplished. My ducks are all in a row. This week.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Friday, February 18, 2011

...or am I?

Week of highs and lows. Highs: the Rampage class was fantastic, smooth, faster than expected and the guys had a blast. We were on the local news--there's a possibility my interview segment will be played tomorrow, and if so I'll definitely record and post it. I have pics of our trial run which I'll put up shortly.

Lows: after not hearing from Tom and Laura for the week, I emailed them Thursday inquiring about how things were proceeding. The thing is....they never said "ok you're hired." They said they liked what they heard, and we went off our separate ways. It was only through a slow, gradual process of coming down off that "squee I have a future!" buzz that I realized that I did not in fact know if I was hired. The email response was indecisive as well; they're still "considering." And all of a sudden I feel like a dummy for even mentioning this job to anyone, let alone shouting it from the rooftops like I've been doing.

I didn't even have a chance to rest after the Rampage (which took HOURS to plan, finagle, organize and clean up) before the next alarm began flashing for Olives Ole. It's just relentless. I'm feeling pretty overwhelmed, and the discouragement of not knowing where I stand with the Bakery is not at all helping.

Can I just say that 90% of the stress of this week would have been completely avoided with better communication?

a) We were double-booked in the lab for the Rampage event. Everybody needed the lab and nobody had told everybody else that they needed it, we just all assumed we would be able to use it. I found this out AN HOUR before they showed up, when we had already begun setting everything up for the class. So it took Chef Will squeezing his class into a different lab and letting us use his to resolve that.

b) Why didn't I think to ask Tom at the end of our meeting, "so what is our status right now? When can I expect to hear from you again?" Answer: because I have done exactly one job interview from outside the company; everything else was an internal promotion or was no interview required. I just didn't know. I assumed because they needed a GM and here I was, willing to do everything that they needed, shazam everybody wins. Very silly of me. There's no reason he should have known that I would leave with mixed signals due to my naivete but argh! Wish somebody would have thought to say something sum-up-ish.

c) One of the teachers at our campus is also doing demos on "health & wellness" for Olives Ole. All week we have been trying to get to her to find out what lab she is using--because we sure learned that we can't assume the labs are going to be open just because we desperately need them to be!--and what recipes she is doing because I have to include her ingredients in the requisition that should have been finalized a week ago. That's all. And all she's managed to respond is "my guys are taking care of the dishes, don't worry." THAT'S NOT AN ANSWER. I need the ingredients or they're not getting purchased. It is beyond frustrating to have my reputation on the line for somebody else's failure to communicate.

Can you tell it's been a rough week? At least my weekend responsibilities are minimal; I'm going to try to catch up on my rest and come back recharged next week.

(I will post the Rampage pics and video if we get it, because it really did go well and it's important for me to take time to dwell on my successes too.)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

I'm taking it!

Meeting with Tom and Laura: check.
Mission I can believe in and commit myself to: check.
Bosses I can communicate with: check.

Yep, I'm taking the job.

*happy dance happy dance happy dance*

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Counting my chickens

As of right now, I am finishing up my Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management degrees. I have 1 more class in each category to take over the summer/fall and then I will graduate. I have also been intending to apply for the Baking & Pastry Arts program which would have me done with St Philips in Spring 2012. It's competitive-- about 80 people apply for a class of 16. But I'm confident that I would be accepted because *brag mode engaged* I am well-known in the department, I have excellent grades including in the pastry classes I've previously taken, and once I get that pesky little detail of not having any professional references straightened out, I write a pretty good application essay. Plus my good friend Marnie will kill me if I don't apply for it, because she is too.

Well, Marnie may be killing me.

Have I mentioned that Chef is consulting on the side for a fellow who is opening up a bakery? Probably not. This week I took two bakery-related field trips with Chef--Monday we went and picked out and paid for restaurant equipment on the South side of San Antonio. Boy do I need to learn Spanish. Chef told me straight out that if I went in there speaking English, I would get a different price quote. But that equipment is built like a tank, yo.

The second field trip was getting it delivered to the location, which he has already purchased. It's in Leon Springs on Boerne Stage Rd and I-10, which is a pretty great area. Of course it was the day that San Antonio decided to be 20 degrees, but whatever.

So the long and short of it is, this guy Tom has the business plan and savvy but he needs a general manager, effective April or May of this year. Chef thinks it should be me. Tom seems amenable--at his request I have already sent him my resume and we are meeting sometime over the next week or so to discuss employment.

If I like what I hear, this may be my entrance into the culinary world.

I mean, when else can you graduate from school and have your first job offer be the GM position to start up a new business? Especially one that is being consulted by Chef who certainly has the years and experience to back up his confidence in what Tom is planning.

It's kind of scary and awesome. But I want to be sure that I believe in what Tom wants to do and my role in making that happen. I've had enough "jobs" to know that I am happiest and I work hardest when I'm part of a mission. I'm a crusader. That's why I'm enjoying my work with Chef so much; I see every part of it as a chance to do something great, and it's really rewarding for me. He's got to make me a believer, or I'm staying the course with school.

A slightly inappropriate funny. Chef and I were talking about my upcoming interview. I was expressing how nervous I am to ask about their expectations of me as the GM of this unknown business, and Chef told me I was going about it all wrong. Rather than letting Tom tell me what I was going to do, I need to tell him what I can do, what I will do, and what I won't do--namely, work myself to the bone and never see my family.

I surely looked skeptical with a hint of shock, because have I mentioned I'm a crusader? who were not known for their rich and thriving personal lives? so Chef took a different approach. "Treat the interview as if it were a request for sex. YOU have to be the one to set the terms. YOU set the conditions and be firm about them, and if he doesn't follow through, it's a no-go." He paused and added, "Just put your mind back in high school."

I dimpled and said, "Oh, no, married life is like that too."

Sad thing is, it made sense. And I feel more confident going in and changing my life. Possibly. This may all be very anti-climactic if it doesn't work out, but it's a fun milestone.

(In other weekly news, I finally finished the food requisition list for Olives Ole, put it in a snazzy format and am getting it proofed before submitting it. And I also turned in my ingredient requisition for the San Antonio Rampage demo next Wednesday. Tomorrow night, the aforementioned-future-assassin Marnie will come over with her son and sister-in-law and we will do a test run of the demo using the civilians as surrogate hockey players. Which means between now and then I need to buy the test run ingredients and finish the handout which is the basis of the entire class. I will need to hit up the Original for a bit this weekend but not actually for the Practicum--my Legal Issues class wants us to do a "property inspection" and check for any safety hazards/violations, so it's as convenient as anything. Well okay it isn't, because it's downtown which is a long drive and then I have to deal with parking nonsense, but I would feel silly inspecting a random other place.)

Monday, February 7, 2011

A week at a glance

Last week was snoozy. That's its official designation. I was lacking a sense of urgency, compounded by a general lack of communication with Les Dames. Fortunately this picked up throughout the week and Chef and I started a very tentative timeline of events. Fast forward to yesterday, a 3 hour meeting at the Botanical Gardens where we laid out the general schematics for the concessions booths and my fellow St Philips students got even more courses to prepare.

(Currently we're in charge of making:
*a Texas “Greens” Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash and Agave Caramelized Pepitas
*Peach Wood Smoked Chicken
*Tuscan Dried Cherry Farro Salad
*Hummus Three Ways (roasted red bell pepper, green olive, and toasted pine nut)
*Grilled Vegetable Pita Sandwich
*Triple Chocolate Chipotle Brownies
*Mashed sweet potatoes and a pomegranate & red wine reduction to accompany Persian Spiced Lamb Chops

and now the food that will be featured in the hourly demos:
*Italian-Mexican Pesto
*Cannellini Bean Salad
*Mediterranean Salad
and more of the farro and mixed greens salads)

It was a hugely productive meeting. Though Chef couldn't attend this meeting, I think I did a good job--I took notes and pictures and got all my current batch of questions answered. But boy was it a lot to take in! I sincerely hope it's easier for everyone next year.

(I also asked them to save all receipts pertaining to purchases made for OO this year because we have no list of the dry goods used last year, just various amalgamations of "oh, I'll need 2 flat top ranges for my dish" that need to be compiled. It's all over the place and that's not very helpful right now--we'll be ordering too much of some stuff, not enough other stuff, and again next year should be MUCH better. I'm already picturing a table with "Supplies" at the top, "Item," "Amount" "Used by" "Used for" which will be so easy to fill in and change to meet variations in the portions prepared/recipe used for future years!)

This week my task is to add the new recipes to the list of ingredients and send that to Rosemary, of the RK Group, who will be getting the food donated probably from Sysco. Then we'll start on the dry goods list. So that was work on Olives Ole.

I visited the Original for another 6 hour stretch, which again was very productive. I have plenty of fodder for the testing part of the handbook, that's for sure! I got more of a chance to talk with Jose, one of the two lodebearing cooks in the back, and it helped assuage my concerns from last week about "really, what good would a handbook do these guys?" (Answer: not much. But some.)

Today I am running errands for/with Chef, including going with him to where he gets restaurant equipment. I was going to meet with Larkin, the son of the Original's owner whom I met on Saturday's shift, and go over some recipes but we can do that via email.

On top of all that, I am a week away from teaching another demo to the San Antonio Rampage. I finalized my menu at least and am very excited about it, but I need to finish the handout to accompany the class, requisition the ingredients by Wednesday, and do a dry run with my friend Marnie and some victims (aka family and friends) on Friday so that it goes off without a hitch next Wednesday. The only problem right now is the time got changed to 2pm-5pm, which may conflict with our school schedule--I'm pretty sure all 3 of the labs that we have at school will be in use at that time, so there won't be anywhere to actually have the class. I'm waiting to hear back on this. So yes, a very busy week right on the heels of Snoozeville. That's just what I get.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Day one at the Original

Yesterday I switched gears from Olives Ole to focus on my other major project: writing employee handbooks for the waitstaff, hosts, and cooks at the Original Mexican Restaurant on the Riverwalk. From 6pm-11pm I immersed myself in the restaurant, which meant shadowing all the stations, walking around the place, and talking with as many employees to get their perspective on what new hires need to know when being trained. Apart from a few months of low-key waitressing, I have no restaurant experience so this is a whole new set of job skills for me. It was intense.

Fortunately it was a "slow" night by Riverwalk standards, so I had plenty of opportunities to talk shop. The waitstaff is the only group of employees with any sort of training manual already created, although one waitress I talked to stared at it blankly and said she'd never seen it before. It's not a bad foundation and actually does test on most of the important things...but according to the managers, the waitstaff is just not absorbing it. I'm going to rewrite the tests so that the same questions are asked 2-3 times in order to help reinforce the knowledge, and I want to create a more hands-on, visual test for things such as the bar menu (one of the largest knowledge gaps identified....with 38 margaritas, I'm not surprised!).

Part of the problem is the extremely transient nature of the employees here. One manager estimated that they go through 200 waiters a year. They come and go so quickly that a significant portion of the staff is still learning the restaurant at any given time. That makes it hard to achieve consistent service. Such is the nature of Riverwalk restaurants and waitstaff in most places.

(I have to say that at least as far as last night, I thought the waitstaff was pretty good. They had a decent hustle, I didn't see too many congregating or wandering aimlessly, and their tables seemed taken care of fairly well. That was my initial impression anyway.)

The hosts don't even have a manual. They are not trained according to any standardized program, and more often than not, their training consists of "okay, these are the table numbers, go seat people." The elements that the senior host last night found lacking were menu knowledge and sales skills, although he doubted that the latter could be taught. I disagree--I am a pretty reserved, shy, occasionally insecure person but I have been taught how to sell by engaging the customer and making them feel that connection. Too many times last night, I would see a group of three hosts at the front all facing inward at each other, while potential customers passed by the entrance. That was the moment the hosts needed to make eye contact, smile, extend the offer--"immediate seating available!" Even if they aren't saying it verbally, they can say it with their body language. I saw enough people pause, look in, give these visual clues that they were right on the edge of getting pulled in--and nobody engaged them. They were ignored. I know this is a teachable skill.

For comparison, when Chef Will is at the Original, he said that he spends about half his time at the front doing just what I described: converting potential customers to actual customers. The cutesy philosophy: read 'em, greet 'em, seat 'em, bleed 'em, and repeat 'em. He's terrific at it and business soared when he was at the helm. I understand that there's more to it than "pulling in as many customers as possible--" after all, if we fill more tables than we have staff to wait, then there will be a problem. But we had plenty of staffing. It shouldn't have been an issue to keep pulling in customers until the place was full, pause briefly to turn over some tables, and repeat the process.

Maybe I'm just an overachiever. I dunno.

Anyway, room for improvement with the host training. I'm excited about that part.

And finally the cooks. I spent enough time in the kitchen to see that they were a calm, capable bunch of men who really don't require training for what they're doing. It's color by numbers--the prep work is done by one group, the cooking/assembly by another, and for as basic and familiar as the dishes are, their system works just fine. I'm a bit intimidated to try and create a manual for this position. I'll talk to Chef about it.

I felt fortunate that Chef had enough free time to sit with me and explain the inner workings of the Original. It was a terrific learning experience, start to finish. At one point I was fretting over whether I was doing myself a disservice by wanting to enter the teaching profession without putting in years of work in this restaurant atmosphere.

Chef's awesome response: "You don't have to have your ass kicked to know that it hurts."

So that was the Original.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Nutshell of current tasks

(For those like me who can barely encompass everything regarding an event.)

Chef says:

I want to start writing out the following:

1. the schematic drawing for placement of booths
2. a vendor /presenter enrollment sheet detailing electrical needs tables etc.
3. a vendor ‘presenter sheet detailing health parameters for hair .hand washing etc.
4. gather information form the ladies on the hand washing plan they have in place.
5. verify this is in keeping with health code
6. starting time line for things like health permits, and associated costs
7. a written timeline plan for dates and times for booth assembly and complete ready setup on day of event( ie where we get wagon and where it goes, when rosemary’s stuff should be delivered etc.

More later

A dilemma, resolved

Betcha didn't even know there was a dilemma, did you? That's right, because I hadn't told you about it yet.

This week was momentous. I finally met a segment of Les Dames d'Escoffier, the network of culinary ladies who among many other things are the ones running Olives Ole. Among them, we have Rosemary of the RK Group (that's Rosemary Kowalski, as in yes, that Rosemary) which rules the world in San Antonio catering; Jenny of Incarnate Word and Susan of Trinity Universities, respectively; Dianna whose husband owns Earl Abel's, a staple of San Antonian old skool restaurants. (Perks: during the meeting, she had us served awesome fried chicken, fried pickles and pie. I love my life!)

During the meeting, I took copious notes on Olives Ole, where we stood right now, the general shape of the event, what still needed to be done, etc. I am in possession of nowhere near enough information to compile an operations manual for this event in years to come, but it's a start! The ladies were lovely, very friendly and warm and encouraging. And I contributed to a dish that was missing a certain something by suggesting pepitas. It's my claim to fame!

After that, I was able to take the recipes that we will be preparing at St Philip's and scale them for the number of portions we needed (generally 600). Then I made a shopping list with the total amounts of ingredients. Very fortunately, Les Dames are having all the food donated! That helps when we're working with 300 chicken breasts and 15 pounds of unsweetened chocolate and 7 gallons of olive oil (it IS an olive oil festival).

The dilemma came later in the week. Last year around Thanksgiving, Chef Will informed me that the Cooking School which is run out of HEB Central Market (aka the GucciB) had some turnover and was needing applicants. Mary Martini, also ones of Les Dames and a friend of Chef Will's, asked if he had any good candidates. He named me. I was ecstatic at the thought of interning in the Cooking School, which would help me learn not just a constant variety of techniques as various chefs passed through San Antonio and shared their specialties with anyone from the community who wanted to pay to learn; but also their teaching techniques. It's really quite a perfect fit for a culinary student who aspires to do everything and teach in particular.

However, she had to fill the position before my internship began.

So Tuesday, I received an email from her informing me that one of her employees wants to go part-time, which means she again has availability and wanted to know if I were otherwise committed. Oh boy am I committed. I'm a one-gal committee. But there's conflict! I ask Chef for guidance.

Chef's first response is the same as mine: argh! But she's missed her window of opportunity. I write an appreciative but apologetic reply to Mary expressing my hopes that we will find ourselves available at the same time in the future.

(I was actually very glad to get this response from him because I really believe in what I'm doing right now! I've put in about 25 hours of work on these projects which isn't a ton in the grand scheme of things but it feels colossal. And I've planned out the rest of my semester around these events, and I know how much I'm helping Chef, and I just didn't want to abandon everything I have going already! Plus it felt nice to be appreciated as part of the team.)

Chef's second response, later that night: Cancel that. I need to email her back and see if there's still a chance, because ultimately interning at the Cooking School ---> a job offer at the Cooking School, and as my mentor he has to think not just of me in terms of this semester but my long-term success as well.

And I understand. I do. He wants what's best for me in the long run. But all I can picture is the person who finds a wild animal and cares for it, raising it in his home. And then one day there comes the moment when the person realizes he's doing a disservice to the wild animal and he takes it out to the edge of the forest and tells it, "GO! Go on!" and the animal just looks back at him with a confused, hurt expression as if to say "But we're friends! I want to go with you!" and the human is trying not to cry and eventually throws sticks to make the animal go back to the wild where it belongs. And that was how I felt.

After tossing and turning all night, I decided my fate was set and I was not going to fight it. I was sticking by Chef's side whether he wanted me to or not! Fortunately he didn't fight me on it, having come to much the same conclusion himself. And life has resolved back into its regular patterns.

(During one of my melodramatic fits this week, I had to pause mid-angst and say to Tavis, "Man, my life is SO hard. Woe is me, I have too many job offers, everyone wants me. Good grief, my problems are so white collar." A much needed laugh at self was had.)

In other good news: I did not in fact have to wake up to do Cowboy Breakfast this morning. And the Rodeo Luncheon in February is canceled; I compiled the shopping list for that event and emailed it to the guy in charge and he couldn't afford it this year. So my workload has opened up and I have more time to focus on Olives Ole and the Original Mexican handbooks. Huzzah!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Skills USA - or, Why I Am Not Tony Bourdain

Judging is easy! thought I. It's a high school culinary competition in the morning and a baking competition in the afternoon. I'll waltz in, schmooz, look official and say foodie code words, and eat 17 dishes for lunch and 17 desserts for dinner. Oh and thank you very much for paying me for 12 hours of internship.

Such was not my day. The judging actually entailed work, of the laborious, mentally-taxing kind. Our score sheet had actual criteria--so much so that we three judges had to divide it into thirds to tackle in a somewhat timely manner. One judge had to evaluate the students' mise en place (the general orderliness of their stations) and professional attire; one judge evaluated their knife skills, including mincing, dicing, julienning (long thin strips), and the ever-so-ridiculous tourne, aka "why do I want a carrot that looks like a 7 sided football?"

I got to evaluate all 17 students on food sanitation and safety practices.

This means running around the entire room at once to make sure every cutting board is put on a wet towel so it doesn't slip and fall off the table; every knife cut is deliberate and non-frantic-hacking; every meat product is removed and thoroughly scrubbed and sanitized from the prep area before the next product is prepped so there is no danger of cross-contamination; and everything is cooked to the minimum safe internal cooking temperature within a safe amount of time.

It was a LOT of work and I was not even slightly prepared. I was expected not only to observe each of these kids at every moment and spot any sanitation discrepancy, but be able to quiz the kids on these standards at the same time. I resorted to the same three questions: "what's the temperature danger zone?" (41-135 degrees, give or take. This is constantly revised and changes based on who you're asking, but I was looking for the ballpark.) "how long can you leave food in the temperature danger zone before you must throw it out?" (4 hours, aka GRANDMA DON'T EAT MEAT THAT WAS LEFT OUT OVERNIGHT!) "what is the minimum internal temperature for cooking chicken?" (165 degrees)

(I got some very interesting responses... Temperature danger zone went from "40 to 410 degrees." You can leave food in the temperature danger zone for "two days." The chicken was pretty easy to everyone to remember, which was fortunate because they were cooking chicken.)

It was actually a very thorough meal, wasting little while demonstrating a multitude of techniques in addition to requiring the students to utilize good time management and planning ahead. They were given a whole chicken to break down. The thighs and wings were put away to be used by the Food Bank where this competition was held. The breasts were held to make the main course. And the carcass was put in a pot to make stock, which when completed was used to make a rice pilaf and a veloute sauce (like white gravy). In addition, veggies were chopped for the stock and julienned for a sauteed vegetable side dish along with the rice and chicken breast, which was pounded thin, stuffed with sauteed spinach and pepper jack cheese, wrapped in bacon and roasted in the oven. So a very impressive demonstration of ability in 2.5 hours! Every single person was late getting their plate to judging, but nobody turned in undercooked chicken (which would have been instant disqualification).

Here are some of the plates presented!

Some were remarkably unsuccessful.

What is this I don't even

Some were considerably more balanced, although every single plate suffered from what I call "Olive Garden" syndrome, where it apparently can't be sent out until it has three times the amount of food that should be consumed by any one person at a given time.

As seen here, in one of the better plates.

Overall I have to say the scores were pretty middle-to-low...the food tended to be underseasoned and either over or underdone, and the plates were as mentioned always really crowded. But considering these were high school kids, it really did impress me.

Next came the baking competition! While not as nerve-wracking in some respects (they had 5 hours to the 2.5 of the morning's challenge, and fewer sanitation concerns since it was baking and not poultry), these kids had even more on their plate (no pun intended). Each student was responsible for producing all of the following: a loaf of bread, yeast rolls, sugar cookies, cinnamon rolls, puff pastry desserts, pie, and a decorated cake. They were able to bring their starter dough for the bread, the cakes (the important thing was demonstrating icing and decorating techniques for that one), and the puff pastry and filling were both store-bought. So while not 100% start-to-finish original, it is still a FREAKING TON OF WORK. Few students finished everything--I am absolutely astonished that anybody at all did! They are set for a terrific future in the pastry program at St Philip's or wherever they decide to take their mad skillz.

Observe these mise en place skills.

These particular tables got behind as the event went on. I noticed that almost without exception, the tables that were the most orderly and neat were the tables where the student completed all the products. The students whose tables started overpiled with bowls and ingredients did not finish everything. I am positive there is a direct correlation. Some students were able to visualize what they needed to accomplish and in what order, and they prepared for it well. Some could not.

I got to judge three different types of products: cinnamon rolls, puff pastry products (they could do a variety of shapes; the only rule was that fruit filling be baked into the puff pastry dough) and pies (not so much for flavor since it was the same canned fruit product, but I was to judge for the flakiness, thinness, and doneness of the crust as well as how sufficiently filled with fruit the pie was). Again, some of the products turned out surprisingly fantastic, at least on par with what my school would produce.

This was the ONLY person who remembered to egg wash their puff pastry before baking it. That's what gives it that lovely golden brown color as well as the shine. Everyone else lost points for color. If it looks as pasty as me, it ain't done cooking!

While cute, I had to dock this person and a couple more like them because they baked the puff pastry sheets on their own and then put the fruit on after removing from the oven. It was against the rules. I could see why they tried going in this direction and it was pretty....sorry that wasn't enough.

But check out this pie!

That's a nice pie.

Even the chefs learned a trick or two from the students! One girl demonstrated making an icing rose on a dowel by forming petals into a long skinny flower, and then pulling a piece of paper underneath the flower so that all the petals smooshed upward and suddenly it became a perfect rose.


And Judy got a whole bunch of birthday cakes. That's an interesting default name!

The scores were either pretty decent (if they completed all their products) or pretty low (if they were among the many students who did not complete everything). I was highly impressed with most of these students--they put in a long day to complete tasks that would challenge my peers.

Overall, I enjoyed interacting with the kids, evangelizing St Philip's to interested students, networking with the other judges, and developing improved skills of mass observation. But I could not feel less like a celebrity chef--I didn't saunter in, try the cuisine, make some pithy, snarky comments and head out into the sunset. I am thoroughly tired of sweets for the near future and my feet hurt. But if not a culinary rockstar, I am still left feeling very fortunate and very pleased to have participated in this event.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What else will I be doing this semester?

Yesterday I met with Chef to discuss the timeline of the major two events I would be covering this semester and planning the rest of my free time around creating the employee handbook for the Original Mexican Restaurant. This turned into a spree of adding even more events onto the pile. For my peace of mind's sake, I am going to transfer my notes into here. The more lists, the better, right?

This Saturday I am going to be representing St P as a judge of a high school culinary competition, Skills USA. Yes, a couple of the high schools in San Antonio have culinary programs. It's kind of awesome, and I remember feeling very intimidated when I had a couple kids who graduated from this program in my Basic Food Skills class because I assumed they knew a bajillion more things than me and I was going to be behind. They really do learn quite a bit and this should be a fun competition. Plus, hey, judging = eating food! I'll take pics for sure.

Cowboy Breakfast is the next big event. I have never participated in it before, mostly because I can think of much better ways to spend my 2am than working outside in freezing conditions cooking food. Buuuuut looks like I don't have the option anymore! That's January 28.

February 4 and 5 will be the Rodeo luncheon for 300 people, for which I am to design the menu and egads I need to be doing that NOW! But I need more specs on it. I'll talk to Chef today.

On February 19, there will be a cooking demo of some sort at the Rodeo.

Olives Ole is the next biggie. We are hoping to meet with the director of the event and get the details this week. We will prep for it on 3/25 with his intermediate cooking class and it happens in the Botanical Gardens on 4/1.

And finally, Fiesta. Another event I have lucked out of working every year, alas, no longer. Chef warned me that I will be working long, long hours Tuesday through Friday at their booth. Hey, if I find myself needing to make up hours, this will be a good place to grind 'em out!

There are two "blank" spots in the semester where I can theoretically focus on combining/creating the employee handbooks for waiters, hosts and cooks: between February 19 - March 25, and from April 15 - the end of the semester. I also told Chef that he really needs a website. I of course have no idea how to build a website beyond the joys of blogspot, so I'm not sure what masochistic impulse led me to offer its construction. I was probably riding high on endorphins after hearing all of ^^^^ so I figured hey, what's a little more? Silly me.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A teensy tiny change of plans

So, last we heard, I was proceeding full speed ahead to begin interning at Auden's Kitchen this week. Well, about that. I got a call from Chef Will Thornton last Thursday, and everything got flipped upside down. The little thing about doors closing and windows opening? Yeah, that.

Backstory on Chef Will. He is the program director for the Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management programs at St Philip's and has been for a couple of decades. He is American Culinary Federation (ACF)-certified CEC (Certified Executive Chef) and CCE (Certified Culinary Educator) and was named ACF Texas Chef of the Year in 2006. So he is a Pretty Big Deal.

He is also my personal mentor and biggest fan at St Philip's. All the really neat opportunities beyond the basic classwork have been given to me because of him. When I got tagged to teach a 2 hour class to the San Antonio Rampage players last semester, it was because of his support and his intuition that I was deep down inside just ACHING to be given the spotlight in front of a class. I didn't even know that about myself yet, but he sure was spot on. It was the most fun I have ever had and has led me to focus my culinary dreams on instruction! He also owns the Original Mexican Restaurant on the Riverwalk, which while not a bastion of authentic Mexican cuisine (it was planned from the get-go to be touristy), it is consistently rolling in cash from happy visitors to the Riverwalk.

So. The phone call. "Hey Megan! Have I told you recently how much I adore you and think you are the bestest?" (That's never a good sign. It means he has a big project and is about to pawn it off on me, knowing that I am completely incapable of saying no. Okay, yes, all the projects have turned out to be wildly successful, fun and informative, so maybe it IS a good sign. But still, I felt a certain trepidation.)

"So, you're starting your Practicum next week, yeah? Well, how would YOU like to come work for this little restaurant consulting company called the Will Thornton Group as an associate culinary consultant?"

Yes, I dropped everything. Yes, I made my apologies to Auden's Kitchen. And yes, I am positive it is about to be the most fun semester ever. I mean, CHECK OUT these new objectives! This is what I will be doing this semester!

1. Design and implement operations manual for the Olives Ole event at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens as the Associate Director of Operations
2. Develop menu and manage service execution for the Rodeo Competitor Luncheon
3. Develop and integrate training manuals for both front-of-house and back-of-house at the Original Mexican Restaurant in San Antonio, TX

Looks like the kitchen will wait! I'm off to do great things. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Objectives and outline

In my Practicum at Auden’s Kitchen, my objectives are to:
• Execute all savory items on the menu, including proteins, pasta, sauces, pizzas and sides by learning and demonstrating a variety of cooking techniques
• Apply excellent organization, time management and sanitation skills to produce food that is consistently safe to eat and served in a prompt manner to meet the needs of the operation
• Develop skill fabricating various cuts of meat and utilizing preparation techniques including mousses, rillettes, confit, etc.
• Learn operation standards for purchasing, receiving, storing and issuing products and understand par stock requirements for the operation

I like Chef Patricia very much. She seems to be very level-headed, passionate without being either abrasive or flighty, and willing to trust that I will prove myself. Unfortunately she doesn't work during my shift, which is....8am to 2pm, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Egads I didn't think chefs knew how to wake up before noon! But I did ask to be morning/early afternoon (so that I have time in the evenings to transcribe shows and actually make a bit of money, this being an unpaid internship and all), and she said the lunch cooks come in at 8am, so there you go.

(Honestly I don't really mind. I love the early shift at any job. The relative quiet and stillness is a great environment for preparing for the day, and it leaves me feeling in control of myself and my surroundings, much more so than arriving in the middle of the rush.)

I will be bringing my knives, tongs and scrapers. No dress code (AK shirts provided there) except hair must be restrained (but not with a hair net and paper toque! Hurray!). I will likely be starting out on prep work and then moving to the line, which is all stuff I need to know to do. I will also probably be getting a daily to-do list to help me meet my objectives. I'm very excited that I thought of the meat fabrication objective. AK works with several types of fish, so I'll finally get practice dressing them, as well as breaking down some pork and ribeyes.

Oh, and Chef Patricia doesn't like the recipe books going home with anyone. She's justifiably protective of her recipes. Shucks, I can't practice making that duck confit pizza.

One week from tomorrow, I start!

A new year, a new mission

And conveniently abandoning the old mission! Nothing against restaurant reviews--it was a fun resolution and I learned as much as I ate, which is to say, a lot. But whew, did it catch up with me by the end of the year! Sorry for leaving it in a state of shambles, everyone.

And now for something completely different!

This semester I begin the internship requirement of my culinary school. I have secured unpaid-grunt-work-employment at Auden's Kitchen, which you may remember from this very blog! Since that fateful meal, I've returned twice (high praise from an ADD diner!) and on one of those meetings, I figuratively stumbled into Chef Auden himself and, long story short, he offered me a spot in AK this spring. Cha-ching!

In an hour I meet with his sous chef, Patricia Wenckus, to discuss the schedule, objectives, and other Need To Know info. I have never worked in a professional kitchen before so I am equal parts frenetically excited and apprehensive about making a fool of myself, holding the entire kitchen back during a rush, and/or burning down the building. At least I am not going in with a cocky, "lookit me, I been edumacated!" attitude. Heyyyy, silver lining!

Every week I need to send an update to my advising Chef, Patrick Costello, summarizing what I have learned and done that past week. Since I'll be doing the writing anyway, I thought, why not post it here too? It's not the kaleidoscope of culinary glory that I focused on last year, but it's probably interesting to people not currently working in a restaurant. Anyway, even if this turns into my quietly-updated diary, it will still focus on food--and that's always interesting.

More updates to come after my meeting.