In the wonderful world of food, we do this crazy thing called a “stage,” or “trail.” It is an interview, a chance to see other kitchens and a free day of labor the restaurant. It feels like all of the Hudson Valley region restaurants, hotels and catering facilities have now been graced with my culinary presence. I have scooped buckets of Russian Tea cookies, cubed never-ending hotel pans of brioche, piped 1000 profiterole and hustled my way through several kitchens where I do not actually work. Although, my pro bono work has certainly paid off, I still keep hopefully checking the mailbox for my paycheck.
Yes, we in the culinary world are nutty and eagerly bow our heads with a “Yes, Chef,” for the simple thrill of an enriching experience (not financially, of course!). Even the full-time cooks at the high-end places, the places where we all want to go, would probably make more money as Wal-Mart greeters.
But that’s not the point – we are manual laborers with psyche of a struggling artist and doing something different for the sake of extra cash is not an option. We wear our work hours like battle scars. If you claim you worked fifty-five hours last week, the guy next you will smile and say sixty-five. I’ve spent twelve hours in a kitchen for free as a trail – imagine how long I’d be willing to stay if I were getting paid. It may be nuts, but it’s what thousands of cooks do from New York to San Francisco.
Cooks can be a very judgmental crowd, too. We are territorial of our kitchens and find ways put down the work of those around us. I enter a new kitchen and the attitude of other cooks usually goes like this – “I can work faster than you, cleaner than you and multitask circles around you. Show me what you’ve got.”
While, I think a bit of healthy competition can be a great thing, I think cooks need to remember that we’re all on the same team. And we’re all just as cracked.
Two weeks ago on one of these trails, I had the traumatic experience of slicing the tip of my finger. Nothing is more embarrassing than cutting yourself on a trail. The cooks are already giving you dirty looks, you are working tooth and nail to prove yourself, you’ve sharpened your knives for the occasion and then you go and cut yourself like a half-baked rookie within the first ten minutes. The bleeding was pretty bad, but the humiliation was worse. In the words of Billy Joel, “And so it goes.”
The majority of my trailing experiences have been excellent (and injure-free). They’ve been educational and I’ve met some great people, some of whom I still stay in contact with. The bottom line is that a stage is never a waste of time. It is a perfect way to stay current in world of food. There is always something to be learned.
On an unrelated side note, I did not get a German Shepard and I’ve yet to open my food truck, but I did get a kitten. Her name is Agnes. She likes puzzles.