Today, while creaming butter and sugar for coffee cake, I got to talking to Victoria who was herself between tasks. Up front, the baristas were zipping back, forth, in and out of the kitchen tending to a lengthy line of customers.
In the kitchen, however, things are smooth and mellow. The music of choice today is classic Dylan, slipped through with a little Hendrix, Bowie, and others. Victoria has interesting tastes and no one complained.
Victoria is shaking her head in bewilderment for a moment, deciding what to do next on her list. She has considerable experience cooking in commissary kitchens and restaurants- pastry kitchen and line. Never on a dessert line, though.
“That’d be pretty weird- what would I do? Just constant plating, but at line speed? Not sure I’m cut out for that.”
Victoria likes to be efficient- but on her timeline. She’d prefer to move along at her own- albeit quick- speed than have to keep pace with others, or under pressure from a chef or a sous.
I shrug sympathetically- “It’s probably one reason I got into baking, really- cooks on the line live and work minute-to-minute- you and me, we have to live 24 hours in the future.”
Victoria looks from her list a moment and nods- “Huh.. you’re kinda right. The pastry chef for a restaurant, under normal circumstances, might only see their plated and finished dessert once, when teaching the line.”
I nod and glance at my floor mixer- the butter and sugar are practically white, sticking to the side of the bowl like a vertical beach. Time to add the eggs, a little at a time. The eggs have been allowed to warm and get added slow- to prevent my nice soft butter from suddenly hardening and turning into minuscule chunks.
It occurs to me throughout the day- particularly when weighing out delicate amounts of ingredients, standing beside a mixing kettle- how truly akin to alchemy baking can be.
Weighing out baking powder and salt by the gram, I realize that it wouldn’t require a great leap of the imagination to turn the buckets of various powders and granules into apothecary jars. My hands switch from a hearty shoveling of flour to a delicate flicking as my scale reads out the last few grams (not a far cry from a balance scale and small brass weights.)
In the bowl next to me, ingredients I’d already weighed mesh and process. Anyone with a conscious or educated eye can understand the dance happening in that kettle.
To the layperson, it is just a mess of fat, sugar, metal, and noise. Manipulating physics, chemical action, and energy to craft from raw ingredients- it doesn’t take much to see some level of magic at work.
Despite the popular wisdom, tough cookies aren’t that great.
Sun shines, rain falls, grass grows… and I work late on my Fridays.
It seems like something ALWAYS pops up on Thursdays to keep me in the shop just a bit later. Today, it’s the sudden need for new soup.
All my baking work is pretty well-finished, but now I need to make sure one soup is ready to serve tomorrow, and that Gwen has as much as possible at her disposal to make a second. Racing against my own internal clock, the cutting board turns into a white void- speckled with a galaxy of diced peppers, garlic, and celery.
Yes, I can cook too. Don’t be surprised- specializing is fine for a business, but a death sentence for a cook. It’s best to be a walking Swiss Army knife- great at some things, decent at everything, and always on hand when needed.
I’m the last man in the shop, so the roar of the ovens in their cooldown cycle keeps me company while I blaze through the bowl of produce I pulled. Processed (chopped, seeded, diced, worked over) veg gets chucked into a large tub for easy use. Restaurants use tupperware too, but on a MUCH larger scale.
What would a restaurant’s tupperware party look like?
The last stalks of celery cross my board, run afoul of my knife, and land in the tub to await new life in soup form. It would be so easy to cut the pieces bigger- cut corners and just get the job done. “Character is what you do when no one is looking,” though. The clock ticks, and each pepper gets its due attention- even the weird ones that refuse to be cored neatly.
Seal, label, store, clean down, clock out.
It’s still light out, and stopped raining- I swiped a hand towel from the shop to dry my bike seat.
I could peddle over to any of a dozen bars right now for a post-shift drink. A beer or cocktail would be amazing after today… but I slog up the steep hill home, then give myself over to a cheesy horror movie and a personal-recipe Manhattan.
Settling in to the couch, my mind flashes forward 48 hours- I’ll bake off the eccles cakes I made and froze, whatever roasted veggie hand pies are left, and take on the day from there.
It was a hell of a day.
It was a good day.
My drink ends before the movie does- I don’t need another.