40 Hours of Silence- When The Bakeshop Becomes a One-Man Show

This past week I had the kitchen to myself, and it will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.

With the loss of my assistant to pursue better compensation and more secure hours, the pie shop kitchen is now a one-man show until I find and hire someone else.

What makes a “chef” to me has always been their team. The chef may call the shots, train the team, find and direct the right people to build it out- but it’s the existence of the team itself that grants the chef their role. Until I have a team again, I can’t very well call myself a chef.

What am I then? Quiet most of the them. Thoughtful. Doing my best to deny the bitterness and grievance and accept that for now, my “Way of the Floured Hand” is to be found in hermitage.

What’s that been like?
Quiet and thoughtful.

Working With Rolled-Up Sleeves

“Senior students, from ancient times, always practiced with the mind which finds the Way and so how can we of later generations not do the same? Those of old tell us, “For the tenzo, the mind which finds the Way actualizes itself through working with rolled up sleeves.”

– Dogen, Tenzo Kyokun (Instructions to the Cook)

Back when I first started my career, I dreamed of having a small test kitchen off from the main kitchen of my dream business. It would be my private laboratory, my Sanctum Sanctorum. I’d shut the door, have the space to myself, and pop out occasionally to get opinions on new products or experiments.

The idea still has a certain charm to me, but I know enough about myself now that I like having other people around me more of the time. I like people to an extent. I like their chatter and distraction. You might say I work best when I am “working alone with others.”

Even now, I wonder about my eventual pie shop and how I’d want to keep it small to start with- something I could handle alone. For the last week, as I’ve walked into an empty kitchen, fired up an empty kitchen, worked all day, cleaned, and closed up before shutting off the lights of an empty kitchen, I wonder how much I would truly enjoy it and for how long.

To be sure if I was truly doing everything for that future business myself, I’d (hopefully) have customers coming in to chat with and distract me, breaking the silence with another kind of work and service. If (as my therapist suggested) my Way of the Floured Hand is about love, then for lack of a team to look after and train, I’d focus all my efforts on contact with my customers and community. I would be “Matt The Baker” truly and fully- at least as long as I could hack it by myself.

No. I think the experience wouldn’t be all I’d cracked it up to be without people to teach and train and share it with me. I’m tempted to use the word “acolytes,” but that would carry connotations that I don’t want (even if the idea of a pie shop run by a tiny cult would make for great press.)

The Practicalities

Even if I didn’t care about the spiritual/emotional aspects of having the kitchen to myself for so long, I’d have to look at the reality that I am (a little) more efficient working on my own, but the kitchen isn’t.

I am only one man. This fact is pretty obvious. Even if I am or have been the single “best” employee in the kitchen, it would take a Category 10 Screw Up of a person to make it so that two people couldn’t be more productive than me by myself. Since I would make a point of trying not to hire Screw Ups of any level, the time I spend interviewing and trying to get other people in the shop is time well spent.

I am more productive by myself… to an extent. Yes, having the kitchen to myself means more space, less distractions, and no one else’s production to have to work around. That should add up to a more productive baker. The truth is, however, focusing is like a muscle. People can only focus on one thing or one task for so long before they start to “switch off,” get bored and slow down. The Pomodoro Techinque is based around this idea, suggesting that people can only truly focus on a task for a certain amount of time before they need a rest/distraction.

When I work around people, the background conversation can actually aide focus for me, and dipping in or out off the flow of conversation is a mental break- not to mention the benefits of bouncing ideas off others or putting ones brain in “screen saver mode” to solve a problem.

And lets be real here- many hands make light work. If I can’t decide the flow of business, it’s a lot for one person to do by themselves.

The idea of working in solitude can be welcoming, even appealing. Different people react differently though- and my pies shop won’t be the same until I have some new acolytes bakers to lead.

Stay Classy,

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