Things Fall Apart- What to Do When Your Student Quits

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

Jay was a troubled kid. He was eager to please and seemed interested in the work. That’s what got my boss to hire him on to be my new assistant. He’d been a food runner and dishwasher since his teens, but never really had a cooking position. As far as baking went, “Well, sometimes I used to help my folks.”

He’d had some trouble with the law, and his living situation was not the best, but he didn’t like bringing that up at work. Jay was there to work, to learn, and to get the job done. I took him on, taught him as much as I could, and gave him all the support possible.

Within a month, I was looking for another assistant.

It just doesn’t always work out.

Photo by David McEachan from Pexels
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You Can’t Teach Character- But You Can Teach Love.

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

My most recent trainee was… very new. He’d been in the industry as a food runner and barback for years, but he rarely every worked in an actual kitchen. His experience with baking amounted to “making some stuff with his stepmom,” but he was ready to learn and to take on a position as my assistant- an entry level position- because “it would be fun.”

After about two months, a few outbursts about how difficult the work was and “we should get paid more for this,” he is leaving for health and family reasons.

I don’t blame him. This is a hard field to just “start” in, it IS a lot of work, and it is absolutely not a good field to work in if you have distracting/debilitating health issues. The outbursts got on my nerves a few times, if I’m being honest (and those of our boss.) No one becomes a cook or baker to make a lot of money. If he felt he could make more money elsewhere, the response was “there’s the door. Do yourself a favor and go- but stop insulting us.”

As it turned out, in the last few weeks of his working with us, his attitude and production greatly improved. He started asking more questions, and working more quickly. The other night, I pointed this out and he shrugged:

“I don’t know, man… It sucks. It’s work, but I’m really starting to enjoy it. You taught me a lot, and I like it… it sucks I gotta leave now.”

I can’t teach someone character, or work ethic, or discipline. That needs to come from within them- but I do believe it’s possible to teach something that will encourage them: The love of the work, and the craft.

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The Heart of Life- 5 Lessons from the Kitchen to Take Anywhere

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

The bakery was going through a spat of high turnover. New hires were either leaving, vanishing, or simply showing themselves not up to handling the work. It was becoming disheartening, frustrating… and more than a little exhausting. “Many hands make light work” kinda relies on there being “many hands.”

In the seven months I had been working for the bakery, I’ve had to train six people in my station as the morning baker and “ovenlord.” The work is not especially difficult- the specifics of it can be written down or memorized quickly, and the skills involved can be mastered with practice.

When our production manager started wondering aloud how they could train employees to make them better, and more quickly- I suggested they all learn my position first. While the specific knowledge and skills of the morning bake are easy to learn (I actually wrote a teaching aide/cheat sheet to help people who got lost), the most challenging thing for a new person on the shift to learn is something they can take anywhere in the kitchen- or in life: time management.

clear glass with red sand grainer

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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“We’re Just Like a Family”- and 6 Other Red Flags When Looking for a Kitchen Job

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!

As summer comes to an end, it’s “back to school” for students everywhere. Some culinary students will be starting their descent into madness/ meteoric rise to glory (same thing, really.) Others will be entering their final year- the culmination of years of struggle, sweat, screaming, and WAY too much spent on textbooks.

It will also, at last, be time to look for an externship. Most culinary schools in America don’t expect their students to have any kitchen experience before enrolling. Many European schools do- or in fact, require a letter of recommendation from a chef.

In America, then, the externship is the first time many students will enter the culinary world. It’s a part of the curriculum, and a requirement for graduation- “You paid for four years of us harrowing and lecturing you- time to show you’re worth a damn.”

Animated Gif from Creed

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Where Did All The Chef Hats Go?- Portland’s Impact on American Cuisine

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!

This morning, I had the great fortune of getting contacted by an old teacher of mine from culinary school. Chef Joe Sheridan was appearing on WOND, a local New Jersey radio station, discussing culinary education, the industry, and seeking the voices of alumni. I was having a slow morning and agreed to call in.

After catching up a bit on the show and brief introductions (including plugging this blog and my book. #shamelessselfpromoter) Chef Joe asked me an interesting question.

 

“Matt, I’ve recently been reading this book “Burn The Ice” by Kevin Alexander and- well, to stereotype your entire city, we came from an era of white table cloths and pressed napkins. Now we have chefs with tattoo sleeves, in black T-shirt’s with hats on backward, serving in dining rooms with bare tables and distressed walls. It’s all different!”

Now, I gotta own that since coming to Portland, I’ve gotten a couple food tattoos. I haven’t worn a proper white chef’s toque since I graduate culinary school (I hated them anyway. The paper ones tore and had a habit of knocking things off overhead racks, directly onto my neck.) There’s no denying that the Pacific Northwest spawned a reckoning in how fine dining was treated in America.

 

While I have yet to read Kevin Alexander’s “Burn the Ice” on the subject (I just bought it on Kindle a few minutes ago. It’s officially on The Pile,) the sharp cultural difference between living on the West Coast and training on the East is something I’ve mulled over plenty.

 

Why PORTLAND of all places? I have some thoughts…

 

 

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It isn’t called “Bridge City” for nothing.

 

 

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Pulling Weight- Leadership in the Kitchen

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not comfortable using the term “chef” for myself even as a joke, and that I tend to correct others when they address me by it.

It’s not because of modesty or humility- false or otherwise. It’s because, by my own criteria, I have not earned that title.

Roughly every couple of weeks, someone on an online cooking group will pipe up with:

What makes a chef a CHEF?”

or some other navel-gazing, masturbatory variant- and the responses tend to vary from the crude to the judgemental/equally navel-gazy, to my personal reaction:

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“Oh for f***’s sake, here we go…”

You see, the answer is in the name. “Chef” literally means “chief.” “Boss.” “Head of Operations.” 

It means “LEADER.”

How you got about leading is the real discussion that should be going on, rather than faffing about over what’s stitched on your jacket.

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Hands That Feed- A Night of Plenty for Those Who Need

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

It’s been a while since I was in the “park blocks” of SE Portland. The stretch of greenery in the Culture District is home to a number of museums and venues before it terminates at Portland State University (and, on Saturdays, the PSU Farmers Market.)

Wednesday evening, I was beating feet up the sidewalk, past fresh-air takers and statues in the park. Like a Saturday morning, I was making my way toward the food… a display of Oregon’s artisans, and the produce of this foodie wonderland.

Unlike those Saturday mornings though, I’m not dashing toward the market. I’m making my way toward a museum… and I’m eating to feed others.

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