Since quarantine and stay-home orders have started, more folks have started getting interested in their kitchens. This is great news, especially as I can see how regularly my educational posts get visited.
For example, a friend of mine has been messaging me recently and asking for advice. Not so much on technique, but on equipment. A messy breakup has left him re-stocking his kitchen:
“Matt,what kind of rolling pin do you use? What material?” ”What do you suggest for bakeware? Any specific brands?” ”If I want to make cheesecake, do I REALLY need a springform pan?”
At first, I answered the questions and referenced my blog here. “I’m pretty sure I had a series called ‘Tools of the Trade’ or something.”
”Well, yeah, but you only got as far as knives, and that was five years ago.”
The worlds of food and classical music don’t always intersect- beyond the artistry and passion of their respective devotees, that is. When my wife (a piano teacher) and I discuss our work with each other, one of us is usually on “home turf.” I’m a professional baker and she loves to cook, or she’s expounding on an obscure piece of music and I know a couple big names. That’s marriage for you, though- we don’t “complete” each other, but we do find ways to be complete together.
In that sense, we often discuss ideas like discipline, teaching methods, leadership (in the context of our workplaces,) and the artistic aspects of what we’ve built our lives around.
And one thing that we agree on wholeheartedly is that talent doesn’t mean a damn thing.
Good evening, friends and neighbors! Only a short blog post this week because I spent much of the afternoon doing this months Live Bakealong, and, for reasons I’ll soon make clear, this week at the shop has been a bit more demanding than usual.
Long story made short, the bakery is hiring on more people- and I will be training and directing them. There are a couple large contracts coming down the line, and I will be leading the Pastry Prep team.
I am getting a team that I will need to train and organize. It’s exciting, and I’m thrilled. Now I just need to stop being terrified.
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.
For the first time in a long time, the writing bug has caught me in a cocktail bar. Not a bierhaus (though I certainly have my favorites in this town), or just a neighborhood bar (plenty of those too.)
Tonight, as I write this, I am bellied-up to the downtown, underground bar of Pepe le Moko. In my bag is a brand-new horror manga, and I am a fine cocktail down (a “Mexican Firing Squad” for the record) and now nursing a small measure of bourbon.
Because this has been a week, I can afford it every now and then, and I have earned it, damn it.
If you want to build good habits, or just remind yourself that life isn’t necessarily an endless hamster-wheel till you die, rewarding yourself for good work is critical.
So in addition to being an amazing piano teacher and partner, my wife Emily also tends to act as my editor. She doesn’t just proofread my work, but tests it for readability. IS what I’m writing actually coming across? IS the blog post actually meeting it’s purpose?
Sometimes this comes out by her asking follow-up questions. While she was reading through last week’s post on yeast and fermentation, she got to the part about the different sugars and starches present in wheat.
“Why does the yeast have trouble with starches? “Why isn’t there enough alpha amylase in the wheat, and why does malted grain provide it? “Is this why there are different kinds of flour? What’s the difference between bleached/unbleached/enriched/bread flour/pastry/cake/all purpose? Hey, you should write a blog about that!”
So this week, let’s do a deep dive on the science of flour!