“Voice” in writing is one of those things that’s easy to define but hard to describe. It’s an amalgamation of vocabulary, style, tone, cadence, and rhythm. In other words, all the things used to describe someone’s speaking voice but translated to the page in a way that it comes across through silent letters. Read enough of one person’s work and you’ll start to detect their voice in new works, even if they change the subject matter, style, or context.
Since I’ve started writing books, I’ve had several people tell me they hear my voice in every word. They may not know me in person, or not heard my voice in ages if they do. It’s always the same though- “I really love your voice. Reading your book feels like I’m listening to you talk straight to me.”
That means a lot to me because it means that I’ve created something that accurately represents me and who I am. It means I’ll have left a bit of myself behind when I die.
We’ve been short-handed for a few months now, and a COVID scare has the whole cafe on a staggered schedule until everyone on staff gets a negative test. In practical terms, that means that I need to bake fresh pies for the case and the entirety of the next days wholesale in under five hours.
I’m dashing around the empty kitchen, checking three ovens and answering texts from my boss and fielding questions about the schedule from staff… until it clicks. I stop trying to do the work and do the work, the Ancient Baking Wisdom flowing for heart, to muscle, to fingers. I clock out and leave the next shift instructions about what’s available and when the wholesale will be done. I was in The Zone, and doing what I loved paid off.
Sorry for missing last week, friends and neighbors. We landed the metaphorical plane on Thanksgiving, but the cost was completely wiping out my personal energy reserves. Last Friday, I literally spent half the day sleeping.
I’m feeling a bit more together now, and I really wanted to get this post out there before Thanksgiving was too far from our minds. Appropriately, I’d like to start this post off by thanking you all for your patience.
So… what does gratitude look like in the culinary world?
I apologize for the lack of a blog post this past week, but last Sunday I left the French bakery behind and started a new job at a pie company. Despite the fact that pie is, some would say, very much my wheelhouse, that’s not the part that will make this job uniquely interesting or what consumed so much of my time and energy. What will make this particular gig a real challenge started right at the interview. As I sat down with the owner, she flipped through my resume and said,
“Listen, I’m hiring a baker, but you’ve got training experience, right? You can train, schedule, and lead a team? Good- because I am stretched way too thin. Here’s the plan: I hire you, make you my kitchen manager, and turn the production, scheduling, and menu of our sweet pies over to you. That will free me up to run the rest of business. Deal?”
For the first time in my career, I’m scheduling production, training up the team, and choosing the menu. In other words, actually functioning as a chef (at least as it’s popularly defined in America.)
For the first week while I learned methods, recipes, and the rhythm of the kitchen, I stuck to some classics on the menu… but next week I’ll really have to come up with some ideas and prove that I can hack it. Not so much to my co-workers or boss- they have an almost unbelievable faith in my ability to deliver and perform.
No, I’ve got to prove it to me that I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew.
It was a habit I’d gotten used to every Thursday morning. Thursday is Scone Day.
Every Thursday for the last year, I’d start my day in the bakery by double-checking our inventory and getting started mixing giant batches of scone dough. Sometimes three flavors, but lately just the two best ones. Giant masses of sour-sweet short dough, weighed into mounds, then pressed into discs. No real thinking about it, unless something went wrong- the mix too dry, too wet, not the right yield, or whatever. Otherwise, it was automatic- just like most aspects of the position I’ve worked in for the last two years.
Today I made my last batch of scone dough. Next week, I’ll be moving on to a new job. The staff says it won’t be the same and that they’ll miss me, and I know they’re being kind. I’ve trained the people I’m leaving behind well- they almost function better without me hanging around looking for something to do.
“Looking for something to do.” Once upon a time, the position was grueling. I sweated my bones trying to make production lists, meet the needs of a frantic bakeshop, and train a parade of faces and names to bake. Now, the job is almost… easy. It’s scheduled. Practiced. Thoughtless.
I helped make it that way, and now I’m too tired and stressed to enjoy the easy part anymore.