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.
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.
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.
After last weeks post about the basic science of bread, I figured it might be a good idea to keep going on this rudimentary road trip through the land of yeasted loaves and carbs. For this post, and most of the posts coming up, I pulled out one of my old culinary school textbooks as a reference, and the memories came flooding back.
I get to work these days before dawn. As I walk in, the first order of business is checking the oven to make sure the settings are right.
Next, the days first load of croissants- waiting patiently in the proof box since the night before. They need to be in the oven in 30 minutes.
They aren’t ready. Small and sticky still. Crap… that’s not right.
A quick look at the control panel on the box confirms my fears. They’re gonna be late.
Right- time for Plan B. The cookies have time to go in.
Wait… that doesn’t look right. Why is the oven temperature tanking? Ugh… ok. Back on track, make up the time later.
The new wholesale management system is messed up. No one to call to check numbers for retail. Dammit… ok, just fudge the numbers. Wholesale is accounted for, I can bake more for the store later if needed.
The piping tip I need is missing. Use a similar one and change technique to compensate.
Not enough sheet pans- the other stores haven’t been sending them back. Rummage around and condense. There’s gotta be stuff to layer.
Good evening, friends and neighbors. I hope everyone had/is having a splendid holiday season, and are getting everything out of this time of year that you hope to.
Since I’ve grown up, Chanukah has always been just a sort of… thing that was celebrated. Eight days long, and the special stuff really only happens at night. Otherwise, everyone just goes to work or school and life continues.
There aren’t any hilarious or tragicomic movies about trying to get home to light the menorah- that’s what I’m trying to say here. We got some awesome stories about religious freedom, tasty fried foods, and one of my favorite Herschel of Ostropol stories– we’re good with that.
(The less said about “Eight Crazy Nights” the better.)
I suppose that’s something that DOES make Christmas kind of an enjoyable time for me- it’s only one or two days.
This year, Christmas was fantastic.
Emily and I went out for Chinese, then stayed home and did absolutely NOTHING.