When it comes to our favorite recipes- whether it’s the dishes we make for family or the ones we sell at our businesses- whether or not to share recipes can cause a lot of emotion either way you lean. The same people that have no problem sharing the recipes they created might be a little twitchy about sharing their family’s “secret” meatloaf. That goes double if you are in the business of cooking for others. Why would you want to give away your perfect fried chicken recipe where a competitor could get it? Can we protect our recipes? Should we protect our recipes and keep them secret?
The short answers are “Sorta?” and “Only if you really want to.”
It’s been ten months since my day job changed to answer COVID-19. The last time I wrote one of these, the “A-Team” was in charge. We ran our asses off for 12-hour days, making ends meet for the dawn of the apocalypse.
Ten months later, and they’re all gone. Quit from stress and depression, walked out in a huff, or simply went on leave and never really returned.
It’s a new team now. Eager, curious, capable… and as a Great Old Sage of an employee at two years, I’m doing my best to help them keep their hands on the wheel. I thought being the “Last Man Standing” would be a heady, affirmative feeling- “I’m finally indispensable. I’m the one that could hack it.”
Instead, I feel beaten. Beaten, tired, and sad. The “last man standing” is usually pretty lonely.
If you were to teach a semester of classes on something you do for a living, what would Day 1 consist of?
For the last year or so, especially as I’ve started doing Live Bake-along videos on Facebook, I’ve played with the idea that the next step in my culinary career might be teaching- and if the last two years of training and mentoring apprentices at the bakery has shown me anything, it’s that I’m apparently not bad at it.
The other day while chatting on my lunch break, my manager mentioned that she had taught baking at a community college for a semester as adjunct faculty. While she didn’t necessarily enjoy it (my manager confesses that she does not have the patience for teaching,) the $4000/semester paycheck made it quite a lucrative side hustle for one six-hour class a week in addition to a full-time income baking professionally.
After she brought it up, I found myself wondering what I would say on the first day to a class of new, inexperienced students. You can consider this a companion to my open letters to new culinary students and graduates.
When it comes to ambition, goal setting, and planning- whenever someone says “there wasn’t room for doubt,” I don’t think that’s true. I think they didn’t MAKE room for doubt.
That sounds almost cynical and defeatist- and I suppose it could be taken that way. I won’t pretend to be some grand philosopher on that. I’m an anxious person. “Doubting” is as natural to me as lemonade on a hot day- as is planning, contingency, and fear-setting, for better or worse.
If Jesus can have a moment of doubt at Gethsemane, I’m pretty sure us poor mortals can wake up in the morning and wonder if we’re still going the way we want to in life. Those moments are important, because that’s when you make the turns that get you there. Don’t cheat yourself by removing room to doubt.
We’ve been hiring lately in the bakery, and getting skilled workers is surprisingly difficult- but that’s not exactly what we’re looking for. There is a not-so-surprising need for unskilled workers in search of training– but the ability to train is rare.
We just hired a brand new “baking assistant” the other day- she has worked front of house for years, but had zero experience professionally cooking. That was fine though- we weren’t looking for another baker per se. We were looking for someone who could handle small tasks competently and was eager enough to learn that we could rely on them being done right.
Yesterday, our morning baker was teaching her to pipe choquettes with pate au choux. Piping itself is a skill set that takes training, and pate au choux can be a frustrating substance to work with- it crusts up quickly, is gloppy when warm, and needs to be piped neatly to make things like eclair or paris brest shells. The morning baker was trying to explain her method of piping, but the assistant’s hands kept shaking- making what should have been smooth little mounds of paste come out like yellow poop emojis. The owner of the bakery stepped in and tried to advise her, gently taking the bag from her hands and demonstrating a row. The assistant managed for a minute, but then got frustrated again. That’s when I stepped in:
“Ok, are you right or left handed? Good, so am I. It looks like you’re gripping the bag too high- don’t fill it so much and put your right hand lower. That’ll make you steadier. Don’t be afraid to mess up- give the bag a firm squeeze each time, stop, and flick your wrist to cut off the flow.”
Two rows later, she looked at me and said “Ok, who are you, and how did you teach me this?!”