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.
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.
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.
One of the things I love most about any kind of craft or creation- food, cuisine, beer, woodworking, music, whatever- is that when you first get acquainted with that craft, it seems monolithic- until you realize it isn’t, that nothing is, and what you always thought was one solid notion is home to a universe of variety.
It’s terrifying, crazy-making, paralyzing, beautiful, and exhilarating all at once- at least to me. How do YOU address the complications of life? Well, let’s discuss it!
Mentoring has become a bit of a catchphrase recently, hasn’t it?
A buzzword, thrown around by people in suits at “networking” events where attendance and business cards are expensive and the beer is cheap.
What do you think of when you hear that word? Most people probably think of someone they met who’s a bit farther along in their field and gives them their number for when they get in a tight spot.
In the kitchen, “mentor” means something fundamentally different. It’s the difference between learning a business and learning a craft.
It’s one huge reason the culinary industry is still around- and it’s not straightforward or easy.
She’s a student. Crazy capable, and catches on quick. We’ve had her as an extern for a while, and today- thanks to a crunch schedule- she gets to solo the pastry bench. I’ve already got things set up for her as much as I can. She has a production list, but she gets to decide her timeline. The list is reasonable, but unspecific- she’ll have to get creative.
I’m off to the left with my own work, taking care of the production end of things. I have a light list so I can keep an eye on her. She’s worked, she’s prepped- and now it’s time to fly.