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First day of school

August 15, 2009

The internship started last Friday and it was one of the best learning experiences I’ve had in quite some time.  Like many people that enjoy cooking at home, I assumed that if you could cook well at home, you had a good base from which to work in a restaurant kitchen.  I couldn’t be more wrong.  The knowledge, stamina and passion that it takes to work in a good restaurant will make you acutely aware of your own inadequacies.  Firstly, the actual cooking process, while vitally important, is a small part of running a good restaurant.  You need to be an accountant, manager, marketer and handy-man or at least have someone on staff that can fulfill all those roles.  The chef must try to predict inventory needs, price ingredients, all in an attempt to maintain reasonable profit margins.  We’re not talking great margins either, on the high-end, 20% with more expensive dishes running much lower.  It sounds great that you sold 40 flank steaks with salsa verde (chopped herbs, olive oil and lemon juice) but your margins might be half of what they are on slices of pizza.  It’s a constant balance trying to offer the right mix of food whiles also maintaining near 20% margins.  Then you’ve got staff to monitor, keep motivated and stay loyal.  It’s no secret that the restaurant industry attracts some interesting people.  Turnover is high in most staff positions.

So, my first day was mostly spent washing dishes which isn’t the most glamorous job but certainly important to keep the flow of the restaurant going.  In between doing dishes, I spent time watching and asking the chefs questions.  “How do you make that sauce?  Where do you source those herbs?  How long to cook the flank steak? And so on…”  These are elementary questions for good chefs and I’ve been cooking for 10 years, yet I felt like it was my first time around a kitchen.  For example, at the end of my first shift, the restaurant had 8-10 tuna steaks leftover and had to do something with them soon or face throwing away expensive inventory.  On the spot they came up with a Tuna dish that they would prepare for the next Sundays brunch.  It would turn out to be a great use of the fish.  I have so much to learn…

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