A few weeks ago, I was chatting with one of Eat Seattle’s produce vendors when a chef in his 60’s wearing his black chef’s coat assertively joined into our conversation; eager to know more about the Eat Seattle culinary experience. His name is Brendan. To sum it up as concisely as possible, Brendan is an accomplished hockey player (originally Canadian), ex-lawyer, army vet, publisher of the cookbook “Brothers in the Kitchen”, French culinary graduate, world traveler, business consultant and teacher with over 25 year of culinary experience. It’s no wonder why he joins random conversations in the street as he has a lot to say. In any case, it was easy to like Brendan…we could relate to our ice skating adventures, our Canadian background, time spent in France and, of course, food.
Naturally, I figured he would be a good guy to know since I’m new to the culinary world as a professional, a field in which Brendan is very established. Over a few mentoring chats, he really encouraged me to get commercial kitchen experience, regardless, of whether I’ll be running my own cooking classes or not. This might seem like a logical concept but I had my reservations. My immediate response was to brush it off with the “I’m too busy!!”excuse (which, in my opinion, is the lamest excuse for self-improvement activities). I stewed around with it for a few days wondering why I was making excuses. After all, I tell my friends and family that my life mantra is to put myself in as many uncomfortable situations as possible to ensure I continue to grow and learn. So, as you probably guessed, I took the non-hypocritical path to stay consistent with my values. Brendan, synced me up with a restaurant in Capitol Hill called, Canterbury, for which he currently does business consulting. The deal was that I would put in one day a week for the exchange of Brendan introducing me to market vendors, resources and business consulting.
The morning of my first day on the job, I felt like an insecure teenager on my first day of school. “will I be liked?” “will I fit in?” “how do I earn respect?” I suited up in a sporty tank top, non-descript trousers and put on the ugliest pair of flats I owned (blue and pink Diesels). As I inspected my look, I quickly regretted not ordering those fake barbed-wire tattoos on Amazon Prime account as my husband suggested. In any case, chef’s coat in hand, knife case loaded with my Shun’s, I headed out the door to see what fate had in store.
As I pulled up to the restaurant I looked down to see blood on my hands, it turns out I forgot to put knife covers on my knives before putting them in the case, otherwise they cut through the bag and, and in turn, cut anything else in their path. I panicked as I knew I couldn’t show up with a bloody finger (why do fingers have to bleed so much!). How would I possibly be taken seriously? Once I said my ‘hellos’ (avoiding all hand shakes) I successfully made it to the First-Aid kit to grab a bandaid and put latex gloves on, which I hoped would be viewed as my dedication towards sanitation. Ego in tacked I moved forward…
I quickly got set up at my prep station where I faced the largest 20 lbs of raw cow flesh I’d ever seen. The next few hours consisted of preparing and cooking the beef for French dip, deboning 12 chickens, making stock and another 20 lbs of meat loaf. The head Chef Enrique worked a few feet away as we quietly focused on our chores though I couldn’t help but discretely move my hips to the latin techno music blaring in the kitchen. Brendan floated in and out of the kitchen giving me tips and correcting bad home-kitchen habits. I’m sure an outsider would think his critiques were demeaning but after 10 years training with Russian ice skating coaches and a year under the surveillance of strict French chefs in Paris, it all sounded like positive feedback to me. At least I knew I was in the clear of anyone making me cry that night. Definitely a secret fear that was one of my initial reservations…
On one of Brendan’s passes through the kitchen I asked what time I would be leaving as I realized I never told Chris if I’d make it home for dinner. That’s when he told me that he expected me to do an 8 hour shift. I quietly counted up the time on my fingers, three bleeding at this point due my deboning skills, and came to the conclusion I wasn’t leaving before 10 pm. Better judgement held me back from openly confessing that 10 pm would technically be 30 minutes past my bedtime. Instead, I focused on chopping my mirepoix as my mind drifted to all the emails coming into my work inbox that I wouldn’t be able to respond to until the morning.
The time actually passed quickly and was anything but monotonous. My main culinary take-away for the evening was how to most effectively break the chicken bones making it much easier to debone. The Canterbury is, surprisingly, a good restaurant, I was prepared to see frozen ingredients but everything I witnessed was fresh. I recommend the French dip! In one or two Mondays, I’m moving up to line cook which will add way more pressure but I’m sure some good stories to share. Here’s to new life experience!