A year ago last month, I began the first leg of my soon to be career. I studied a Certificate III in Patisserie at the beautiful Southbank Institute of Technology TAFE College in Brisbane. For those who know me.. I don’t like a lot of sweet things, I am a savoury gal all the way. I’m a throw it in all together, more salt, sure why not, rough as guts kind of cook – not a precise, measure everything to gram and degree – kind of chef. When I signed up for the course originally I thought that better I sign up for this – the course being 12months full-time, rather than signing on to a 3year apprenticeship – and end up hating it, and quitting. Did I mention I am a quitter ? No? Well I am. Did I originally think that I would see the year out making pastries, desserts and confectionary? God, no – and I am still suprised that I completed it. But I did. I passed with flying colours which is more suprising. I acquired a lot of things studying the art of patisserie; patience, dedication, attention to detail, history and tradition, a little bit of french and the appreciation and respect for sweet things. Most of all, I found my calling, finally I knew where I needed to be. I needed to immerse myself in everything food related – whether that be savoury or not.
Halfway through my course, I was out of work. Luckily through my blogging connections I happened to attend a dinner event at a Kingsleys Steak and Crabhouse – one of Brisbanes finest steak restaurants. It was here I met head chef Stewart Anderson, we talked briefly about hospitality life and food, we swapped emails, and a couple months later I was working as a casual apprentice.
To say I was nervous when I started was an understatement – combine new job jitters with performance anxiety and you have a recipe for failure. For the first few months when I started, I felt completely useless, I felt I was in the way all the time, and bothering everyone with my questions, I fumbled my way around the kitchen. Being the only female in the kitchen as well was a tad daunting, being surrounded by talented men left me feeling intimidated – which is weird, because they are all so lovely.. As each shift passed, I believed everything I was doing, was wrong, and that I wasn’t meeting the expectations expected of the other very talented chefs around me. It was really hard trying to gather the enthusiasm for something I was so passionate about, whilst feeling unequipped with the skills and knowledge I needed for the tasks ahead of me. Although I had studied for a year at college, under some of the best patissieres in Australia, when it came to the service component of a shift, I was rendered futile – this is one area my studies really let me down in. I had no idea what I was doing, let alone time management, understanding the docketing system, listening to the other chefs around me, let alone remembering nearly 20 dishes ingredients and presentation and getting them perfect every time.
I soon realised that being a chef was more than epically quick ninja-like knife skills and cooking wicked food. It’s about tenacity, respect, learning and conditioning. It made me wonder whether I actually had the ability to see this out, or if I was jut trying to be over-ambitious.
I was losing confidence quickly, and I could see the quitter in me starting to come out. I turned to everyone I knew in the hospitality industry, college chefs, fellow cheffing students and restaurant owners frantically seeking advice. “Practice makes perfect”. “Be persistent, don’t give up”. “Stay positive”. But it wasn’t really until a conversation I had with my head chef, that the heavy burden feeling of inadequacy started to lift. Stewart said that no ones gets it their first go, and that if I was truly useless, I wouldn’t be working for him. This made sense, for some reason. I can’t say exactly what clicked that day, but something he said that day when we were in the walk-in fridge resonated with me. Maybe it was a little reassurance, or common sense, to this day, I’m still unsure. Not long after, I had another conversation with Stewart, he explained to me that being an apprentice, I am bound to make mistakes, and that’s a part of the whole experience, and that sooner or later I will start plating and creating dishes I am truly proud of.
The more and more shifts I had gave me the opportunity to learn more, watch carefully, soak up information like a dry sponge to water and advance my skills a little further. I was becoming more and more confident each day, and I was starting to enjoy my job rather than feel like a big burden of uselessness. For once, since the time I started, I felt like I was a part of the cohesive team of talent that occupied the small and sometimes, chaotic kitchen of Kinglseys. Although the common apprentice is on the bottom rung of the ladder in order of ‘kitchen hierarchy’, I sensed a feeling of self-satisfaction, knowing that I play a crucial role in the way the kitchen is operated. I understand how the kitchen works, with all of it’s staff, like a production line on a well oiled machine (well, most days anyway).
It’s strange, when I walked into Kingsleys as a new staff member everything was so foreign and the environment to me seemed so intimidating.. yet now, it’s like a second home – not to sound cliche. The staff have this whole ‘family unit’ thing going on. Sometimes we bicker like brothers and sisters, or argue like a mother and father in bitter domestic dispute. But as soon as those lights are switched off, the doors are closed and the next shift arrives, all is forgiven, forgotten and it’s a new day with new tasks at hand.
More months have passed, and the ‘silly season’ is over – and I survived. It was definitely an intense experience that I am glad I wont have to go through for another 12months. The new year is here, and business has slowed down quite considerably all over Brisbane.
I am now officially about to start my apprenticeship, three years of blood, sweat and tears + long hours, sore legs, high tempers, double shifts, more collage exams, and a hell of a lot of criticism, both constructive and not, all in a fast paced working environment for minimum wage – here begins my life in the hospitality industry as a young female chef. I can’t wait. Bring it on!!
The food world is my oyster ..