Professional Pastry Arts student Meredith Adams-Spurrier on tackling her first day in a professional kitchen.
I recently was offered a job at a bakery that specializes in French macarons and breakfast pastries. It could not have come at a more perfect time. Any earlier, and I would not have been qualified, but because of the experience I gained in Level 1 of the Professional Pastry Program, I was hired.
Take for example, the cinnamon bun. On my very first day at work, I was handed a binder full of recipes and my new sous chef told me what I would be expected to make for the day:
- Cinnamon Buns.
Being in a production kitchen with professionals was a bit intimidating, but I gulped down the rest of my coffee and got to work. I had the skills to make this because a few weeks ago I had made pecan sticky buns in class that were out of this world. Sure, I was making enough cinnamon buns here to feed a small army, but if I could make one small batch in class, I bet I could make plenty. Next on my list of recipes to complete:
- Banana Bread.
I felt the nervousness slowly disappear. I knew how to do that because I had just completed Unit 4: Breads in school. I thought back to how I made poundcake: creamed butter method, mix in the dry ingredients just to combine so the gluten doesn’t get over developed. So, I only made one loaf in school and this recipe called for four quarts of batter. I had the skills to do it and that’s what mattered. Feeling more confident, I went through the list and did the mise en place (prep work) for every recipe. It was an important concept that I learned on the first day of school and you can’t work productively without it.
During my next shift at my newly acquired job, I was given the recipe to make something I have never made before at school, macarons. I started to panic and seriously question why I was hired. That is, until I read the procedure. I knew how to make almond flour, the difference between 6X and 10X confectioner sugar, how to make an Italian meringue and how to fold the meringue into the almond batter without deflating the entire mixture. I even knew how to hand pipe them from ICC’s lesson on Pate à Choux (piping cream puffs). So maybe I could make macarons without having ever made them before? I was pleasantly surprised to realize I had nothing to fear. My sous chef gave me some great pointers and short cuts for working with such a monstrous amount of batter and I successfully made my first macaron. I felt reassured that I was the right person for the job and at that moment I was very grateful to my Level 1 chef instructor.
I knew that the skills I have learned in school thus far would give me experience to land the job, but I never stopped to think that I would learn technical and professional skills at work that will help me excel in the rest of the pastry program. I have tons of respect for those students who, like me, work a full time job and attend evening classes of the Pastry Program. It’s hard work and for me, my new job wouldn’t exist without the skills and concepts that I learned in Level 1. It’s bittersweet that next week I move on to Level 2, a new classroom, and a new chef instructor, but I am ready for the challenge.