Well, playtime is over and I am starting my first job as a line cook tomorrow. After my recent graduation from French Culinary Institute, I was offered garde manger positions at both Restaurant B.B.* where I did my stage, or externship, and at a smaller, lesser known restaurant. After struggling with the dilemma for a good week, I decided to take the job at the smaller restaurant. So this evening, I had to undertake the difficult task of saying goodbye to the chef, and everyone I had gotten to know at Restaurant B.B.
Overall, I my experience at Restaurant B.B. was a positive one, and even though it was not required for school, I am glad to have done an externship there. You see, in our last three months at the FCI, students begin to apply the techniques we have learned by working in the on-campus restaurant, first in the prep and family kitchen, then on the line. Since I had almost no kitchen experience, I wanted to do a voluntary externship as well. So I talked to the career services staff about my specific culinary interests and they helped me refine my resume, and forwarded it to Restaurant B.B. Shortly thereafter I received a call and arranged a trail.
I arrived for the trail with my knife kit and FCI uniform. It was around noon and the restaurant was in the middle of lunch service. I was greeted by one of the sous chefs, who showed me to the women’s locker room (which I realize now is a somewhat uncommon luxury). After I had changed, I was given my first task. One of the line cooks set a few cases of broccoli rabe in front of me and demonstrated how to separate the leaves from, and trim the florets of each stalk. The executive chef arrived shortly thereafter and greeted me with a smile and a handshake. Among my other tasks that day were peeling and trimming a case or two of asparagus, and cleaning and trimming baby turnips. From the prep kitchen I had a good view of the line and was able to observe the dinner service. On the line was a sous chef, accompanied by a saucier, a saute cook, an entremetier, and hot appetizer cook. There were also two cooks on the garde manger (cold app) station and a pastry cook plating desserts. During service, Chef sent me a couple dishes from the menu to try, and later called me into his office to chat. We agreed that I would come in two weekday evenings after school, and a full day on the weekend for the next three months or so. I know some students in my culinary program who only do one or two days a week, and others who actually worked up to 5 shifts a week. For me going to school full time and externing 28 hours a week was often really taxing, but was just enough to be really involved in the restaurant without sacrificing my school work.
During my externship, I prepped a LOT of vegetables. The dining room had over a hundred seats, which on a busy night could turn over up to 4 times. Every week, there were many cases of broccoli rabe, asparagus, baby turnips, radishes, carrots and more to be cleaned shaped. Both the executive chef and sous chefs there were really supportive and patiently corrected me if they saw what I was doing wasn’t exactly correct. Well, I guess practice makes perfect, and gradually I was allowed to take on new tasks – rolling dauphines, prepping ratatouille, picking literally kilos of parsley for herb butter, blanching vegetables, poaching eggs, prepping ingredients for gazpacho, and making flavored oils. Occasionally Chef would just give me a recipe and instructions for special items, like pissalidiere dough, or squid ink pasta, and rely on me to prep it on my own.
I also spent a lot of time helping out the garde manger station during service, but there seemed to be a lot of new people working there too and sometimes it got so crowded it was better for me just to hang back and do prep. All the cooks were really warm though, and made me feel welcome whenever I was there. After about a month, I became pretty familiar with the plates that were coming out of the garde manger, and was allowed to be more involved during service. By my last few weeks there, the garde manger cooks training me were hanging back to allow me to learn the station. After a while I started to get the hang of producing consistent plates every time, shucking oysters under pressure, and listening for the expediter and sous chef to call fired dishes. Toward the end of service I would find myself working the station alone as the others made prep lists. I knew from this that it was likely there would be a job for me there after graduation.
Admittedly, the kitchen at Restaurant B.B. isn’t for everyone. During my externship there, I did see a handful of cooks leave for other restaurants, and have overheard complaints that the amount of prep is just unreal. However, as an extern, it was the perfect place to reinforce basic skills like knife work, speed, and consistency. It was also a good place to get exposure to working service at a restaurant that does a considerable amount of volume while making an effort to maintain a high level.
I probably would have transitioned happily from my externship to a job at Restaurant B.B, but one of the chefs at school happened to be recruiting for a small alumnus-run restaurant in Brooklyn and recommended me. It was such a tough decision, I trailed there on three separate occasions to be sure I was making the right choice before choosing the smaller restaurant. It seemed that cooks there are encouraged to rotate stations as soon as they are able. As a recent graduate, the advantage of this is obvious. So this evening I went by Restaurant B.B. to deliver my news. After they took the time to train me for the garde manger, I was nervous about having to turn down the position. So I was relieved when Chef seemed genuinely understanding, wished me the best, and asked me to keep in touch. It was the middle of dinner service, so I didn’t want to linger too long. I briefly said goodbye to the garde manger and pastry cooks, but I hope it’s not goodbye for good. Sure, I’d only known them a few months, but I truly hope we’ll keep in touch.
*Name of the restaurant is not published. Contact me for additional info.