Working Life: Week 4
Day 13 – The Jokes on Me
The hilarity of the situation astounds me!
I left a stable fulfilling job; one where every day I work very hard, but make a difference in the lives of others, and am able to work in an environment with friends and colleagues who respect and support each other. We are challenged on a physical, emotional and intellectual basis constantly and yet somehow hours in this kitchen seem so much more exhausting.
I mistakenly believed, until about a month into my internship, that I was working in this busy kitchen not only in order to be an extra pair of hands but to learn a thing or two. Given I was working for free and had paid an absolute fortune for my education, I had rationalised my mistreatment as being par for the course in the kitchen.
Imagine my excitement and thrill after waking up in the complete darkness of an early summer morning, clambering onto the stuffy metro, to walk again through the cold rain, during what was meant to be summer, towards my third last shift in the kitchens. It was just another day for gratifying exposure to the ridicule, berating and physical abuse of a certain ‘boss’.
In another one of their brilliant ploys, remember I am like their play thing, each one of them enjoying giving me different tasks and instructions. As such, orders and requests for help are coming from right and left, and so I am being pulled apart at the seams. Being told persistently to hurry up and do their task – what am I doing standing around drinking a cocktail whilst smoking my cigar!
Today was exhausting and my heart wasn’t in it! I was tasked with attempting new jobs and expected to complete them as if it was second nature. There was an abrupt attitude and French instructions were flying at me from all directions. I managed despite my ineptitude at predicting the future, to do my assigned jobs and escape after another 9 hours and of course washing the floors.
Day 14 – The Jokes on You
Enough torture already, the novelty has truly worn off, and my rose coloured glasses are now completely cleared.
Experienced hardened professionals, a certain few of our bosses in particular, need to more directly empathise with their workers. They need to be reminded of what it was like on their first day at work and then remember why it felt like that and make a positive change.
Work place theory and psychology has completely changed since the dark ages, gone is the evil overlord, so please welcome in the friendly CEO. Workers at Google and Apple are some of the happiest employees and thus their productivity and job satisfaction are through the roof – as such they are two of the world’s most powerful companies, it is these workers that make the cogs turn and I can assure you they run faster as a result of their encouragement and positive workplace environment.
Happiness breeds productivity… well not in the environment of a French Kitchen modelled on the French Army. One the contrary, staff in kitchens seem to be the most overworked, underpaid, sarcastic, angry, depressed, stressed, psychotic swearing sailors – in general that is!
As a consequence the environment and attitude within the kitchen is heated to say the least, and it is not as a result of the four ovens working constantly!
The egos and bitchiness would astound you! The abuse, verbal, physical and emotional unparalleled and let’s not even discuss the sexual candour and harassment.
And in my particular case, these last two weeks has been plagued by a hot tempered master and it is becoming clear to me that Napoleon himself has been reincarnated – little man complex and all.
It’s amazing how bitchy some people can be – if you would like to get into the small print of my experience I am more than happy to share it over a cup of tea and perhaps a handmade éclair.
Communication is key in the kitchen and it seems as if I have been lost in the murkiness of this situation. Everyone has decided I am their free assistant, and as each one throws instructions at me, and I try to do my best at fulfilling each of them in a timely manner, it is a juggling act of tasks, egos and of course mountains of butter, eggs, cream, flour and sugar.
Today’s highlight, a full late afternoon task, was to finish my task from the previous day by completing the process of making 35 litres of Vanilla bean Ice cream. Packing 35 litres of liquid ice-cream is no easy feat and so pleasurable I cannot tell you, especially when the sous-vide machine for vacuum sealing is not working! Let us just say it took me a long while, in the silence of the separate ice-cream room, to get this one into the bag.
Having fulfilled this and my many other tasks I ventured home under the weight of the last two weeks with the slim hope of finishing my last day, successfully, with no mistakes and hopefully have some time to see the real stuff happening!
Day 15 – Last Day Blues
I am a sucker for punishment, returning every day to work whilst having to justify my decision to myself every time. I keep reinforcing to myself that I am doing the right thing, there is no doubt that this is a once in a lifetime experience – truly unforgettable in every sense.
My burns are cooling, my callouses settling, my cuts are healing and my bruised ego will slowly mend. I have not done a bad job, my tendency to hard work whilst having the personality defect of being an absurd perfectionist, helping me to survive despite a despondent cloud hanging over me.
For my last day in these famed kitchens I am hopeful I will end on a high, at least I received a few smiles as I walk in – they were excited, they had forgotten I had one more day in the kitchens!
As we placed the hug array of trays into the fridges and onto the pass, I felt proud of what we produce together – it is no small feet for sure. At times there are only 3 servicing the entire pastry needs of this massive and distinguished hotel.
But sadly, there is no repreive to the onslaught of insults and indecency from my little friend, Napoleon, despite the obviousness of my last shift, and the common courtesy to make it a partially pleasurable one. And so after lunch, as my frustration and anger was at a gentle simmer, I am hit with my special present in recognition of my two months of free labour and hard work with a smile – no it is not what you think…. I am not finally allowed to lay down the soap and stop washing the dirty equipment in the sink, nor do I have to stop organising and replacing the stacks of gear, or boxing the stuff from the freezer … I do not finally get to watch the skilled hands of the pastry sous-chef at the pass and maybe even help prepare the plates, or choose the task at hand… it is too mcuh to even dream for… NO, I am to reorganise and clean the cupboards.
Yes, my final task in the kitchen after more than 6 months of training is to clean out the cupboard, remove the ingredients from stacks of boxes, place them in cleaned bowls, hand wash the boxes, replace their contents, label them and then present the cupboard to my dignified and appreciative master.
So I leave my correspondence from the front line, with my limited insight into the foreign world of the pastry kitchen, that whilst what we produce may taste so sweet, life can be hard and bitter; so appreciate the hard work which goes into your desserts, marvel at the skill and creativity which inspires your eyes and tantalises your tastebuds.
I now have firsthand experience of what it can mean to be on both sides of the coin and I know, without a shadow of a doubt, what type of boss I will be…
This marks a new beginning to my love for and exploration of the world of Pastry… I cannot wait to spoil everyone with the little tricks I have picked up and as I leave, exhausted and disheartened, I am sure that my mind will continue racing ahead, as always, dreaming of new ways to indulge others with my creative outlet.