I suddenly just remembered: somehow, with all that's been going on in the last two weeks, I forgot to mention something very exciting....ready?
I was promoted to 'Assistant Pastry Chef' at the bakery! My first actual pastry position! Yippee!
As soon as I said yes, Imposter Syndrome set in... What? Me? I don't even have professional training! What do I know? The title definitely sounds a lot more impressive than the actual work I'm doing. Translated in objective terms, it just means that I'm working out of the main bakery several days a week, starting early morning (6am...yikes), and only doing cake decorating and finishing pastries. And, honestly, right now I'm definitely the new kitchen bitch (ever read Heat by Bill Buford? His descriptions of being a kitchen bitch are hilarious - a great book, I'd highly recommend it).
So far, it appears I have been assigned to carrot cake and strawberry shortcake duty. The cakes are already baked, so I do the leveling, cutting, filling and finishing and slicing. I've decorated about 30 cakes at this point. When I'm not doing cakes, I'm assembling pastry sampler boxes and keeping the pastry display case nice and full. I fill eclairs, cannolis, decorate cupcakes, mini cheesecakes, sugar cookies, petit fours, truffles, brownies and more. Last week, I piped something like three hundred Jack o' lantern faces - the bakery is on a big Halloween kick - and my hand muscles ached for days afterward. I'll probably develop a huge thumb muscles soon.
It's been a good experience so far - creatively, there isn't much room to grow, but two important skills I'm learning are speed, and efficiency of movement. When you make a cake at home, it's different - you make all the components yourself from scratch, have endless dishes to do, but you only have one item to focus on. Everything you need is within an arm's length. At the bakery, it's the opposite - everything I need is pretty much at my disposal, but spread out all over the place, so I have to remember to grab all the equipment at once, otherwise it's endless trips back and forth. Also, I'm not making one, but at least 3 or 5 or 8 cakes, so it's not like I have endless time to spend perfecting my decorating. Perfectionistic tendencies can be good, but unless you're a fast worker, it will hold you back. Right now I work way slower than all the other pastry cooks - but I'm learning.
When I was reading The Making of a Chef, one of the things Michael Ruhlman talked about was the organization and multitasking involved in cooking, and the importance of having your 'mise en place' (everything in its place); in particular, a mental 'mise en place' that serves as your road map to getting everything done. My mental 'mise en place' currently sucks. It's getting better, but it's hard to remember everything. Part of this, I think, will come with experience and getting to know my way around the kitchen. Right now, it's a lot of "Oops, forgot the cake board. Oh, I need almonds too. I forgot the spatula. Damn, I should have grabbed the cake comb while I was getting the board:. What can I say, I'm learning.
Multitasking and organization are probably two of my best strengths, and, as weird as it sounds, are two things I love about working - aside from the specific skill needed for the job, that is. The more variety there is, the more to be done and to be organized, the more planning involved, the more excited I am about it. I seriously get a rush when I am in multitasking mode. Some people get it from daredevil stunts, some people get it from performing on stage...I get it from planning and organizing stuff. My last job, which was totally unrelated to pastry, was multitasking heaven. I loved doing clinical work and seeing patients, but looking back, I think I liked the organizational challenge just as much. Wedding planning? Moving? Don't get me started :)
The last few months of working in the bakery has got me thinking a lot about why I enjoy pastry work, especially cake decorating. The two I just mentioned are definitely part of it. Here's the rest of the list so far: I enjoy the crafty aspect, the making-it-with-my-own-hands satisfaction; the artsy aspect of it, in the decorating and detail work; the learning aspect, in mastering new techniques, skills, methods...there is so much to know! Plus, the small business part of it really interests me too...organization galore! But that's for the future. For now, I've got to get through carrot cake boot camp.