How I became a cook

Food — By Crust on July 22, 2009

This is a story I wrote a while ago about how I started cooking. Reading this makes me laugh, I guess I have come a long way. Thank you Colleen, Kyle, Bryan and Ken for getting me started.

I wanted to become a cook and have my own cooking show. I didn’t know how to make that happen so I thought I should go find someone who has their own cooking show and work for them. I reallized that real cooks don’t really respect most cooking show hosts, with the exception of Ramsey. This is because Ramsay is a real cook, he toiled away under Marco Pierre White, he came up from nothing and put in the hours. I decided that if I didn’t want to look like a chump I would have to learn how to cook really well. I noticed that all of the cooking shows on Food Network Canada were shot out of Toronto, I had just got back from living there and I didn’t really like it. “New Classics with Rob Feenie” was shot out of Vancouver so I decided to move to Vancouver to see if I could work under him.

It was perfect because I had compiled a list of restaurants in Vancouver starting with the best and going down from there. Based on my very limited knowledge of Vancouver Rob Feenie’s Lumiere was at the top, then West then C, Le Crocadile, ect.

I crashed on my friend’s couch and the next day took the bus down to Lumiere to drop off a resume. I dressed in my favorite lacy black tank top, and my platform heels, sure that this would impress any chef who would interveiw me. I tried one door and it was locked so I tried the door next to it and walked right in. A beautiful guatamalan hostess greeted me. I told her that I wanted to see the chef to apply for a job in the kitchen, she seemed unusually understanding. Later it would be revieled that she had attended culinary at VCC and she would later become my wingman on garde-manger. She sat me at a table with a menu to look over while she got the chef. It was then that I spotted Feenie in the back of the restauraunt, the bright lights were still on from filming and he looked like he was wearing eyeliner. He was holding a glass of white wine and going off about chardonnay. I felt a little star struck. It was then that I started to look around the restaurant, it didn’t seem that fancy and the menu had a burger on it. Then the hostess presented the chef, Colleen.

She sat down and appoligized for the wait, she said that they were short staffed and she had to finish up the prep that she had on the go before she could see me. It was a pretty intense interview, that felt to me like it lasted for an hour, but thinking back maybe it just seemed that way. She asked me why I wanted to be a cook and if I had any cooking experience. I told her that I was inspired by the book Kitchen Confidential and that I worked as a server for a woman chef in Saskatoon who inspired me to learn to cook. I told her I worked at Earls for a few months in the kitchen and moved through the stations quickly. She asked me if I went to cooking school and if I had knives. I told her I had never been to cooking school and that I didn’t have my own knives. I told her that I really wanted to have my own knives but that I didn’t know what kind to get or where to get them. She paitently wrote me out a list of top knife brands and told me to go to House of Knives. She said I should choose a chef knife that feels good in my hand and not worry about names too much. She said I would need a chefs knife, a pairing knife, a serated and a peeler. She asked me why I wanted to work at Feenie’s. I thought she meant, at the restaurant that Feenie is the chef at. I told her that I think Lumiere is the best restaurant in the city and that I wanted to start applying at the top and work my way down. I think she thought I was talking about the Lumiere/Feenie’s company as a whole. Throughout the interview I could see a string of different kitchen guys peeking out at me, it made me nervous. She told me to come back Friday at 2:00pm, with my knives for a trial shift. She said it would be a sink or swim situation to see if I could do it. I shook her hand, walked out the door, and looked up behind me, Feenie’s? Beside the sign that said Feenie’s was a sign that said Lumiere. So I just applied at Feenie’s? I peeked into the locked door of Lumiere, it was beautiful. I didn’t even know there was a restaurant called Feenie’s, I just decided to roll with it.

I have never been so nervous as I was taking the bus to Feenie’s the Friday afternoon of my trial shift. I have never almost barfed from being nervous, but I almost had to get off the bus. When I got there they gave me some whites and set me up a board beside Colleen. They told me I would be with Kyle on Garde Manger. Kyle told me to brunoise a cucumber. “Um, what is a brunoise?” I said.
Kyle was very nice and he gently showed me how to peel and dice the cucumber into impossibly tiny, perfect cubes. He told me not to worry about speed until I mastered getting perfect cubes.I got to work. It took me two hours. When I finished with the cucumber I turned to Colleen and said, “How do I get the little cubes into the container? Do I use the edge of my knife? Or should I use my hands?”
She looked at me blankly, with a sparkle in her eye and a hint of an amused smile, “Use your knife to pick them up and then slide them into the container. Your gonna have to learn to be a lot faster.”
Kyle comes up behind her, “where did you say she worked before this?”
My next job was to cut cherry tomatoes in half. “Do I have to cut through the stem part every time, or is the point just to get it cut in half?” I asked
She looked at me again, “each tomato has to be cut the same, through the top.”
I attacked this job with ferocious speed and intensity. Before I knew it, it was time for service.

I was with Kyle on garde-manger, he talked me through each plate and got me plating some of the tuna tartars. He explained how to season things and how to keep the station clean and organized. Service was really amazing to watch. The guys seemed happy I was there and they told me that they had been short staffed for a while. There was a short debate between some of the more oldschool guys whether it would be a good idea to hire someone with no schooling or experience. In the end Colleen gave me the job, because of my willing to learn attitude and my attention to detail.
Kyle later told me that if I had done the brunoise faster but it hadn’t been very nice I might not have gotten the job. I was glad I had done as he had told me.

I started the next week on a.m. garde-manger. Now looking back I feel sooo sorry for the guy who had to train me. He was old school and I would often hear him muttering to himself, “what is this kitchen coming to, why would we hire someone with no fucking expirience, I went to school everyone should have to, I bet she doesn’t even know what the danger zone is…” I seriously don’t blame him the first two weeks I had to ask him how to do everything. “Okay, go candy these nuts.” he would say.
“How?” I would say, little notebook and pen poised to write down what he would say next.
“Make a simple syrup.” he would say walking away.
“What is a simple syrup?”
“You don’t know how to make simple syrup?”
Luckily at that point I believe his loyalty to the chef would kick in and if the chef wanted me trained it had to be. He would take a deep breath and go through it with me. I would write it all down so that once he showed me each prep item I had it down. I was on my own in no time. Service wasn’t bad for me, although it took me some time to figure out how to time bills. An order for a burger and a spinach salad would come in, I’d make the salad and run it to the pass. Grill would glare at me, “to soon sweetheart! It takes ten minutes to cook a burger.” Then other times it would be, “faster princess, those salads aren’t going to make themselves!” The whole kitchen was really nice, everyone would stop by my station to give me pointers.

The more I learn about cooking, the less I feel that I know. I still feel so green.

One Comment

  1. Colleen says:

    I think that we all still feel green about things sometimes. I am trying to do something different, and it is so scary to think about how much I don’t know…….BAH!

    Happy Birthday by the way……

    And now for me to be hard on you……you REALLY need to get a spell checker and grammar checker for your writing. I also corrected the spelling of Gordon Ramsay’s name for you when I saw this, but you still left it spelled wrong! Anyway, it’s not that it is a bad story, but it really needs to be tightened up with regards to spelling and grammar.

    Still loving the blog anyway. I hope that you have a good time in the ‘Toon, and that you get what you need while you are away. Maybe your brother could help you with the clean up of your house?

    Have a good summer!

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