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Trailing in a pastry kitchen for the first time... what to expect?

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I have never worked in a commercial kitchen, but I have been invited for an interview and trailing at an upscale restaurant. What should I expect, and how should I be best prepared?

Please share your experience, thanks!

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  1. function before fashion: wear good, nonskid shoes, no sandals

    secure your hair (pins, braids, scarf) be prepared for someone to hand you a hairnet or cook's cap

    no nail polish, no excessive hand/finger jewelry (yes, this usually includes engagement rings with stones, though plain wedding band is okay).

    be prepared to lift equipment and ingredients (50 lb sacks of flour)-- offer to help the person you are trailing with lifting and carrying items, otherwise you may come across as a "prima donna" type who will expect others to do the heavy work (you do not want to come across like this, you won't be hired)

    watch and learn about the differences between equipment in a pro kitchen and a home kitchen, eg how to use an industrial counter mounted can opener vs hand held, etc,

    learn and respect "stations" in the kitchen, e.g. the cooks have work areas they can be territorial about, which are set up and organized in meticulous or chaotically messy ways. . . the broiler station is one type of station, saute is another, the dishwashing area is another type of "station"-- in general, try to stay out of people's stations and people's work flow as much as possible, everything goes much more smoothly.

    for your own safety, be alert to shouted verbal signals. cooks will holler things like "hot pan" "hot soup behind you" "hot oil, coming through." that doesn't mean to continue to stand in the middle of the work aisle while the person carrying 5 gallons of boiling liquid tries to get around you without scalding her/himself and you-- *you* move out of the way of the person with the dangerous item which is being moved. ***for fook's sake*** this is the biggest identifying characteristic of a "non-kitchen" person, and can result in serious injury and major resentment directed at you by someone who just burned the heck out of themselves, so don't be that guy!!! ;-)

    be yourself, but be nice to others without being wishy-washy. this includes being nice to support staff like dishwashers and bussers, don't act like you're above anybody else. if you can show a sense of humor and a "bring it on" attitude, you'll probably fit right in.

    and be prepared for the possibility of very colorful language and humor that wouldn't fly in an office setting, i'd guess.

    that's the most important stuff for your first time out. good luck.

    3 Replies
    1. re: soupkitten

      soupkitten definitely has it right. Couple of other things to consider and be ready for - very often the pastry section of a commercial kitchen is very small and could even be shared with another section such as garde manger so the working conditions can be cramped. Pastry prep is done early in the day as many pastry items are made ahead and plated during service - some things just take too long to bake/prepare and can't be made during service. If you're there for the prep a large adjustment will be prepping in volume. If you're there during service the best advice I ever received was 'Slow down, I'm in a rush'. Be careful plating delicate items such as tuile - if they have been made ahead and you only have a certain amount don't rush with plating and break them. Most of all try to have fun with it.

      1. re: soupkitten

        Awesome! thanks for a detailed advice. Where should I buy those non-skid shoes? Do people wear dansko type shoes?

        1. re: prettyjthings

          yup, people wear those, or plain black sneakers (or not so plain, depending on the place), or crocs or croc ripoffs... at some places you see cooks wear chuck taylors, doc martins, vans/other skateboarder shoes, what have you. but comfy and broken in for your feet (blisters bad). some places let you get away with slightly silly footwear if you will only be back of house, others clearly specify only plain black footwear for uniform-- but the pro-clog type shoes are always good. expensive, but you'll be on your feet all day, and they will thank you!

      2. when you take things out of the oven shout 'hot' or some other warning. Do not leave oven doors open ever. Don't put anything onto the floor. Cover and label with date and what you have made. Get shown around the walk in, find out where pastries can be put in the walk in. Don't forget to shout 'behind you' when you are walking around especially behind the cooks. Clean up around yourself and take your own things to the dishwash station. Put things back where you took them from - the kitchen may seem disorganized but everyone will know where things are so put them back in the same place. Wash your hands often, wear gloves when appropriate.