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The Learning Curve

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
I would like to thank you all for your replies on the subject “Who owns the recipe?”. I was asking it in the most basic form and your comments have covered many areas that I have not even thought about.

One area is that as a self taught home cook I have covered many areas of food preparation, in the process I have accumulated just under 500 best recipes on a database. My learning process has been trial and error with little repetition and total freedom of what I want to cook. From what has been mentioned it appears that within a commercial kitchen a great deal more restriction is placed upon what can be prepared; obviously this will partly be due to financial, menu and efficiency constraints.

With the above in mind and with reference only to food preparation / cooking does an unrestricted dedicated home cook have the ability to learn about food at a faster rate and in a more diversified manner than that of a student working his / her way around / up within a commercial kitchen.

I realise it is a difficult one to answer as there are so many variables but I would just like to know a little more about the learning curve when working within a Relais & Châteaux type establishment. I have always appreciated the skill and dedication that goes into a meal at these hotels and restaurants but I have no idea as to how many years of shear hard work that go into creating perfection.

I await your replies with interest.

maxon8
post #2 of 14
max,

It's 2 totally different worlds. You may learn faster or slower, but that's just a function of your own dedication and abilities. the difference is that it's not the same kind of cooking.

Believing one can cook in a professional restaurant because one loves to cook at home is the same as believing one can run the Indy 500 because one has a drivers license.
Peace,
kmf



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Peace,
kmf



Visit Edible Iowa River Valley"In the long view, no nation is healthier that its children, or more prosperous than its farmers." -President Harry Truman, at the signing of the School Lunch Act, 1946
Join Slow Food HereJoin Gather.com here
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post #3 of 14
I learned basic cooking skills at home from my mom and grandmother, two wonderful home cooks with natural culinary instincts. When I got a summer job cooking the lunch shift at a small restaurant in college, it took me some time to adjust to that! And that was a small operation. Believe me, even simple cooking in a commercial venue is very different from cooking at home for friends and family. As Devotay says, there's driving and then there's racing. I have to say that my instincts, developed in a home kitchen, helped to some degree, to be sure. It was a bit easier to learn timing, keep track of several items and their progress, and to tell when things were ready. But there was so much else to master!

(Incidentally, my cooking career ended when the boss saw me toss a hamburger in the trash after it has fallen on the floor during the lunch rush. He wanted me to put it back on the grill, but I refused. I was banished to wait tables. :rolleyes: )

If you want to make the transition, I recommend looking up the earlier conversations on this site about changing careers to culinary fields. It'll open your eyes, I can tell you.
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post #4 of 14
I agree with you, Devotay. I've always had a talent for cooking; but my ability to organize and implement the logistics of work is what makes the differance.

I only get to cook what I want to a small degree, because in reality I have to cook what sells. And I must get it to the table in a fresh, timely manner; and to stay in business, my food cost and labor cost to produce the item must be affordable to my customer base, what they will pay.

maxon8, most of us that use this forum have 500+/- recipes of our own, walls lined with cookbooks, (my wall is 22', stuff with magizines and books + the pile beside my bed + the stack in the living room + the 2 small book cases; we read them like a novel, very seldom cook from them..........the information just computes it's self into a spurt of inspiration in some other form, at some other time) plus tons of info bookmarked on the computer.

But, I will tell you the personal reward of having guests in my home and enjoying a meal with them is much differant than producing a meal in the restaurant for a customer. True in each case you want to please the consumer, but in one you participate, providing all the components of the dining experiance; in the other you provide only one, the meal. The score card is kept in the business column, are you keeping customers, making money?
post #5 of 14

After a great amount of thought and editing

Umm err uh….
There are a good many talented folks in the industry that practice and study for the better part of their career in the commercial setting and never reach a higher potential. Yet they have the ability to cope with the environment of a professional kitchen and it culinary leadership. This exposure allows for the person in the professional sector to be leaps and bounds ahead of anyone who considers themselves a Gourmet cook.

In a professional setting the “pressures” are much different than in a home kitchen. As a person climbs the ladder in a professional kitchen there are so many nuances engrained in that individual they are too numerous to list yet to name just a just a few… There’s the opportunity to share opinions, develop leadership, problem solve and discuss or debate various schools of though etc, etc, etc. Yet the one thing you learn over all else is that the responsibility of the food ultimately falls to the shoulders of the Executive Chef and his/her training and ability to apply that training. This under all circumstances takes time to develop and hone.

There are those that never studied under the Leading Chefs of the World (or any Chef for that fact) or worked in a professional setting. They have this vast “Book Knowledge” you speak of but no applied or practical experience. These folks can in very rare cases adjust to life in a professional kitchen. Yet for the most part they often can’t survive the first 6 days let alone 6 months because they feel they are better than they actually are because a book told them how to do it. Anyone can spout terminology, procedure and say they learned that in a book. Unfortunately most books are of a single view point in nature and fail to adequately prepare the person for what actually will happen. Leaps ahead? IMHPO I’d have to say they’re behind, maybe not leaps, but still behind those “working”.

Restricted learning is a necessary part of a successful learning curve. Some folks just aren’t ready to progress past a certain point no matter how strongly they feel to the contrary. Each individual has different potentials and absorbs information and knowledge at different rates. Then worst of all they sit back and boldly compare themselves to others with-in an operation or class. Most folks think because they can do one thing very well for a short time they have earned the right to move on or be promoted. I once had a line cook come up to me and say that they learned everything they were going to learn on this station and were ready to move on. This was after a couple weeks training and I pointed out to that person they had yet to work a High volume shift. So, after a few seconds of but, but, but, I scheduled that person to work the next volume shift to prove a point. They melted down and turned into an oozing blob of jelly after the second push.

If you actually are looking at trying to make the jump to a professional kitchen from your home setting…make it a small low jump. Start low and be a sponge for all that happens around you. Put in your time and then take the show on the road after a year or so. Change kitchens and learn an alternate perspective. Do this for a couple years and then set your sights higher. Work at your pace and the pace that the Chef sets for you. They know best and should be the judge of your talents and quite frankly the average person can’t, at the beginning at least, judge where they are in relation to things without too much emotion getting in the way. My point is that people need to worry less about the “fast track” or how quickly can they get to the head of the line and focus more on realizing their own potential and not measuring it against someone else.

The Brass Ring…It’s what we’re all after in some form or another. Wouldn’t it be better that if once you finally grab on to it you can hold it with confidence in knowing you earned it? Not only that but you also have the all-around knowledge to hold on to it proudly and without challenge.:smiles:
post #6 of 14
Amen...

Would like to add a few more things though.

A true professional makes mistakes, quite a few as a matter of fact, but only a true professional can turn them around to work for him, or disguise them.

Other than food, the second most important thing in the kitchen is the ability to work with people. Alot of the stress in the kitchen is human created: X refuses to work on the line with Y; Z had a tesostorone surge and shouted a racial slur at W who refused his advances; Q think's he's God's greatest gift to the kitchen and spends 15 minutes custom designing each plate, driving the waiters and the Chef up the wall; P had a late night partying and is in the john yawning in technicolour, putting stress on the others. How you act and react to the human element in the professional kitchen is just as important as ingredient and technique knowledge.
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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post #7 of 14
Max,

I'd like to toss my 2¢ in as well. First, "Believing one can cook in a professional restaurant because one loves to cook at home is the same as believing one can run the Indy 500 because one has a drivers license." That wraps it up.

Now... if you still think you can hang, do it. But first, do it on someone else's dime. Work in the field for awhile. You'd be amazed at all the things you'll learn.

I've been in this biz more years than sometimes I care to remember. But I've always learned along the way. I've learned from chefs, other chefs, line cooks, dish dudes/dudettes, prep folks, and ahem, he says quietly, from servers too.

The day you stop learning is the day you may as well toss in the apron. You'll be no good to anybody... including yourself.

Ciao,
Order In/Food Out ~ It's NOT magic.
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"It's not getting any smarter out there. You have to come to terms with stupidity, and make it work for you." Frank Zappa
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post #8 of 14
Thread Starter 

Thank You

My original post started as ”Who owns the recipe?” at http://www.cheftalk.com/forums/showthread.php?t=18198

Unfortunately as the discussion evolved the moderator has moved it to this new title in the process the context has changed. I must stress that I have no intention of going professional. I cook as an escapism from stress, I think a commercial kitchen would do my head in!!.

All I would like to know is a little more about the learning curve within a Relais & Châteaux type establishment, the type of structure involved, what is or is not expected of you, if one is being educated to have an overall knowledge and to a very high standard or does each person specialise in a specific area, bread, pastry etc. and the time span involved to achieve this high standard and who does the teaching, if anyone.

Any information would be appreciated and will allow me a greater understanding into what is one of the hardest and often unappreciated professions.

Just logged on...........thanks for the replies, you seem to be running ahead of me!. WOW - you have collectively covered a large area much of which is very interesting. The comments you have made might appear mundane to some people reading this topic, however from my side; the customer these are things that I have never been able to talk about and I am therefore a little ignorant.

My interest in cooking comes from having two generations of family on both sides involved in the retail food business. On one side I had master bakers with about 14 shops and the other master butchers and delicatessen so being of the third generation I decided to take advantage of the raw materials, hence my interest in cooking. I only cook for family and friends. I like to talk about food, where it comes from, how it has been prepared etc. I am finding that within the UK the supermarkets are having a devastating effect on peoples understanding of what food is, the result being a very poor and often expensive diet . When entertaining this lack of basic food knowledge is very apparent, this makes for quite an interesting evening as one slowly re-educates those that one is entertaining. I would find it very hard to prepare the same within a commercial kitchen without this interaction. I like to travel through France hence my interest in Relais & Châteaux establishments and have often been introduced to the people that have prepared my meal and shown around the kitchen. Unfortunately I do not speak French so it is a little difficult understanding how it all comes together with such perfection, however one thing is very apparent, it takes total dedication.

The comment from foodpump, ”A true professional makes mistakes, quite a few as a matter of fact, but only a true professional can turn them around to work for him, or disguise them”. I do not make mistakes, I have two German Shepherd Dogs, they love all that I cook; at present they are on a strict diet!.

If you have any further comments I would be interested in reading them.


maxon8
post #9 of 14
I knew you were not contemplating jumping to a professional kitchen when I moved this and started the thread. But I did expect that you would get more serious, considered responses by people who have experience in both professional and home kitchens. Rather than guesses from people who barely know how to boil water. :o

In any case: The learning curve has less to do with the locale or the establishment than with the learner.

By this I mean: Spending an extended period of time in any type of professional kitchen means learning to do what that kitchen does, the way the chef wants it done. Not necessarily the "right" way to do anything, and not necessarily a broad spectrum of cuisines and recipes. On the other hand, a home cook with an open mind and a good collection of recipes can experiment with many types of food, many types of dishes, and many techniques. The knowledge gained through that experimentation may not be "perfect" but it could actually be a lot broader.

There are few professional establishments that do all day-parts in "all" styles. Yes, a Relais et Châteaux member might do three meals a day, and afternoon tea, and possibly late night, but it will all be the same type of cuisine at the same (hopefully) 2- or 3-star level. No quick grill menu there. No IHOP-type stuff. :p A worker who wants to learn everything there would have to make sure s/he was assigned to all shifts, over several years, to see everything that is done in the kitchen. Even then, s/he would still have seen -- and could only have learned -- one type of cuisine at one level.
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post #10 of 14
I do actually work in a Relais & Chateau kitchen, and there are many differences between home and work cooking.
For example, at home I can say, "Sorry I cooked that lamb a bit too much but it's still tasty" or "we've run out of strawberry sorbet so I've given you melon instead".
Everything, every plate and every component on it we send out of the kitchen at work has to be perfect - and perfect as designated by the chef. For example, a stagiaire the other day tried to send out a dessert plate with the sorbet in a quenelle form rather than scooped into a ball with the ice cream scoop. Sent back, re-do it. If you want to argue that quenelles are prettier than balls, do it some other time than during service.
Timing is much more important than at home. At home, your guests will wait 30 minutes between courses chatting to you. Not in the restaurant.
Hygiene issues are MUCH more serious.
The list goes on.

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Chris Ward
 
http://eatsleepcookschool.wordpress.com - The true story of the year I spent learning how to be a professional cook at catering school in Avignon, Provence, while working as a dishwasher.
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Chris Ward
 
http://eatsleepcookschool.wordpress.com - The true story of the year I spent learning how to be a professional cook at catering school in Avignon, Provence, while working as a dishwasher.
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post #11 of 14
Thread Starter 
Plongeur thank you for your reply and your comments.

One question I would like to ask you is do you use microwave ovens in your type of kitchen as a tool for melting chocolate and heating sauces....... etc. or is this considered unnecessary.

If you are working near Avignon then are you at Le Prieure, or Auberge de Noves, I probably should not ask but give me a hint!.

maxon8
post #12 of 14
I'm at La Table des Agassins, http://www.agassins.com
We use the microwave for defrosting bread, warming veg occasionally and heating up babies' bottles for customers. And sometimes for reheating staff food, but usually all the reheating is done in the steam/regular/mixed oven.
Chef doesn't like microwaves and doesn't have one at home.
Chocolate is usually melted in a picpoul (metal bowl) covered with clingfilm in the bain marie in the range.
Sauces are reheated in small copper saucepans (about one or two serving size) on the flat top, then served directly onto plates via a small sieve (like the one I'd use for making tea and straining tea leaves).
At home I use the microwave for cooking some veg, heating milk for my morning coffee and, er, that's about it. I melt chocolate over a saucepan bain.

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Chris Ward
 
http://eatsleepcookschool.wordpress.com - The true story of the year I spent learning how to be a professional cook at catering school in Avignon, Provence, while working as a dishwasher.
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Chris Ward
 
http://eatsleepcookschool.wordpress.com - The true story of the year I spent learning how to be a professional cook at catering school in Avignon, Provence, while working as a dishwasher.
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post #13 of 14
Thread Starter 
Plongeur thank you for your reply. The food looks good!. I will place La Table des Agassins on my list of places to visit.

maxon8
post #14 of 14
Hey, lemme know when you're coming and I'll make sure you get the 'good' amuse bouches.

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Chris Ward
 
http://eatsleepcookschool.wordpress.com - The true story of the year I spent learning how to be a professional cook at catering school in Avignon, Provence, while working as a dishwasher.
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Chris Ward
 
http://eatsleepcookschool.wordpress.com - The true story of the year I spent learning how to be a professional cook at catering school in Avignon, Provence, while working as a dishwasher.
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