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How to be more sanitary?

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 
Hello, I'm new to this site, just joined tonight actually. I'm in culinary school, and I like to think I know what I'm doing, not to say that I don't have a lot to learn, but I'm running into a problem lately that has plagued me as a home cook for years. I need to clean as I go! I'm a very creative cook and during the process, my area tends to be a mess. I know this is not professional, and I need to change the habit especially because I'm on the culinary team and sanitation is a big deal in competition. So my question is this, when you have a brain storm of ideas and you're experimenting/creating/rushing, how do you keep your station clean? Our labs are usually about 2 1/2 hours, which is plenty of time to cook what I need to cook, however I tend to have elaborate ideas that require making 2 or 3 sauces, bases, stocks, ect. Most of which is time consuming and messy.
post #2 of 11
Your problem isn't sanitation, or at least not primarily. Rather it's messiness caused by a lack of organization and planning.

Be more disciplined, cook from an organized (there's that word again) mise en place. This will slightly limit your ability to improvise at the last minute; but it will make you more disciplined -- which is something you need as a pro.

The three most important components to high-end, professional cooking are mise, mise and mise. That means knowing what you're going to use before you turn on the stove. The payoff is that there's a place for everything and everything in its place.

Board management is also important. Keep plenty of mise bowls by your board so it doesn't crowd up and you have room to use your knife. Don't let prep pile up. Empty your board frequently and wipe it down. When you're done wiping down your board take stock of your station and clean whatever needs cleaning.

Mess compromises all your efforts not only in terms of taking up space, but hiding important ingredients and processes. Messy cooks seldom have room to plate, which means presentation ends up as messy as their stations.

Time to grow up. I mean this in the nicest way -- don't take it as me pointing out immaturity or a character flaw. You're just starting out, and no one expects you to approach school with the maturity of years of professional background. Realize though, there's a world of difference between preparing a meal with all your friends hanging out and drinking beer in the kitchen and preparing a meal for paying customers.

At the end of the day, you'll find that increased discipline and organization not only makes you a better cook by preventing errors (which it does), but makes you more creative as well.
As a professional though, you're going to have to learn to make the creativity come at more appropriate and manageable times.

Mise, mise and mise,
BDL
post #3 of 11
Derric - I applaude your passion for the craft. What BDL says is great advice and I would echo it also.

But, be tidy. Take 30 seconds to wipe down. That's sometimes all it takes. Straighten up your area. Don't clutter. Keeps your area clear, helps keeping your mind clear and focused.

Good food doesn't need to be complex. Great tasting, well made, well presented, is so much better than 10 ingredients competing with each other for the limelight. Elegant, delicious food, with one as the star.

And...remember to breathe .... :)

DC
 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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post #4 of 11
Thread Starter 
Yes I completely agree, I was in Baking 1 last quarter and you mised everything before you mixed anything, and my station was a lot cleaner and more organized, but the lack of creativity killed me; it was following recipes for everything. I'm in Garde Manger now and I have all this wonderful product to create incredible dishes and to be honest it's like I'm a kid in a candy shop, and my mise isn't exactly mise, more like a jumble of ingredients crowding my area. So that's one technique, but what about when it's crunch time and you have 2 or 3 pans on the stove and you're trying to clean your area at the same time, it's almost as if I have to sacrifice sanitation or quality; that's the obstacle I need to overcome.
post #5 of 11
Everything BDL said. But also, developing and practicing good habits at home will go a long way towards professionalism in the workplace.
"The pressure's on...let's cook something!"
 
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"The pressure's on...let's cook something!"
 
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post #6 of 11
Don't see mise as misery - it will help you greatly and create joy. Both for you, and the customer, and the boss!

I know creativity is wonderful and love it, but, and this is a positive critique, one must walk before one can run. Get the basic habits in place, then Voila! the rest will follow.
 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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post #7 of 11
I'm sorry, but I have a slightly different take. Creativity and neatness are not mutually exclusive terms.

Part of your mise, in fact, perhaps the most important part, is a pile of damp counter cloths. Always have them handy. And use them constantly. If you're not taking the few seconds needed to wipe down your board and your knives, you're not being creative. You're just being messy.

Working neat and clean is merely a matter of mental mindset. You've said it yourself: you need to clean as you go, and do it so much that it becomes automatic. Most chefs and cooks I know don't even think about wiping down their work stations. They just do it!

Cleaning as you go is one habit it's good to develop.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #8 of 11
I don't know how many times over the years I have heard people say when confronted about something lacking in their work habits "there isn't (or wasn't) enough time"

I have been known to answer those replies with handing my watch to the person and telling them to time me as I accomplish what they couldn't find the time to do.

Nothing needs to be said after that, as it is usually pretty obvious when the task will take less than 30 seconds.

Imagine working saute station in a restaurant doing 300 covers a night and making sauces to order. Messy has no place in that quote, so I left it out.
Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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post #9 of 11
Derric,

Your comments about baking are revelatory. On the one hand, I want to say "See! Look how easy it is to be neat when you're organized." But I feel you when you talk about the lack of creativity in baking.

It's a common misconception that the ratios of baking recipes are so delicate and must be followed so exactly they might have well have been written in stone. The people teaching you are doing a great disservice if they left you with that impression. However, the time for creativity in baking comes after you've begun to undertand how ratios work, mastered a few techniques (at least), and while you're writing the recipe -- not executing it. Remember that sentence.

You seem to have absorbed the advantage proper mise gives you in terms of maintaining your station. Whether you've integrated how important it is to hot pan, saucing and grill techniques, is less certain. Working hot is like comedy, timing is everything. An organized mise is one of those things which separates pros from Joes, because it works. So, which do you want to be? A pro or a Joe?

You wrote: You described a condition of chaos which began before you got the pans on the flame. That's the first problem which needs to be rectified. If you need more mise than your station can hold in order to be creative, you're doing something wrong. Knock it off.

The time for creativity on the hot stations is just like baking. If you feel the need to start chopping a bunch of stuff after the pan is on the fire -- stifle it, write it down or use a mini-recorder, and wait 'til next time. If you're wondering how the mousse au chocolate with raspberry coulis would taste with shallots instead of leeks; make one and clean up before asking yourself if you have time to make the other. If you don't, make a note and do it another day. The chef part of cooking means perfecting recipes, it doesn't mean throwing stuff into the pan and hoping it comes out alright.

The good news is that you're not nuts, and it's an important part of stretching your palate. The bad news is that the school kitchen, during an assignment, isn't the place to do it. Your "virtual palate" (i.e., tasting in your imagination) should be strong enough for you to plan what you want to do before you do it, and prep the mise.

I'll say it again: You're not hanging out in the kitchen with friends, you're trying to learn and practice a profession. Act professional.

You're right. Sometimes, especially when you've got one more pan on the fire than you can comfortably handle, there's not much time for anything but "hot." However, the more organized your station was when the pan went on the stove, the more organized it will be when it comes off.

Here's a good test: If you've left yourself a clean area to plate, it's good enough for the crunch; but if you're searching, you're sunk.

I've got to add, the more time you have on the line the more you tend to limit how many and what size pans requiring immediate attention (sear/saute fish for crispy skin, and beurre monter, e.g.) you'll work at the same time. It all depended what was up, but when I was still a pro (many decades ago) two pans was pretty much my max. And, it still is. Two isn't a bad number either, some people can't coax good food out of one. I've seen a few people who can work more; but they were not only very highly developed cooks, they had the innate talent for it -- Jeremiah Tower for instance.

They (and he) also knew when to say when. Not overwhelming yourself is a big part of the game. It seems obvious that if one pan is taxing, and two near impossible that three is disaster. But it takes time to develop the judgment and self confidence to know when to say "too much, I'm already at my limit."

BDL
post #10 of 11
If you are organized and prepared, you are organized and prepared. Enjoy school. Control comes with skill, hand in hand. That is what school is for. Listen to your chefs. They should be teaching more than food. The umbrella of their knowledge is greater. (not to be so jedi)
post #11 of 11
Thread Starter 
Thank you for all your input guys. I try to absorb as much knowledge as I can whenever and wherever I can about the trade. I will start on Monday implementing better sanitation and proper mise. I never even thought about cleaning my station thoroughly before a pan touches the flame, I think because I'm always so eager to start cooking. I completely understand that a perfect sanitation skill set is just as important as cranking out 8 tournes in 10 minutes or making an unbreakable hollandaise. Next week is sausage week so it should be fun. Again, thanks for the help, I will take a lot from it.
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