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I'm not learning!

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 
Hi,
I've been working in foodservice since july at good hotel here in Houston. I originally got the job as a way to gain experience and learn. I hope to have a lot of experience by the time i finish college and go on to CIA or NECI. I wasn't really worried about pay...at all, as long as i learned a lot. . It is a great set up for me because i'm very busy with all the other things in my life. I go to work sat. mornings and usually leave around 2 or 3, but i had enough freedom that i could leave most any time i needed too. I am getting paid now...but very very little...i'm not complaining. I began in prep doing the usual cutting the same veggie for hours and so on. It was really helping my knife skills. I also got to work in the hot kitchen which was a lot of fun, i was surprised my chef put me there so soon. Then, he moved me permanently to the bake shop. At first i knew it wasn't what i wanted to be doing but i think it's important to know because i hear that many chefs don't know much more than the basics about baking and i want to know everything about everything in food. I learned quite a bit for a while, but now, i come and do the same thing every weekend. It is also hard to learn from the baker because he is mexican as are most of the others in the foodservice dept. of the hotel. The communication barrier causes problems. The only way for me to work in the hot kitchen now is if i stay from the morning until sat. night when the bake shop is already closed. I don't have time to do this. My problem is, soon i will want to find a job at a restaurant doing prep and all but i feel that i will not be well enough prepared to do this. I feel like I am wasting time currently. But, i like my hours and my freedom and i don't think i could find that anywhere else right now, plus i want to show that i can hold a steady job for a decent amount of time. What do i do? Talk to my chef about it? I don't want to be a complainer and i think i'm too young to be so choosey. Are there other ways that i can make myself learn more? All i do is cut and plate cheese cakes, put dough into the roll maker and roll the dough into hot dog shaped things, roll dough on the big dough flattener thing(thats a lot of fun) etc. If you were to ask me to make any of the doughs for these things, i couldn't do it, especially in the quantites that we use. I basically just do the "mechanical" stuff. And its not that i don't enjoy doing these things, its that i don't feel i'm getting much out of doing them.
Sorry this has been so long, and i hope it made sense

Ron
post #2 of 21
My first thought reading your post was, I've been doing this for 10 years, and I do the same thing. I stand and cut veggies for hours, and the like, and unfortunately that is life in this business.

I don't know what kind of relationship you have with your Exec. Chef, but I have always gone to mine with such issues.

In the meantime, I always look for books that can lend me some knowledge.

Hope this helps you out a little!
:chef:
"Whatever you are, be a good one."
-Abraham Lincoln-

"The weak ones fall, the strong carry on."
-Tom Petty-
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"Whatever you are, be a good one."
-Abraham Lincoln-

"The weak ones fall, the strong carry on."
-Tom Petty-
Reply
post #3 of 21
Whoa! You're in Houston and you can't communicate with the Mexicans on staff? You mean you don't understand Spanish? Or you just don't watch very carefully? Whichever, the solution lies within you.

In fact, the solution to your overall "problem" lies within you: if you want to get onto the hot side at a reasonable time of day, finish your own work faster. If you want to learn how to make the doughs, watch the doughs being made and take notes; even if you can't ask questions and understand the spoken answers, you can still communicate enough with the baker.

Cheech is right: the reality of this business is that the vast majority of us do the same thing every day, over and over. At your level, speed, work ethic, and making the effort to learn are far more important than anything else. Keep working on those.
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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post #4 of 21

Re: I'm not learning!

Ron, it looks like you've considered the many facets of your conundrum and that shows a lot of maturity. You understand the reality of the job but you still want to learn something. That's great!

You have to decide what you favour: hours and freedom as you say, or learning. They tend not to go hand in hand.

I'm not going to give you the usual lecture about you creating your own learning opportunities and such because I've worked in hotel and I know what it's like. In my experience, hotel cooks are less forthcoming when it comes to passing down their knowledge and experience. I won't get into the reasons for this because that's a whole other ball of wax, but there's an expression that restaurants cooks use a lot: you go to a hotel to die. (there are some exceptions I'm sure!!!)

So as to your question about speaking to Chef, I vehemently reply "YES". Be professional about it, tell him/her that you are very interested in all aspects of what you've done so far but you would like a little more guidance if possible to help you learn as much as possible. No chef could be upset at that. It shows that you are interested and that you are investing in your own development.

I agree with the above: get some good books and read whatever you can. It helps you to be a better judge of qualiy. You'll always be a step ahead.

Good luck and keep us posted!
post #5 of 21
Thread Starter 
Thanks a lot for your replies. Tomorrow i work so i will speak to my chef.
Suzanne: The majority of white people in Houston do not speak Spanish. I do watch when the dough is being made and i do ask the baker questions. Some of our breads use instant yeast that we don't soak. Some of the yeast is soaked in warm water but its always the same instant yeast. Also, the baker uses water with a lot of ice in it when he pours in the water. I have asked him why we do these things but i don't understand his explanation. What is the correct temperature that water should be when baking? He might be doing this in order to balance temperatures between the melted butter and the water? . Also, when we do pastries such as cheese cakes, and creme brulees, cakes...it's all made the day before and the put in the cooler, so i never get to see how its made and learn to do it on my own. These are the kind of problems i'm having at work

Anneke, I'm going to post another thread cause i want you to explain your quote about hotel cooks.

Ron
post #6 of 21
Ron,
Being a veteran of many hotels I can tell you that a fairly large percentage of people working there don't have formal culinary training. Especially minorities. Many of them started busting their butts as dishwashers and worked their way up. Therefore they cook by rote. It's likely the baker can't explain it because he doesn't know himself. This is not to denegrate him in any way, it's simply reality. He might have been shown how to make all the items by the chef and that's the only way he will do it forever.
If you really want to know the answers to these questions, pick up a book and then watch him do these things and you'll understand a little more. Also try to arrange your schedule so that you can see how the other things are done. You don't have to work then, just find out when it's done and then tell the Chef that you'll be stopping by on your day off to see how it's done. Again, no Chef in his right mind will tell you no!
My latest musical venture!
http://myspace.com/nikandtheniceguys
 
Also
http://www.myspace.com/popshowband "I'm at the age when food has taken the place of sex in my life. In fact I've just had a mirror put over my kitchen table." Rodney Dangerfield RIP
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My latest musical venture!
http://myspace.com/nikandtheniceguys
 
Also
http://www.myspace.com/popshowband "I'm at the age when food has taken the place of sex in my life. In fact I've just had a mirror put over my kitchen table." Rodney Dangerfield RIP
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post #7 of 21
Cookinschool: Saying "The majority of white people in Houston do not speak Spanish" is a cop-out. In many, many big cities (and probably smaller ones, too), a lot of the cooks, sous chefs, and yes, even chefs are Spanish-speaking. If you want to be able to talk with your coworkers (and maybe your boss), learn their language. AND help them learn English. (Unless, of course, you decide to move to Minneapolis, in which case you should learn Hmong.)

Okay, ice water in the dough: which dough is it? How much have you learned about doughs on your own? Because if you had tried to learn more about dough-making on your own, you would know that there are some doughs that are made with ice water for very good reasons.

Once again: if you want to learn, you must make the effort -- whatever it takes. This is a business in which one may have to give up a great deal of freedom in order to learn -- working long hours for little pay, even putting in extra time for no pay; using one's own time to read and research and learn. If you are unable or unwilling to give up your "freedom" and your convenience, rethink whether you want to be here.
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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post #8 of 21
Actually, Suzanne, in the Twin Cities Spanish is the second kitchen language, too.

Regarding the determination of water temp in a yeast-raised dough, use the 240 rule: temp of bakeshop+temp of flour+temp of water=240 F. Generally, bakeshop and flour temps are the same. So, if it's 95 degrees in the bake shop, water temp should be 50 degrees F (95+95+50=240). I'd post a thread down in the baking/pastry section for a better answer from M Brown, Momoreg, KyleW, et al.
Anulos qui animum ostendunt omnes gestemus!
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Anulos qui animum ostendunt omnes gestemus!
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post #9 of 21
Thread Starter 
Suzanne
I didn't mean what I said about speaking spanish to be a cop-out. you had said earlier By this, I assumed that you believed that most everyone here can speak spanish. I was just telling you that this is not true. I didn't mean that i was opposed to learning spanish and I totally know that i need to learn spanish and i wasn't making excuses. Did i mention i'm only 18...if that makes a difference.

Ron
post #10 of 21
Didn't you have a chance to learn Spanish in school? Or did you choose another language?

I don't fault you personally if your school did not require the study of a foreign language (even though Spanish is not all that "foreign"). I'm an old fogie who grew up in the days when studying another language was mandatory for almost everyone. As a matter of fact, I think that everyone should be able to speak Spanish AND English. I have a hard time understanding that in this day and age, when internationalism is so much a part of our daily lives, education can be so insular.

As for your being 18 -- yes, that might make a difference. I don't want to make unfair assumptions, so let me ask: if you are still going to high school, do you have another afterschool job besides the hotel job? Are you deeply involved in extracurricular afterschool activities, or in an activity not related to school, such as playing in a band? Do you take a lot of responsibility at home, helping out with childcare, housekeeping, cooking? You don't really have to give me a direct answer; if these are the things that keep you busy (along with studying, of course), I can understand how hard it is for you to fit in anything more. But if the "freedom" you enjoy so much is merely hanging out, I'd say you are wasting the time you could be using to learn on your own. ("Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose.")

My point, once again, is that if you are serious about learning and doing the best you can, YOU must make the effort.
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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post #11 of 21
Greg, I have worked in 2 professional bake shops and I've taken 2 baking modules in school. No one has EVER taught me this rule. It would have made my life so much easier had I known!!! Thanks for sharing that...

Being a member of ChefTalk is a great way to supplement your learning!

;)
post #12 of 21
Thread Starter 
hi suzanne,
actually, i have taken 5 years of spanish...its sad...i know sooo little. The only way to learn a language is to really work hard at it...it doesn't matter how many classes you've taken. Therefore...i definitely did not work hard in Spanish. I really regret this because now i realize how important it is for me to be able to speak spanish. Next year i will be in israel all year, i will become fluent in hebrew but that isn't gonna help me in houston.
About my life outside of work. I go to an Art high school that is very demanding not only in academics but also in my art area. I play trumpet and am in the wind ensemble, symphony, jazz band and all this year i have been preparing for my senior recital. I am usually at school from about 8 in the morning till 7 almost every day, either rehearsing or performing. I am also very active in planning and running my youth group, and of course don't forget studying(which you didn't). I have been reading about cooking every chance i can get, or when i'm procrastinating from doing my school work. I'm either on cheftalk, like i am right now, or reading books.
The freedom i am talking about is the ability for me to pretty much make my hours at work. . For instance, for the next month i will not be going to work because i am out of town every weekend until april, either with school or for family reasons. At any other job, i don't think i could really miss a month of work and still keep my job. This is what i mean when i say "freedom". Also, I definitely am not "hanging out" when i'm at work.

Ron

P.S. there is some confusion with my name...its not cooking school spelled wrong. It is cookin's cool....spelled wrong...haha
I guess i'm just a really confusing guy in general.
post #13 of 21
Patience young padawan.


You work one morning a week. If you want to do more you need to be more flexible and available.

If I have a choice of a kid who can work one day a week and a kid who will work 6 nights a week, the 6 night kid will get the goods every time.

That's how it works. Give more and you will get more.

lates,
Jon
post #14 of 21

cookinscool

HEY DUDE! After 25 years in the business, the best advice I can give you, and this comes from Chef Norman Van Aken of AMANO and now Norman's. Always do the best you can at any job, and you wqill rise. And always always work in the best houses. One's that have a large average check charge with out including wine. Just hang in there. For information on absolutely anything concerning food buy a Larousse Gastromic. There are three versions. I like the middle version, but to each his own. This is your chef's bible. Just keep on cheffin.
post #15 of 21
Thread Starter 
hey, where can i get the Larousse Gastromic?
I searched on amazon.com and barnes and noble and i couldn't find it

ROn
post #16 of 21
Try: Larousse Gastronomique ;)
Emily

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"If you are not killing plants, you are not really stretching yourself as a gardener." -- J. C. Raulston, American Horticulturist
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Emily

______________________

"If you are not killing plants, you are not really stretching yourself as a gardener." -- J. C. Raulston, American Horticulturist
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post #17 of 21

make a choice

hey man,,, you sound like you have quite a full plate. its great that with all you do that you still want to learn, but one day a week sheeting dough isn't gonna cut it. if you plan on making a career out of cooking then you must do it, otherwise stick to music. i have been in a kitchen for ten years now, and sometimes you actualy get excited when you have one day off in a week, thats just the way it goes. i also have musiscian friends who simply will not work a job that keeps them from their practice and shows. you have to find where you loyalties lie. if music and art are your loves right now then stick to them, if you really want to learn everything about food like you say,, you may have to put that notion off until the time is right. don't think that because you are so busy right now that you will never learn enough,, you have plenty of time to persue all of your dreams


do one thing,, and do a whole lot of it.
post #18 of 21
Thread Starter 
Hey,

Don't forget, cooking is an art! Anyway, i definitely am not planning on having music as my career. If there was a highschool for culinary arts, I'd be there

Ron
post #19 of 21
cookin is cool,
Look for Joe Amandola's books also. If you come to D stop by for a chat. It will only take me four or five minutes to talk you out of this bus. LOL Just kidding.
FOR YEARS I LIVED TO WORK! NOW I WORK TO LIVE!
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FOR YEARS I LIVED TO WORK! NOW I WORK TO LIVE!
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post #20 of 21
Thread Starter 

Joe Amandola?

Who is he? I searched amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com for him but wasn't able to get a match.
post #21 of 21
Thread Starter 
Aha! it is joseph amendola.

Ron
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