My first month as a chef

Last month I quit my high paying (and with it, high stress) finance role to become a chef at Honey & Co.

When I told my friends and family, the initial response was:

“You’re crazy!”

“What about your mortgage?”

“But you have no experience!”

And you know what, they are right! It is a crazy decision: I have no experience in the industry and given that I have a mortgage, it is financially reckless (chefs get paid bugger all!).

So, given all this, why did I decide to become a chef?

  • I LOVE food!;
  • I’ve always wanted to own my own bakery  (I write about it here!);
  • I was bored with office politics;
  • I was no longer passionate about my job (after leaving GT, I swore to myself that I would only do work I was passionate about);
  • I wanted to learn something new!
  • I knew that if I turned down the opportunity I would have regretted it all my life.

Quote

(This quote summarises exactly how I feel!)

However, given my lack of experience, I had no idea how and where to start pursuing my dream. Sure I could read multiple cookbooks, cook a new dish every day and start blogging like mad. But for me, this route would never push me technically and physically.

So, when I saw online that Bao and Chez Bruce (Bruce Poole’s cookbook is honestly the best cookbook I own) were recruiting, I got in touch asking for a trial!

bao

chezbruce

After a round of emails, both restaurants kindly offered me a trial shift and advice as to how to prepare for it (hint: get appropriate chef shoes – Crocs – and trousers).

My trial at Bao was a great introduction into the industry: with guidance from Lee (if you are reading this, thank you for your help!), I set up and ran the frying station. Apart from cooking and plating the daikon, chicken, trotter nuggets, rice, sweet potato fries etc to order, this also meant taking stock, preparing the food and the sauces, recording temperatures, labeling containers and cleaning (lots of cleaning!).

At the end of my shift (5 hours only), I was dead. The heat, coupled with the mental drain of dealing with multiple orders on the go (at one point I had 12 orders on at the same time!) meant that I was absolutely knackered. Knackered, but so incredibly happy.

I got an email the next day saying that I was being offered a role!

My trial at Chez Bruce  was considerably different and more akin to what I imagined it would be like working in a restaurant. Being a French restaurant, the brigade system was evidently in place – each chef had a section that they were responsible for from start to finish. After being introduced to the other chefs (it felt like the first day at school!), I was assigned to the veg section with Kieran, who kindly took me under his wing and guided me through a range of simple tasks (picking herbs at lightning speed, shelling broadbeans, preparing the courgettes, slicing the potatoes etc). Before I knew it, it was 11am and we were moved outside for a quick 15 minute break whilst the porters cleaned the kitchen before service.

(One peculiar observation: none of the chefs smoked, contrary to the popular belief that chefs smoke, drink and do drugs like no tomorrow).

Back inside, I was asked to perform some more technical tasks, with the first being to make a beurre blanc. This was much harder than expected largely due to the heat from the hobs (about 3x more than what you have at home!). Although I finished the task, my arms are now hair free!

My next rotation was in pastry whereby I helped make lemon curd, biscotti and sorbet. It was here that I understood the meaning of precision: everything was weighed to the gram, with the end result justifying the means!

Soon after lunch (a lovely ragu!) I was given a quick low-down of the chef life (long unsociable hours, high pressure environment, have to love the job, chefs still cook at home) before being told to go home and await the good news ( I got the role confirmed shortly after).

So, what did I learn from my two trials:

  • Prep makes up 60% of the work;
  • c.20% of your time is spent cleaning;
  • The other 20% is focussed on the service;
  • You are tasting the food non-stop throughout your shift;
  • Precision is more important than speed (although you need to be exceedingly fast, regardless!);
  • Always ask questions, especially if you are unsure, and never assume anything;
  • Multi-tasking is essential!
  • Having a large bladder helps!

In all honesty, I loved the trials and left both with a genuine smile on my face (the first time I have ever done that after work!). From that moment on, I knew this was what I wanted to do.

However, I wanted one last trial before I committed. I emailed Itamar at Honey & Co and asked for a trial.

Why Honey & Co you ask? Because I love their attitude and passion – the owners wear their hearts on their sleeves and everyone who works there is slightly mad (in a good way!) – and this was confirmed during my trial! After a fairly straightforward trial, I was offered the role full time, which I accepted without hesitation.

 

Having now worked at Honey & Co for a full month, I can honestly say that everything I was told is true:

  • The hours are long and hard, but very rewarding (my palate is now much more refined; I can plate; my knife skills are unrecognisable; I can now multi-task);
  • Admin tasks, such as dating containers, organising the fridge, cleaning, are crucial to running an efficient restaurant;
  • Service is brutal: you have to be incredibly fast and efficient. Typically, you have three minutes to plate up once the order is away;
  • Being a good chef is all about efficiency gains: can you save 10 seconds by cutting the tomatoes another way; can you save 2 seconds by plating differently?
  • You have to be mentally and physically strong: the hours are unsociable and you will be shouted at for doing something silly (my first one was for misunderstanding the falafel recipe and making it too wet);
  • The cheffing community is fairly close knit and everyone knows everyone!
  • Plating is considered from the customers point of view – how can you make it easier and more pleasant for the diner to eat?
  • You get to eat everything on the menu to ensure that the quality is good! (Not a bad perk given the items on the menu!)

Cookie

cake

Given that it has only been one month, I am not going to come to any conclusions yet. However, I know that, for the first time ever, I arrive at and leave work with a smile on my face!

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