Making Desserts in the Mountains -- Part 1
This week has been a whirlwind. After a 10 hour road trip up I-75, I made it to Eastern Tennessee where I will be spending the next 3 months, completing my externship in one of the most highly recognized and awarded kitchens in the Eastern U.S. What a dream! What a challenge! What an adventure! This is an opportunity of a lifetime, and as thankful and excited as a I am to be here, doubt and anxiety definitely had their place this week too.
I began the week in orientation, where I toured the property, got my new chef coat (which is very official), and began to get acclimated with my new home away from home. For me, this was the easy part. I’ve had new jobs many times before and it’s not very scary to sit at a conference table and listen to someone explain benefits. The kitchen, though, is a different ball game. As comfortable and at home as I am in my kitchen, I have never worked in a restaurant before, much less one of this caliber. I was afraid that I would stick out like a sore thumb, that everyone would know that I didn’t belong, and that possibly, the last two years I spent in pastry school was all for nothing. Luckily, none of that has happened yet. The people on my team are so kind and patient, each of them going out of their way to answer my litany of questions and make me feel like I belong.
I spent the week working late into the night- making pound cakes, separating eggs, slicing enough garden strawberries to feed a small army. I learned how to plate the desserts on the menu, used an actual fryer for the first time (and didn’t burn anything!), practiced forming quenelles, and picked fresh flowers each night for plating. I also had to remake recipes, got the ticket system mixed up more than once, and felt a bit like an outsider at times.
I thought that I had stepped out of my comfort zone two years ago when I left teaching to pursue a career in the culinary world, but that was a little baby step compared to the leap that I took this week. Of course, I am looking forward to improving my skills in the kitchen- to mastering the ticket system and being able to make quenelles that are pretty enough to go on the plate, but I am also looking forward to learning a little more about how to handle difficult and challenging situations. I am learning that I have to break myself of my need to be perfect. For years, I was so comfortable being the teacher. I was the one with the answers, the one who didn’t need to ask questions, and I liked that. My personality and perfectionism loved being the teacher. But now, more than ever, I am the student and, if I am being honest, that is difficult for me at times. I am learning that it's okay not to have all of the answers, to learn from people who know better than me. I am looking forward to the personal and professional journey that this summer is shaping up to be.
When I’m not working, I have spent the last week tagging along with my cousin Meg, who is an herbalist, small business owner, forager, and maker of great cocktails. I have gotten to be her little assistant at two local markets, picked honeysuckle and wild roses, and organized boxes and boxes of product. It’s been a great week getting settled here in Tennessee and I can’t wait to see what other adventures are coming my way.