Notice how quiet we have been the past few months? It’s because we’ve been making lots of noise (good and bad) in a very serious kitchen.
On 31 December marked the end of an 8-month apprenticeship at the Mount Nelson Hotel’s Planet Restaurant. To say it was one of the best experiences of my life would be a gross understatement. That’s why I’m compelled to write about my experience as a trainee in the form of a kind of ‘do’s and don’t’, because I can definitely say I’ve seen them all put to the test.
Before I start, I have a massive confession: I am experiencing mad withdrawal symptoms. For someone who does not like taking orders but rather working in a democratic environment is a big statement. The fact is I was lucky to work with one of the biggest rock stars on this planet – Chef Rudi Liebenberg. And he’s not a rock star in the smash-his-guitar-burn-the-hotel-carpets-kind-of-way. There wasn’t a day that he would throw in a surprise for the chefs I worked for (as a trainee, a runner, a do-everything), I will never forget the crazy look in his eye he gets when he is onto something big. Something bold. Something that will blow your mind and your palate away. So in some way this is a dedication to one of my biggest inspirations yet. Also because Chef says he used to treat trainees very differently than he does now, hehe.
- DO arrive 3 hours early. Teach yourself something new and get to know the kitchen inside out.
- DON’T even try rock up for work if you don’t have the right uniform. Even if you forgot your shoes in the rain, wear them.
- DO write a comprehensive mise-en-place (To-Do List) before leaving the kitchen every night, ready for tomorrow morning.
- DON’T back chat. Especially not in the middle of service. Rather schedule a meeting once you’ve both cooled down if it’s that important.
- DO ask if you are uncertain about something, don’t try wing it. There are no short cuts in the kitchen if you want to do it properly. Some chefs are masters at short cutting, (a chef explained she learnt how to wing it before she learnt how to cook).
- DON’T volunteer to help other chefs if they are spinning during prep. Most of the time you just get bitten in the arse with your own work piling up. Chef D taught me this valuable tip – get your own shit sorted before you help others. When you can see the chef really needs help, and no-one is doing anything, jump in and get the station sorted.
- DO set up your station for service to the T. Every detail sorted and checked on your mise-en-place.
- DON’T walk out of the kitchen during service. No matter how hectic the pressure is.
- DO build up valuable friendships and be transparent about everything you do. Don’t try and hide shit or talk behind someone’s back. Really unattractive in human being in general.
- DO dedicate your life to something you love, and if it is cooking in a big kitchen, immerse yourself in it and show it through taking pride in your work.
- BONUS TIP: start from the bottom. Being a trainee in a kitchen means being open to doing everything, and most importantly constantly observing everything. You won’t get to try everything but you can learn from others. With hard work you’ll be picking the fruit in no time.