Three years ago from today, I walked through the double doors of the pastry kitchen at Blue Hill at Stone Barns for the very first time.
It was my first day in a professional kitchen and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I didn't know that the next ten weeks were going to be some of the hardest of my life, that I was going to be endlessly yelled at for messing up, that I would quickly start second-guessing my being there, my ambitions, and my plans for the future.
I also didn't realize that by walking into that kitchen, I would make lifelong friendships, learn countless lessons, and ultimately fall in love with the community of chefs, cooks, dishwashers, front of house staff, farmers, and diners – all of the people that made coming to work every day worthwhile.
I am incredibly grateful for my time at Blue Hill, for the people that got me through those doors, and for Melanie - for believing in the girl who walked into that kitchen with her hair down, nails painted bright green, a chef jacket that obviously consumed her, and for disregarding the fact that she had no idea who Alice Waters or Dan Barber even were.
In honor of it being my three year anniversary of diving into this industry, I'm reposting the blog entry I wrote after my first week at BHSB.
Edited for grammar.
Originally posted on ahawkz.wordpress.com on May 29, 2013
I had a plan last week, and that plan was to write another post after my first day at work. Keyword: day. But nope, to my surprise (and everyone else’s) I was told that my work days are not just days…but they are also nights… and early mornings. In fact, they happen to be 13 hour days, 5 days a week, with days off on Monday and Tuesday. 65 hour weeks, standing the entire time. This apparently happens to be the way life in a restaurant works, and it also happened to be the biggest reality slap I have ever received.
But let’s start from the beginning. When I was offered this internship at a restaurant called Blue Hill at Stone Barns for the summer, I was thrilled. Not only would I be working directly in a kitchen with the pastry team there, but I would also be working at one of the best restaurants in the country (Forbes ranks BHSB at number 9 in the top 100 U.S. restaurants). To anyone in the culinary industry, this is a dream, and through connections and wonderful family I managed to be plopped right into the midst of the big leagues. All I could do was count down the days.
Fast-forward to last Wednesday, my first day at work. I was originally told that my hours would be 9-5pm like any average job/internship, and that I would end up working later hours once I got my “feet wet.” But prior to arriving that Wednesday, I was told to come in at 11am instead. So after running some errands in the morning, I was on my way. I was told to meet the head of human resources (the person who I had been in contact with since I was “hired”) in the cafe, where he then took me to get my uniform in the basement and gave me my locker where I put all of my belongings. All I had with me when he showed me around was my uniform: baggy black pants that were slightly too large, a long-sleeved white jacket that had the double breasted buttons, and my bistro-style crocs. With my sleeves not rolled-up, my hair down, and my bright green nail polish still on, I couldn’t have stuck out more as the new kid as I walked through the kitchens. But when he finally left me in the hands of one of my new bosses, Melanie, I was straightened up a bit and put to work….until 1:30am.
Although I was blindsided by the fact that my hours would be 11am to close, I was the happiest person on Earth after my first day. It was completely overwhelming and tiresome, but I knew I was working in an absolutely beautiful kitchen with some of the best machinery a chef could ask for. Not only that, but the people I am working with are awesome (for the most part). It was completely surreal that on my first day, not only did we have Alice Waters as our guest speaker at family dinner (a time when the chefs and front of the house sit together for a meal made by us), but I was also put to work in the kitchen during service and was working only feet away from Dan Barber.
Fast-forward to Sunday night, the longest work day because service starts at 1pm instead of 5pm and doesn’t end until close. That means the service kitchen is going non-stop all day, and it is also the day we spend hours cleaning everything. At this point I had lost at least 3 pounds, my legs had become numb to the pain of standing, and my feet were begging for me to sit down. I had burns all over my hands, bruises on my legs, and chocolate stained to my fingernails. The chef that has created most of the dessert plates had made me cry several times, I was sleep deprived and annoyed. The honeymoon phase had ended quickly and abruptly when I finally realized what I was getting myself into. Sunday was a day full of me going back and forth, questioning if I could really handle the brutality of this industry and wondering if I should have chosen something more basic as my first introduction to the culinary world. Who was I to think that me, the most amateur of the amateurs, could actually survive in a kitchen with some of the best chefs in the country? A mere 20 year old with no experience, no culinary education, alongside with the pros. I felt so incredibly ridiculous that I even cleaned out my locker that night, telling myself that it was the end and I should find somewhere else to work.
However, I’m going back to work tomorrow. The hours may terrible, and I may be terrible right now, but the people are amazing. They’re normal underneath all of the hype, and they support me 100%. Even the chef who makes me cry straight up told me that I have performed better in the kitchen than some of the culinary externs have in the past. My bosses like my commitment and probably my naivety. I feel so included with them at the end of the night that it would be absurd for me to give up on my dream just because it was a reality check. This is an incredible opportunity, and when they tell me to keep it up and that it’ll get better all I can do is go back home, sleep off the pain and the negativity, and get back up in the morning and do it all again because one day they’ll be referring to me as “chef." I’ll be a big deal one day, and I’ll have these people to thank for it.
Below is a link that not only claims this restaurant to be the best, but also has some pictures that represent what we serve pretty well. One of the pictures from the website is shown below, and it shows some of the things that I have learned to make this past week. They’re some of our petit fours and we serve them along with the check, which is usually unbeknownst to the customer. From left to right: chocolate covered hazelnuts, caramelized pumpkin seeds, and chocolate covered honey truffles (the website lists them differently, but I’m right). Simple, but they will blow your mind.