Apprentice Chef’s Wish List

I’m a newbie apprentice chef. I’ve barely done ten shifts in the kitchen. But I’ve already got a growing wish list of all things in the kitchen that will make my heart happy and my shifts easier.

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Chef Shoes

Any chef will agree your feet are so important in the kitchen! They have to endure 12+ hours of standing, sometimes in one spot for hours. They have to balance through wet, slippery conditions and withstand high temperatures. These Blundstones are my dream chef boots. They are all round safety boots but I love the look and the comfort and safety features they offer.

Chef Knives

This knife set by Wusthof is a bit dreamy. It is worth saving up for your first set of knives. If you invest the right amount of money, and care, your knives will last a long time. The restaurant I work at has been happy to provide me with decent knives while I save up for my own set. In the meantime, a girl can only dream!

Chef’s Books

There are an infinite number of books on cooking and the culinary arts. I wish I could own them all! Here are just a few to get us apprentices started:

Larousse Gastronomique is a classic encyclopaedia of cuisine. Julia Child said it was her most important cooking reference. It contains recipes, histories, guides and how-to’s.

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell gives an honest insight into the oftentimes brutal kitchen. George Orwell works as Plongeur, doing the dirty work (the “Charlie Work”) for the kitchen. He scrubs dishes and mops floors in the hot hell of a traditional 1930(s) French kitchen.

Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential tells a chefs tale of cocaine and cooking. It’s a great read. But remember not to indulge too much in the darker side of the cooking scene lest you burn out before you can shine.

Chef’s Uniform

At Crown we have tailored, dry-cleaned uniforms provided to us for every shift (I’m so excited to start!). But most restaurants will require you to provide your own uniform. If I could get away with it, i’d totally rock these bad boys. They would serve as a reminder to always wear gloves when chopping chillis.

Just for Funsies

This is a wish list after all. I love how this chopping board can be used to get a feel for the size of different chopping methods. I would probably only use it at home, but I know my knife skills would benefit greatly.

What are your most important tools for surviving the kitchen? Leave a comment below.


Applying for a Chef Apprenticeship

Over the last few months, I have been interviewing for an apprentice chef position with a particularly exciting company in Melbourne, Crown. If you’re from Melbourne you’ll be familiar with Crown. From their website: “Crown Melbourne is a large integrated resort and has Australia’s largest casino, three hotels, function rooms, award winning restaurants and world-class shopping and entertainment facilities.”

The apprenticeship includes six-month rotations at different world-class restaurants. It also includes paid training in a fully equipped apprentice’s kitchen and restaurant. The opportunity to work under world-class chefs is like no other in Melbourne. The apprenticeship is fully recognised in Australia and after three years you receive a Certificate III in Commercial Cookery.

I’ve been lucky enough to get through three rounds of interviews. The first round was a phone interview where I got to chat about my experiences and my motivation. The second round was a group interview at Crown. We were taken on a tour of the impressive staff facilities at Crown, including the free staff restaurant, free uniforms and dry cleaning and a super discounted gym. After our tour, we were taken to the Culinarium. This is Crown Colleges very own training restaurant. Here, we were given a demonstration. Our French, award-winning instructor, cooked a fish dish with a fennel citrus salad, asparagus and potato and dill salad. Yum!

Then we, the aspiring chefs, had to recreate the dish from memory. It was really fun. My dish was decent and the amount I learned in that interview was incredible. It made me want the position more. Also, I got to eat the food!

After this interview, I was instructed to provide references and had to pass police background checks. I expected these to take a while as I needed to pass a United States police check which can take up to six weeks. To my surprise, about two weeks after the round two interview, Crown called to offer me an apprenticeship. 

I’ll be sad to leave my previous apprenticeship, but know I have so much to learn at Crown. I’m excited to dive into this new apprenticeship and know I’ll have a lot to write about.

Please note: This blog does not represent or write on behalf of Crown and all its related brands. This blog speaks only for myself as an apprentice chef and is not affiliated with Crown.

“The man who runs away from his craft because he lacks inspiration is fooling himself” William Zinsser

William Zinsser is talking about his craft of writing, of course, but one can easily extrapolate this quote and apply it to any craft. Even to the craft of say, cooking? Absolutely!

Being an apprentice chef can be frustrating and sometimes we lack inspiration. As a new apprentice, you are learning the basics in the kitchen. You are still learning who is of authority, what the unwritten rules are and what is expected of you. You are still adapting to the long hours and the aches in your body. Sometimes you don’t know what the fuck you are doing. In the kitchen, it is natural to lack inspiration sometimes.

But this is your craft. You must push through the times you lack inspiration. The times when you want to give up. These are the times you are really learning your craft, your trade. If you love something you will do it, with a smile, even when your body and mind are screaming at you to sit down and have a beer and a cigarette.

The nice thing about the kitchen is that you know your shift will end. No matter how deep in the weeds you are, service will end, you will clean up and then you can go home and have that beer. The stress stays in the kitchen and the exhaustion at the end of the shift is a satisfying exhaustion. You pushed through and you feel amazing!

The Trouble With Ice Cream – Plating Up Desserts

Scooping ice cream seems pretty simple right?

As one of my first responsibilities in the kitchen during service, Chef has asked me to take on the responsibility of plating up desserts. Mainly we serve sticky date pudding – this consists of a moist warm date cake, with sticky butterscotch sauce and home made vanilla ice cream. It is divine. 

Serving this delightful dessert seems relatively simple. Warm the cake, warm the sauce, plate cake, drench in sauce and place delicious scoop of ice cream atop the saucy cake.

It seems that plating even a simple dessert is fraught with pitfalls. Every ice cream scoop I have brought up to the pass on my sticky date has been rejected by the head chef and redone. They are either too small, too melty, or too funny shaped. I can’t seem to get the damned thing right.

To be honest, when I scooped the ice cream, I was having an awful time of it. The desserts took more than twenty minutes to get out, the chef wasn’t pleased and I was dealing with a bad skin reaction to deseeding chilis – which I was still trying to do at that stage.

I think this says a lot about attitude and preparation. I was finding it hard to plate up these desserts for two reasons. One I hadn’t prepared properly. I didn’t have my station set up as I wasn’t aware I would be plating desserts. I think it is now important for me to confirm with Chef that this will be my responsibility of the night service. After receiving confirmation I need to set up my station, ice cream scoop in hot water, correct bowls at the ready, pan ready for sauce, oven hot enough to warm the cakes fast.

The second reason I was struggling was my attitude. Due to said skin reaction, I was distracted and losing patience fast. I was unable to recollect myself and make the rest of service work. That’s okay. I’m only human – but I can do better next time.

All of this to say, plating desserts is harder than I thought. I think the solution to this problem is clear: I’ll have to purchase some ice cream, or better yet make some ice cream, and get to scooping!


Foodie Goals and Dreams

What is all of this hard work for? In life I’ve always tended to be a big dreamer and a bit of fuck up. Starting awesome things and not finishing them is something I’ve been infamous for. Take, for example, that time I completed three semesters of a bachelor of Biomedical Science degree with high distinction and then dropped out. As a measure to combat this tendency, this blog is a way to keep me on track to completing this apprenticeship, because it is something to which I am truly dedicated.

So what are my goals?

I want to get my Certificate III in Commercial Cookery with at least some of that as an apprentice with Crown. (Update: I have been accepted as a first year apprentice at Crown!). This certificate means so much to me for a few reasons. First, because I haven’t got any formal education past my GED. Second, the formal recognition and training is a great way to get started in the business, and where better to learn in Melbourne than Crown?

I want to work overseas, maybe in Paris and Italy, at top restaurants. Young cooks often get involved in Staging – a French word for heading to a foreign country and finding the best chef you can, begging him to take you on and then working like crazy for free for a given time. I have such a romantic picture of this. I picture myself like Remy from Ratatouille (but less like a rat), making bubbling, herb filled, creamy soups in a French kitchen. More likely it’ll be six months of potato peeling. Most chefs will agree that you have to find the value in the mundane and shitty tasks first, and then you can move on to the fancy and the fun, with a solid understanding and respect for your ingredients.

I want to open my own restaurant in the country side, where sustainable farming meets high end cuisine. Now maybe this one is the most fanciful of all, but hear me out. I have a desperate love for gardening, especially veggie gardening. I hope to one day I combine my love of cooking food with my love of growing food. I have dreams of an old farm-estate in the South-West of Australia amongst the vineyards and close to the beaches. I would love to grow sustainable, organic produce and work with local suppliers to create an incredible food experience for people.

Pretty big goals. But thats the point right? Looking at the bigger picture, what we want in the long run, can help us get there faster in the end.

Wish me luck!


Red Hot Chili Peppers

Last night I became well acquainted with chilies. Chef had asked me to deseed a box full of red hot chili peppers. I threw myself enthusiastically at the task: Take pepper. Trim top and tail and take off any part that doesn’t look impeccable. Make an incision down the length of the chili and open the chili up. Take your thumb and run it down the inside of the chili removing the seeds and surrounding tissues. Repeat ad infinitum.

For a while, I was totally happy in my own little chili world. I got into a sort of trace and let my thoughts drift away from me. Occasionally I was interrupted by chef, yelling ‘Two Sticky Date. One Honeypot”, to which I would scramble around assembling desserts to the best of my ability (to be truthful rather sloppily). After dessert assemblage I would go back to my chilies. What I wasn’t aware of was my skin’s sensitivity to the chemical that makes chili delightfully hot – capsaicin. After four hours of deseeding the burning became unbearable. I ran to the sink to wash my hands under cold water every second I could. It was 10 pm, the end of service. Time to clean. This is when chef noticed something wasn’t right with me. I didn’t want to bring attention to myself but the searing burn was becoming too painful to ignore. I laughed to chef that I should’ve worn gloves. Chef said I should’ve but I don’t think he found it funny. Finally after dipping my hands into vinegar, rubbing burn cream into my hands and standing in the cool room with my hands raised in front of the air vents, I asked to go home.

I drove home and couldn’t sleep all night and ended up calling in sick this morning – a great shame in the cooking business. My hands are still sore but far from searing with pain as they were last night. I am exhausted from a night of painful, interrupted sleep.

Apprentice Lesson learned: Don’t be a dumbass, wear gloves for this task.

I have a new respect for chilies. The incredible power of the capsaicin put me out of the kitchen game through the next day. Chilies are an incredible plant and I can’t wait to get back to the kitchen to master them. I’m thinking dishes featuring chili jam, stuffed jalapeños and spicy, fermented kimchi ought to do the trick.

I’ve got my eyes on the Hot Sauce Cookbook. It’s packed with spicy, chilli delights and will certainly help me develop my palate for spicy food.

There’s only one way in the kitchen when you’ve made a mistake: pick yourself up, dust yourself off and, with new respect, come back to the ingredient that had previously gotten the best of you. Rest assured, I’ll be wearing gloves next time.

Note to reader: this article contains Amazon affiliate links. By clicking on these links and shopping in Amazon for any item, you are supporting this blog and my chefs apprenticeship. By clicking on these links, there is no additional cost to you.