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Archive for March, 2012

The audacity of a chef

I can call myself a baker and feel good about it. I do not feel as if I’m giving myself some  honor I don’t yet deserve by saying that I bake.  Now, what I can’t call myself is a chef. I know that in professional kitchens there is a hierarchy of who’s the chef and what each person’s job is, and by no means am I expecting to earn that kind of a title.

At my college I work in the kitchen and my family has a difficult time understanding exactly what I do there because it falls somewhere in between all the subcategories of the overarching theme of COOKING.

Unfortunately I do not get to bake in the kitchen. I am not employed by the baker and so don’t even get to go near the flour, sugar, or any of the ingredients that are near to my heart. I work for a chef, but due to safety reasons (at least I assume it’s due to safety reasons) I’m not allowed to work the stoves, the ovens, or the steamers.

So, what exactly do I do? I am not cooking and I am not baking. I do prep work. I cut vegetables of pretty much any kind imaginable, place bacon and turkey sausage on trays, and occasionally cut real sausage. This is not to degrade the work of someone who does prep and I love being able to work in the kitchen because otherwise I would be even farther away from stoves and everything else I adore.

At the same time, no one I speak to understands what I do. It’s kind of funny how there’s a hierarchy within the kitchen (chef, sous chef, etc) and yet people who don’t work in kitchens place that hierarchy on those who do.  There’s still an illusion that if you work in food services and are not the chef then it’s equivalent to working at McDonald’s. And maybe that’s just my perception of the reactions of a few of my family members  when I explained my work, but how else can I explain prep work except the un-glamorous “I cut vegetables” which does not make me a chef. Still, my work puts me in a position to work with food and that’s what counts.  I am still a baker even though I don’t have the opportunity to bake at school. I’ve never been able to call myself a chef.

I can liken the baker:chef analogy to the written word. As a writer, mainly in fiction and non-fiction, I call myself a writer, but I don’t have the audacity to call myself a poet. This is the same way that I know the territory of baking and the same way I know the nuances of fiction, but I’m stepping onto unfamiliar grounds when I cook or write poetry. I’m not bad at either, but it’s not where I’m most comfortable.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to call myself a chef, but until then I’m happy being a baker with a foot in the cooking department of prep work. Any education in food is a good one.

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Origins and beyond

I started to bake in 7th grade, with no idea what I was getting into, working with my mother (who has no concept of following a recipe), and opening up a cookbook only to realize that at our house at that time didn’t have flour, sugar, butter, baking powder, baking soda, etc.

(my face looked kind of like this)

Granted, I am the only one in my family who bakes so I should have seen this coming, but for anyone else who gets the urge to bake, you know it can be pretty disappointing when your lack of ingredients is the only thing stopping you.

Needless to say I now keep a 10 pound bag of flour handy and my mother constantly suggests we buy stock in butter.

My first few years of baking were pretty rough. My main cookbooks were a children’s book called ‘The Magic Spoon Cookbook’ (that actually came with a large plastic spoon with glitter on the inside and had each recipe being prepared by some sort of whimsical animal cartoon) and a cookbook from my Great Grandmother (with recipes that were very Eastern European in nature with a whole section on how to cook organ meats). Both of these books  I still have and will use for specific items, but when I first began baking it was the equivalent of a teenager deciding to read and the only books available are ‘The Potty Book’ or ‘Ulysses’.

I set up this business because when I’m not at school I bake as often as I can, but I’d rather cook than eat, and my family is extremely health conscious. I bake because (as other bakers or even other lovers of food well understand) I enjoy it and without a place for the food to go it’s wasted.

Still, this blog is not just to promote a business. I want to get in touch with other bloggers who share my passion for food.  I want to meet other people who know how to combine the art of cooking with the art of writing and make the magic that is food writing.  This initial post is a call to all those who believe in this magic and those who understand the importance of having these connections.