Roman Sturgis Take care of each other and make good decisions.

July 30, 2009

Isolation vs. Team

Filed under: Blog — Roman @ 10:38 am

Last night was my second training shift on garde manger, the salad and dessert station. It was a lot more fun than cleaning dishes and scrubbing greasy pots. After a month of learning how to prep much of the food we make, finishing dishes and plating them was rewarding. There are close to 30 salads and desserts between the lunch, dinner, and brunch menus and I can do most of them on my own now. Funny, the trickiest part of the new job is breaking everything down and cleaning up.

Every now and then, I’ll get questioned by one of my co-workers about my teaching background. Follow-up questions usually involve clarification about why I am in a restaurant if I have a master’s in creative writing. I explain how it is a challenge for me to teach and write at the same time, as the two tasks draw on similar parts of the brain. But last night, another conclusion dawned on me: it’s also the nature of working in isolation, vs. working in a team.

As a high school English teacher, it was just me and the kids for most of the day. I had very little support from my supervisors and no feedback until the very end of the year. Everything I learned about teaching was self-taught, or gleaned from asking other teachers questions. In a kitchen, there is a whole hierarchy from chef to dishwasher and many people shuffling back and forth between several rolls. If I’m unsure about how to prepare a dish, I can ask someone next to me and get a response immediately. If my knife technique is not what it should be, a chef can lean over and show me better. That is a huge difference from working in isolation, and one of the major reasons I don’t feel as drained at the end of a kitchen shift. Sure, the body is tired, but the mind is preserved. Which is not to say that it doesn’t take a lot of concentration to prep and cook food. On the contrary, half an hour straight of peeling and de-veining 40 lbs. of shrimp is typical. You can run on auto-pilot to a certain extent, but you can’t check-out completely. Shrimp is expensive–bad news to ruin them. It takes even more concentration to manage a series of salad tickets coming in, and the stakes are much higher than getting behind on washing dishes.

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