TBT – School’s Out (Alice Cooper), Quiet Summer City

Going way back to 1978 and The Muppet Show for today’s Throwback Thursday.  All the good little boys and girls who attend the one of the many schools that comprise Boston’s elite fleet of educational institutions have gone home…or to the Cape…or the South of France…or are crewing a yacht somewhere off the coast of New England.  School is OUT ladies and gentlemen.  What does this mean for the year round denizens of Massachusetts? Endless opportunities, particularly when it comes to eating and drinking.

Want to eat at Sweet Cheeks or Eastern Standard in the Fenway? Pick a night the Red Sox aren’t playing, make a reservation or simply wait a few minutes at the bar.  The crowd is more subdue and the waitstaff a little less harried.  Enjoy!

How about a nice afternoon at the Thinking Cup, Pavement Coffeehouse, Render Coffee?  With a seat?  Done.  Of course there are some summer students, the unemployed and food industry workers on their day off but the endless stalking for a table?  Over.  Get it while it lasts!

How about a nice drink al fresco?  Way fewer bros and basics on the patios of Newbury, Boylston, Kendall Sq.  You still have your eager beaver 20-somethings but those of us in our 30’s and 40’s are out and about enjoying some air while our corporate bosses are vacationing with their kids that go to BU and it’s slower at out kitchen jobs.  More breathing room to partake in a cold shandy, or three.

Non-food & drink benefits?  YES.  Three words, ride the T.  It’s always awful, but a little bit less so with thousands of backpacks elsewhere for the next 2 and a half months.

One last tip – no Bruins or Celtics games and the North End festivals haven’t gotten started yet.  Perfect time to stop into the original Pizzeria Regina at 11 1/2  Thacher St.  A well done pizza and a cold pitcher of beer.

The kids are having a good time on their break, let’s relish our break from them!

After Pastry School – The Scales of Career Change Justice

I had intended this week’s pastry post to be all about food & social media.  It is a huge, fun topic and the post is in progress.  I’m really looking forward to bringing all my thoughts together, along with sharing some of my favorite people/businesses/organizations to follow.  But something has been on my mind a lot the past week or so, as school fades into the background, the halfway point of my internship is looming and the fall is fast approaching, bringing some big decision points for me, and Sam.  Where I am going to work? What I am going to be doing for work? What improvements are we going to do to the house pre-sale? Where do we want to live?  And those are just the bigger decisions!  Leaving the corporate world, going to pastry school, getting an apartment in the city and working in the food industry… These things have brought so many changes to my life.

scales of justice

There have been pluses, there have been minuses.  I’m not quite ready to make a definitive proclamation as to whether the decisions I’ve made and the timing of them were 100% the right move. I do know that what I was doing wasn’t making me happy and that the education and experiences I have gained in the past six months are invaluable to me, personally and professionally.

The Pros

– Becoming much more confident in the kitchen. Making pastries and baked goods that had intimated me in the past with nothing more than a passing thought and terrific sense of satisfaction when I share them with friends, family and (Sam’s) coworkers.

– Learning the basics, and beyond, of baking and pastry at a small culinary school that suited my needs and personality perfectly.

– Meeting so many genuinely nice and passionate chefs, pastry chefs and follow pastry chefs in training. Not to mention some of the hardest working dishwashers, prep cooks and line cooks in the Boston area.  I feel like I’ve made some amazing connections and wonderful friends.  These are my people.

– Enjoying the wonders of living in the city; live music, great food, beautiful parks, public transit, food delivery that isn’t pizza or sub-par Chinese.

– Shorter commute time that allows me to work, blog, bake and simply live at a more manageable, sane pace.

– Distance from, and perspective on, the events of the past five years including the deaths of my mother and my fur baby Seamus, putting a lucrative finance career on hold, Sam changing jobs, getting closer to 40.  Being able to see the future and its infinite possibilities a bit more clearly and with a sense of joy and anticipation versus panic and sadness.

– Working for people who have renewed my faith in the workplace.  I remember the early days of my finance career very fondly; the learning, my mentors, the camaraderie. I lost that along the way in making some poor decisions (hindsight is always so helpfully 20/20) and working for some really horrible/crazy people.  I’ve had the opportunity to explore a new career and the good fortune to return to an environment of learning and teamwork.  Yay!

The Cons

– Living between two places is much more challenging than we had imagined. Things are forgotten and/or never at the right place.

– Confronting the reality that your energy level at 38 is so much lower than it was at 28.  I can work just as hard, almost as fast and for just as long, but the recovery time is longer, a lot longer.  And forget about drinking on “school nights”.

– Money, or lack thereof.  Without children and two careers Sam & I enjoyed what I would describe as a comfortable lifestyle.  We always brought coffee and lunch to work, ate most meals at home and didn’t buy a lot of “stuff”. We did however do a fair amount of travel (Paris, Grand Canyon, Mexico, CA, Jamaica, Aruba, London, Maine, Nantucket), bought nicer clothes and spent what we wanted on food, drink and things like hair cuts and manicures.  FULL STOP once I went back to school.  No trips are happening unless it’s on the Orange line.  No clothes except a few replacement pieces for Sam, from the outlets, and a couple of t-shirts on clearance for me.  We still go out to eat, but we do our drinking at home and I now get my hair cut at the Hair Cuttery in Assembly Row – great cut, great deal.  I am pretty sure the following brands/stores are suffering greatly

We also aren’t able to be as generous as we would like, or have been in the past, with gifts.  This is not to say that many people don’t live happily on less, it’s just a huge adjustment.  We spent many years, and thousands of dollars we’re still repaying, on undergrad and graduate degrees, worked long hours and made sacrifices for our careers.  We enjoyed the fruits of our labors.  I enjoy them even more now that the effort to dollar yield is that much lower.  And Saint Sam continues to fight the good fight in the corporate arena while I pursue my culinary adventure.

– The noise.  The city is loud.  LOUD. Our house in Gloucester is so quiet.  There is noise everywhere in my life.  On the T. In the apartment.  In the kitchen at work.  I feel like the Grinch listening to the Whos in Whoville at Christmas.

– Not being able to jump in my Jeep, turn on my music and run errands effortlessly.  Schlepping on the T or paying for an Uber to go to CVS seems insurmountable at times.

Looking at the pros and cons, I think the pros come out on top, by far.  The cons, aside from missing my preppy, DINK lifestyle, are pretty minor and things that I could come to live with.  Earplugs help, as would learning how to drive in the city.   After putting “pen to paper” with this post I’m feeling pretty darn good about my decisions and better about approaching what comes next, including deciding not to rush into anything and let the good things come to me.

After Pastry School – Stages & Internships

Having mentioned stages and internships in several prior posts it seemed like a good idea to delve into the topic in a bit more detail.  I’ll start with stages and the official (aka Wikipedia) definition:

Staging is an unpaid internship when a cook or chef works briefly, for free, in another chef’s kitchen to learn and be exposed to new techniques and cuisines. The term originates from the French word stagiaire meaning trainee, apprentice or intern.[1] The French term commis is often used interchangeably with the aforementioned terms.[2] The individual completing this activity is referred to as a stage, stagiaire (pronounced “stazhje”; IPA: /sta.ʒjɛ:ʁ/), commis (assistant chef) or volontaire (volunteer).

Before the advent of modern culinary schools, young cooks learned their craft as unpaid apprentices in professional restaurant kitchens and bakeries (and other food preparation establishments: pastry shops/patisserie, butcher shops/boucherie, candy shops/confisserie, hotels, etc.) under the guidance of a mentoring chef. This practice has become less common in recent decades.[3]

Staging is similar to trialling in professional kitchens. Trialling is an activity often used to assess the skills and training of a cooking job candidate. The hiring chef might assess the trial cook’s adaptive skills in the new kitchen and how they interact with other staff in the restaurant. When a culinary student or cook-in-training is seeking an internship, often the trial is the next step after the interview.

I think that definition pretty much covers what I would have said, except that in my experience the term “stage” is usually used in place of “trail” for the kitchen part of an interview.

As stated above, staging is unpaid and can be a learning/training experience, a method by which an employer can assess your skills/abilities or a way for you to determine whether or not you are a good fit for a particular kitchen.  Stages usually last from a few hours to a couple of shifts per week for a few months.  That stages are unpaid is one of the unfair economic realities of working in the food industry.  It is hard to imagine someone working several days/shifts at an accounting firm, Walmart or consumer goods manufacturer for free.  However, there is an upside to the informality of staging, short duration and no pay means little or no commitment by either party. This can be a huge plus if you discover that a particular kitchen is not somewhere you want to stay.  Unsanitary conditions, unsafe work practices, over-the-top sexism, uncommunicative bosses and crazy owners are just some of the things you can encounter during a stage and having the ability to walk away saves both parties awkward conversations and bad feelings.  Stages can also be wonderful opportunities to work with chefs you admire, learn new techniques and experience different kitchen environments without having to switch jobs, move or make a long term commitment.  I have done stages at four different places over the past several years.  The longest of which was the Sunday Doughnut Bar at 62 Restaurant & Bar in Salem.  I learned a tremendous amount and really enjoyed the experience.  I’m hoping to do more stages this fall, focusing on some areas I’d like to get more training in such as chocolate, cake decorating, sugar work and catering.

I’ve read this blog post by Shuna Lydon many, many times.  It is EXCELLENT and even now that I’m in the industry I reread it to remind myself of what I should and shouldn’t be doing in a professional kitchen.  Right now, I need to concentrate more on taking notes, especially at the end of the week:

STAGIAIRE ADVICE

Another great blog post about a stage experience is here:

WORKING AT MOMOFUKU MILK BAR

Kendall Vanderslice is one of my fabulous & fun coworkers at Sofra Bakery & cafe!

Everyone knows what an internship is and kitchen internships are, in 2015, very similar to internships in other industries meaning that they are a specific duration (6 weeks to 6 months) and paid.  The duration, hours per week and pay vary wildly by place, in the kitchen and out.  Unpaid internships are rare, but only because there has been some highly publicized push back in media in the past few years over unfair labor practices and liability over having people in the workplace that are not actually employees.  At this point in my short (and illustrious?) pastry career I have done three internships.  The first was a three month, unpaid, 20 hour per week position at Flour Bakery (Fort Point location) while I was still working in the corporate world.  This was my first exposure to a large, full-scale commercial baking operation and a tremendous experience.  The things I learned over the three months I was at Flour have proven to be invaluable to starting a career in pastry and baking, from how to move around in busy kitchen and kitchen terminology to the best way to peel overripe bananas and how to be sure I have all my mise en place before starting a recipe.

My second internship was during school at a large, well-known restaurant in the Seaport district.  The experience was what us old folks call a “mixed bag”.  The people I worked with, for the most part, were great, willing to answer my million questions and share their culinary knowledge.  I got some good practice at mixing batters and dough, rolling dough, making sauces and other components of plated desserts.  The downside was that I did not get nearly as much production time as I had expected based on the conversations I had with my manager during the hiring process and a lot more plating time than I would have liked.  Plating shifts are fast-paced, late nights and once you are familiar with the desserts not a huge learning opportunity.  Every job is a learning experience, you always take something with you when you go, and I appreciated the skills I was able to refine during my time there.

In mid-May I started my third internship at Sofra Bakery & Cafe in Cambridge.  I love it.  Sofra is an amazing place, the food and the people.  Executive Pastry Chef Maura Kilpatrick, a 2015 James Beard Nominee, is co-owner with Chef Ana Sortun of Oleana, where Maura is also the Executive Pastry Chef.    Maura is so incredibly talented and generous with her knowledge and techniques.  Together with her Head Baker, Emily, they have brought together a very strong team, created a wonderful learning environment and produce some of the best pastries in the Boston area.  Sofra has two sides, savory and sweet, and while I’m on the sweet side the savory crew is fabulous as well and serves delicious, flavorful breakfasts and lunches.  We make an astounding amount of product for the amount of space we have and are so, so busy cooking and baking for the cafe, Copley Farmer’s Market and catering orders for private homes, schools and businesses.  It can get very crowded, hot and a bit frantic in the kitchen from time to time but it is one of those rare places where people keep their sense of humor and maintain a level of professionalism that makes it bearable, enjoyable even.

Now that I have finished school and two other internships, I feel like I am actually able to be a contributing member of the team at Sofra; weighing, mixing, shaping, and doing prep work independently. I still look for guidance and ask (too many) questions but I’m starting to feel like a real life pastry chef/baker in training!  My biggest challenges are working faster and remembering all the various techniques for the recipes including mixer speeds, disher sizes and mixing times.  All of those things will hopefully come with practice.

Sofra will be my last internship.  I’ve arrived at a point where I feel that I’ve gotten comfortable and skilled enough in the kitchen that my next position would be as a regular, paid employee.  I’ll continue to learn and grow, as I would in any profession, and stages along with continuing education classes, will definitely be a part of my future.  Internships are something I would highly recommend to those contemplating or starting out in the food industry.  You can learn, spend time in the kitchen and make a little money. Then, join the team as a regular employee, go to school or move onto the next new and exciting endeavor.

Just For Fun Friday – Funny but True

I saw this as a bumper sticker on a truck and thought to myself, how true and I need that for my Jeep!  I’m glad to be safe from kidnappers but I’m worried about how my extra weight might slow me down during the escape from the zombie apocalypse.  You win some, you lose some.

fat kids

TBT – Cruel Summer (Bananarama), Hot in the Kitchen

Today’s Throwback Thursday is in anticipation of a long, hot, “cruel” summer in the kitchen…

There’s a saying, if you can’t stand the heat get (the hell) out of the kitchen.  And most people do. Not a lot of cooking and baking goes on in New England home kitchens in the summer.  Central AC is still rare, at least in my social circles, and a window unit just doesn’t have enough oomph to cool off a kitchen when the oven or a couple of stove burners are on for any length of time.  Grills are fired up, take out picked up on the way home, weekday meals out are the everyday versus celebration, breakfast for dinner (cereal, pancakes, omelettes, etc.) becomes popular and sandwiches and salads move from lunch to dinner.  Whatever it takes to keep out of the kitchen and out on the deck/porch/stoop is the smart, rational thing to do.

Then there are those sturdy, brave and, most definitely, crazy people who work in the food industry.  Are cafe, bakeries and restaurants air conditioned?  Yes.  Both the front of house where servers and customers reside and the back of house where the kitchen staff toils, I mean works, are air conditioned. Here’s the thing, no matter how good the AC is it can’t keep up with the ovens, grills, flat tops, gas burners and body heat being generated in the kitchen.  It’s hot.  How hot?  Hotter than I ever thought was possible.  The kind of hot that if you were at home would have you sitting in front of a fan, drinking ice water and fantasizing about buying a house with pool or moving to Antarctica and marching with the penguins. That hot.  Some people sweat when they are hot or work out.  I don’t, ever.  Except when I’m dressed in socks, kitchen shoes, chef pants and a chef coat hauling flour, sugar and 30 qt. mixing bowls in a kitchen where the temperature is fluctuating around 90 degrees.  And don’t even ask about the humidity.  You can’t wear shorts or sandals, at least in any sort of good, professional kitchen, because it’s a safety and sanitation hazard.  You can drink copious amounts of ice water, move a bit slower and hope for a nice stretch of mid 70’s, maybe even a few days of rain.  Only on your days off of course!  Kitchen staff are people too and need their beach days just like everyone else, maybe even more.

So why do it?  Because not only are most people who work in kitchens extremely passionate about what they do and it’s their job, the thing that pays the bills, but because they’re tough enough, strong enough to bring you cookies, bread, cakes, sandwiches, soup, etc. no matter what the weather.  Snowmageddon 2015 aside.

Happy Summer!

The Times I Made The Doughnuts

For five Sundays and one Friday over three months this winter/spring I staged at 62 Restaurant & Bar in Salem during their Sunday Doughnut Bar.  While there will be more on stages in a later post (I promise, I will get to it soon!), the short version is I worked for free while gaining valuable experience in mixing, rolling, cutting and frying doughnuts, along with how to make interesting, flavorful fillings and glazes. The doughnut bar was a labor of love by a fellow Erin, a talented pastry chef who also worked as the front-of-house manager at 62 (follow her on Twitter & Instagram, cookin_sweets). Erin would arrive at 3 am, or earlier, and get things started. I arrived between 4 and 4:15 am to take over the rolling and cutting.  There would usually be three or four different types of dough; brioche, old fashion cake, chocolate brioche, pate a choux for crullers (regular & gluten free) and for two special weeks a vegan cake doughnut. One magical Sunday there was peanut butter brioche.  Almost too good, especially after filled with Erin’s homemade triple berry jam and finished with powdered sugar. Once all the dough was rolled and cut, the frying would start and go for about two hours; first the crullers, then the old fashion cake and finally the brioche.  Fryolators were a huge fear of mine.  Dropping solid, slippery pieces of dough into oil at temperature of 350 degrees and above results in a certain amount of splatter and slipped fingers.  The burns hurt for sure, but like most other kitchen situations you put on your big girl pants, confront your fear, get burned once and realize it’s not as bad as you had imagined.  You also learn how to work with the oil and treat the process with respect.  Makes you faster, more efficient and safer to yourself and others.  Once everything was fried they were filled, glazed or rolled in cinnamon or vanilla sugar.  Erin had worked for five years to develop the perfect brioche dough and it was amazing, delicious and fluffy with just the right amount of chew.  Having perfected her dough, Erin had the freedom to concentrate on the fillings and glazes and offered quite a large selection each week.  She was careful to keep in mind her north of Boston, suburban customer base and was sure to include a kid friendly option, or two, each week but also allowed herself the creative freedom to explore more “exotic” flavors for her hipper, more adventurous doughnut bar devotees, including several honest-to-god hipsters. At 9 am the doors would be unlocked and the customers would file in to sit at a table, at the bar or take a box to go.  Things got a bit more interesting at 10 am when the bar could start serving alcohol, from mimosas and bloody marys to boozy milkshakes and coffee drinks for the Sunday Funday crowd.  Espresso drinks, coffee and juice was available for those who were so inclined.  That was it, just doughnuts and drinks.  Ingenious way to do brunch, small kitchen and dining room staff, low ingredient overhead and who doesn’t like to indulge in doughnuts and drinks?!?!

Sunday Doughnut Bar menus:

The Doughnuts!

Erin has moved onto Marini Farms as their head baker but may return some Sundays this fall and winter to do pop-up Sunday Doughnut Bars at 62.  If she needs help and I’m available, I may help out.  The hours are early and frying is about as glamorous as it sounds but I’d love to learn more techniques and flavor profiles from Erin, get more practice with the doughs and most importantly, share the doughnut love/life with others.

In the meantime, the best Sunday doughnuts are at Sofra in Cambridge.  Worth the trip, but get there early.  The sour cream doughnut with dukkah crumb is outrageously tasty as is the tahini-brown butter doughnut with salted caramel ganache.

Just For Fun Friday – Is it Over Yet?

Sam & I have had one of those weeks.  Sickness, things forgotten at home in the morning, a minor car accident, an incident on the T that required the involvement of the Transit Police, trouble sleeping, crazy annoying neighbor escapades and on and on.  Looking forward to Saturday afternoon at 3 pm when my work week is over and we start our weekend.  This pretty much sums it up…

TBT – So Happy (Cooking) Together

Today’s throwback Thursday goes back to last Friday, the first night of my girl’s weekend with my BFF, Kate.  We took a Couples Cooking Vegetarian Tapas class at The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts with Chef Eliana.  The class capacity was ten people, or five couples, but there were only four of us.  A smaller group makes it impossible to cook all of the recipes, but we managed to prepare most of the dishes with Chef’s help, including a white wine sangria.  It was a very engaging, informative and delicious way to spend an evening.  Kate & I had a tremendous amount of fun cooking together, for me it was great being back at school, even for a few hours, and Kate enjoyed her first foray into a commercial kitchen.

This was the second class I had taken with Chef Eliana and I can’t recommend her highly enough.  She’ll be teaching recreational classes this fall and we’re hoping to get a spot in her Couples Cooking Vegetarian Indian.

Below are a couple of really bad pictures of Kate & I and the end-of-class feast the five of us shared, tons of leftovers!  By the time we sat down to eat around 9:45 pm good photography was a low priority coming after sangria, tapas and lively conversation.

Eggplant Towers

Swiss Chard, Raisin & Pine Nut Turnovers

Marcona Almonds w/ Sweet Smoked Paprika

Roasted Eggplant Mousee

Vegetables w/Romesco Dip

Patatas Bravas

Piquillo Peppers with Black Olive Tapenade, Asparagus & Toasted Bread

Garlic & Tomato Toasted Bread

You Can’t Fire Me, I’m a Volunteer – Nantucket Wine Festival

The winter was (very) long, but the spring was flying by!  My kitchen practicum and written exam were over, Sam and I had enjoyed a fabulous Boston/Cambridge/Somerville staycation and then I was off to the Nantucket Wine Festival as a culinary student volunteer before starting my summer internship.  I became aware of the opportunity in March while attending a No Kid Hungry fundraiser at the Harpoon Brewery.  A Le Cordon Bleu student who was volunteering at the event mentioned the wine festival when I introduced myself and we were discussing event credits for graduation.  I Googled “Nantucket Wine Festival volunteer” and happened upon a contact email address.  I sent an email along with my resume and  from there everything came together.

The festival organizers provided round trip ferry transportation and housing.  Getting to Hyannis for the ferry was an adventure in itself and involved a car ride, bus, Uber and ferry.  The weather on the Wednesday I arrived was fabulous and the spring blooms were at their peak.  After a bit of confusion about where I was going to be staying, I was settled into a house on the edge of town, convenient to the event venues, that serves as summer housing for Nantucket Yacht Club staff.  I had a couple of hours to have lunch and take a walk before I needed to report to the kitchen to assist with preparations for the Welcome Reception that night.

I had been extremely clear with the culinary director and manager that I was a pastry student and my resume reflects my kitchen experience, which is entirely baking and pastry with some dessert plating at my last internship. However, my suspicions were confirmed almost immediately, the majority of the work would be savory cooking and savory plating with little/no pastry or baking.  My first assignment was to cut, grill and toast bread for Mary Dumont, formerly of Harvest in Cambridge, of whom I am a huge admirer.  Chef Mary did her prep while I worked with the bread and then we met up again at the White Elephant to plate and serve the two appetizers she prepared.  It was my first time using a commercial grill and i got lucky in that I only ruined a few pieces of bread.  We were situated between the band and the Sarma restaurant table at the reception.  Sarma’s appetizer was excellent, the band, not so much.  I had the opportunity to meet a few other chefs that evening and do some excellent people watching.  The appetizers were a Thai duck sausage and a pulled pork rillette.

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Thursday I had the morning to myself as the event that day was the Grand Gala to be held starting at 7 pm, the prep work was to start later in the afternoon.  I enjoyed a nice power walk out to Jetties Beach and Brant Point followed by breakfast at one of our longtime Nantucket favorites, Fog Island Cafe.  A shower, some reading on the porch and off I went to report for duty.  I was assigned bread, of course, and spent the next several hours cutting petite baguettes into one inch rounds for the Chef David of Longwood Events who would be using them in the demonstration/tasting tents over the next few days.

I was then approached and asked to help prepare some marrow bones.  Um, yeah, no.  I haven’t eaten beef, pork, duck or lamb in 21 years.  I will cook meat if I need to, but scraping bones was just too much.  While I had expected more savory work than pastry, I was a volunteer and felt there had to be another project that could be found for me given the amount of work going on in the kitchen.  There was, breaking down about 50 par-cooked lobsters.  Something else I had never done, but in the kitchen it’s a fast learning process.  The chef told me what she wanted, demonstrated and off I went.  Gross work, but another skill to add to my culinary repertoire.  And the chef?  Lydia Shire!!!  One of Boston’s premier chefs and a pioneer chef who put Boston on the map, not to mention one of the first notable woman chefs after Julia Child.  She was one of the most hardworking chefs at the event and a wonderful lady.  Thrilled to have had the opportunity to work with her.  I did a couple of other miscellaneous small tasks and then my day was over.  I had been planning on spending the evening assisting at the Grand Gala but wasn’t need.  After about 10 minutes of disappointment I moved onto enjoying a fine Nantucket evening.  Drinks at Straight Wharf, dinner at Rose & Crown and a walk around town.

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Friday morning was another slow start.  I began to get the drill, the staff chefs worked from 8 am through midnight, the volunteers helped later in the day with prep and the guest chefs did their prep whenever it worked best for kitchen space and their schedules.  Chef Mary was doing a course for the Burgundy lunch so I was going to assist her again with prep and plating.  Chef Matthew Gaudet of West Bridge (also a CSCA alum) was preparing the first course and Chef Brian Mercury of Harvest was preparing the final, dessert course.  I was very excited to meet Chef Matt and Chef Brian and hoped to have the opportunity to help them plate, which I did.  It was a fun, fast paced day of kitchen prep (learned how to fry quinoa), plating and logistics.

Friday night I was on my own, again.  The other culinary student volunteers at my house were much, much younger and had come as a group of friends.  The larger group of volunteers, from Le Cordon Bleu, had just arrived that day and had other accommodations, as well as being younger and probably not so interested in a quiet dinner with someone almost as old as their parents.  A walk around town, dinner at The Brotherhood of Thieves, another one of our reasonably priced Nantucket traditions, and some reading in my room finished off the day.

Saturday was my last day at the event.  I had originally been planning to stay through Sunday afternoon for the culinary student Top Chef-style competition but four nights away from home in a frat style house with a dripping shower, dripping sink and bunch of rowdy 20 somethings was enough.  I’m old and learning to embrace my age and its accompanying limits, which I am please to report are much more behavioral than physical.  I was fine with all the standing, running around, lifting and chopping.  Yay me! Saturday night there were going to be a series of wine dinners at private homes and I was going to assist Chef Mary yet again.   An old friend and former coworker of Chef Mary’s had come from NYC to assist her, but these dinners require many pairs of hands.  I was not able to help with her daytime prep as I was assigned to Chef Lydia and her son, Chef Alex.  Originally asked to slice a TON of vegetables on a mandoline, which I am terrified of, I was able to switch assignments and assist Chef Lydia with the prep and execution of a demonstration in the culinary tent.  I did the mise en place for the demo and helped cook the samples to be passed, twice cooked Parmesan truffle souffles which were served with skirt steak, pea puree and spring greens.  Absolutely amazing experience to work with Chef Lydia and Chef Alex, they are both demanding but fair and genuinely nice.  Chef Lydia even gave me the recipe for the souffles.

After the prep and demo I rushed off to help Chef David with his sample table while he finished getting ready for his late afternoon demonstration.  He showed me how to plate the fennel crusted tuna with spring salad and carrot oil and away he went.  I plated for an hour and a half or so and then went back to the house to change and pack.

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I had arrived at my biggest and final event.  The five course Lokoya wine dinner at a private home.  I would be working with Chef Mary, her friend and two staff chefs, Jackie & Roman.  All of the prep was done, we would be finishing and plating on-site.  It was a great night, the food was beautiful, of course, and what I tasted was delicious.  The sommelier, Tom Gannon, was not only super knowledgeable about the wine, but a fun guy and one of the best dressed guys I’ve met.  Just a good group of people to work with.  The guests loved their meal and gave Chef Mary a rousing round of applause.  I was back at the house by 11 pm and ready to head out on the 7:45 am ferry Sunday morning.

Overall the Nantucket Wine Fest was a good experience.  I met several chefs whose work I admire, most of whom turned out to be friendly, patient and passionate about their food.  For a small fee and signed non-disclosure, I’ll tell you who the jerks were, although it’s usually obvious isn’t it? The staff chefs were one of hardest working groups of people I have had the pleasure of working with, not to mention their patience and grace in helping a pastry student figure out some of the savory basics.  I had the opportunity to work closely with Mary Dumont and Lydia Shire, there is a lot of wow factor there for me.  On the downside, I didn’t really meet many of the other culinary volunteers and for whatever reason I got assigned what I felt was the “misc. volunteer” housing which was quite frankly sub par.  Yes, it was free but there was better/nicer housing available with vacancies.  I also spent almost $200 on food, not unreasonable for Nantucket, but I had been under the impression food would be provided.  Lesson learned again and again, when you work with food you don’t eat/get fed.  I was also caught in an in between situation where I was older, more mature and had more experience than the other volunteers but didn’t have half as much experience as the staff chefs.  Awkward from a social and working perspective. Definitely worth it for the hands-on kitchen experience, networking and behind-the-scenes view of such an elaborate, multi-day festival.  I’d love to work at the event again, perhaps in a few years in a staff chef capacity, or even better, attend as a guest.  I do love both sides of the table!