I have to explain what staging is. Pronounced "stah-ghing" it is when a cook or chef works briefly, for free, in another chef's kitchen to learn and be exposed to new techniques and cuisines (thank you Wikipidea).
A stage normally is used to see how a new chef/cook/student can adapt to the kitchen environment they are placed in. When a chef/cook/student is seeking an internship or job, often the stage is the next step after the interview. It can be a one day affair, take the place of a 'job' and become an internship, or it can be like a once-a-week type thing. It is pretty much a French way of saying "job shadow".
Staging is a mandatory part of my curriculum at school. I thought it was brilliant, and in fact I tried to do this while still in Michigan before I started school, but being that not many people had heard of this term, they were like- dude, no way. I had an arsenal of retorts- primarily that it was free labor.
SO you can imagine my elation that so many places in Chicago welcome stages with open arms and in fact contact the school seeking out students to come in. Why? I'd like to think it's only because of our stellar reputation. But lets be honest. It's because they have long ago realized IT'S FREE LABOR. and, a great way to interview students before you actually need to hire someone. It's kind of like scouting.
I did quite a bit of staging. So, I'm going to just highlight a few of my experiences- mostly the ones that had the most impact on me. Lets start with my very first one because to me, it is the best story....
Alright. Because I was truly a go-getter upon my arrival here, I started to search for stages before I even moved here. seriously. I had a list of bakeries I wanted to visit and introduce myself. I was that irritating girl in class that was smugly making appointments with different head pastry chefs during breaks. so... yeah, I signed up for my first stage at a bake/cake shop in a trendy neighborhood in Chicago- let's just call it "hipster central". My hope was that I could get in the cake design area and make a job out of it while living in here. Lets just say, it didn't go that way.
I hightail it there a week later literally as soon as I get out of my first full day in the kitchen at school (as in my first time in uniform using my chefs knife in the classroom kitchen). It was BLAZING hot and humid. Up to this point, I had only been in one bakery kitchen and that was back in Michigan. I knew this would be different, but wow was I NOT prepared for HOW different.
Upon my arrival, I quickly changed into my uniform and began to sweat like a farm animal within minutes. Being in a full production kitchen that has been baking cake, pastry, bread ALL DAY will never be a comfortable- temperature wise. I timidly ask to speak to the chef that was in charge of me for the day. Here he comes in full Chef uniform and hat, introduces himself and says ok- why don't you get started on this white chocolate ganache. He hands me a recipe that is written in grams. ok... I knew that I would be working w/ grams instead of cups/spoons so it wasn't that odd. however, I had NEVER used a kitchen scale until that morning in class. It's ok, I'll wing it. No big deal. I start to look around to try and get my bearings. I notice that the majority of the women are speaking Spanish, so I wasn't sure what to do. I can speak Spanish well enough, but not really versed in cooking/baking terminology in Spanish. "excuse me? Perdon? puedes ayudarme encontrar el chocolate? Chocolate blanco? Please? Por favor?" This woman looks at me and points to the general direction of bins of different chocolate. Open your eyes idiot... Sheepishly I smile and start looking for bowls/containers/etc to get my mise en place ready. I move from one area to the next, trying to gather what ingredients I could find 'quickly' (quickly being completely relative) and re-read the recipe for the 100th time.
Mr. Chef has been watching me out of the corner of his eye and then comes over and looks me up an down. He says, "ok Sandra (i was a dork wearing my school name tag) why don't you first start by blooming the gelatin, then worry about the chocolate and other ingredients". I stared at him w/ saucers for eyes and said "sure..ok, great idea". He stared right back at me and said "Have you ever bloomed gelatin before?" I continue to stare blankly at him and begin racking my brain. obviously, the 'racking' was going to do me no good because I had never done it before. BUT- had I heard of this term before?? hm... bloom gelatin... bloom gelatin.. all I kept thinking about was making freaking Jell-O but that wasn't what we were talking about here. This was for a white chocolate ganache. WTH?
So, I say no- but I can figure it out! At this point he realized what he had on his hands. Someone w/ ZERO kitchen experience. He quickly pulled an established intern away from what they were doing and said- "Sandra, this is _______. He will be helping you today."
I was determined to make up for my lack of knowledge by being the best direction follower ever and not leaving until everyone else left. Truthfully, I don't remember much else of what I did that day. I obviously made the ganache (oh, and almost burned ALL of the white chocolate), I dipped some eclairs in chocolate... helped scale some pistachio something or other... cut chocolate 'biscuit' for some petit four, and after 9pm, changed and got on the train to my apartment. I was exhausted and sweaty, and was like- sweet baby Jesus can I actually do this? Did I make the biggest mistake of my life?? As this fear creeped in, my eyes filled with the tears I had been holding back all afternoon and I stared out the window of the train and watched the city speed by.
Thankfully- it gets better. But that's for another night. And, yes. Now I know how to bloom gelatin. ;)