It’s about one month in on the new job and I’m still enjoying it. In fact, I find myself looking forward to going back each day so that I can get a better handle on everything that needs to be done. When I’m at home, I mentally review what I did that day and evaluate the quality of my work and how I could be faster/better the next day.
My job isn’t exposing me to anything particularly new or revolutionary, so I’m not necessarily adding to my pastry “bag of tricks” in a huge way. But I am getting more experience with daily pastry production which is something that I do find valuable and quite a bit different from the pastry experience I have with catering. A restaurant or café has weekly patterns and cycles whereas catering is always different day-to-day. What I am learning here at O* is how a pastry department is run which will definitely serve me well when I return to the US.
Each day there’s always a lot of work to be done, but it’s not too stressful; nothing like catering, that’s for sure. When I was at F*, as much as I loved being there, managing the work load against available resources was wildly difficult. None of that here at O*. Since it’s a restaurant and retail café, the routine is pretty stable and predictable, with Fridays and Saturdays being larger production days and the rest of the week is spent getting ahead for the weekend.
I’m tracking my work time on my phone with a little app and I’m consistently working 50-55 hours per week so far. That’s more than when I was at F* but far less than Starry Nights. And again, the relative lack of stressful days can’t be overstated. I basically come to work, produce a lot of stuff and go home. There’s not much planning for the week required of me, so I can just concentrate on what’s on the prep list.
I did, unfortunately, recently receive some feedback from my boss that I need to speed up. I’m not used to hearing feedback like that, so it was a bit of a surprise. But I think about what we would say at F*, which is that while you’re learning, you focus on technique, then speed, then back to technique, then to speed again. Always back and forth on the two until you really get good at something. I think my standards and attention to detail are naturally a little higher than what’s required here at O*, so I think I’ll need to relax on that for a minute and really start cranking stuff out, high speed. Once I get a better handle on the speed and time management, I can go back to raising quality.
The kitchen in which I work is a decent-sized restaurant kitchen in layout, but just like every kitchen I’ve ever seen, it’s jammed to capacity. At some points during the day, there are as many as 18 people there, all fighting for space. The pastry section is situated on one end of the kitchen, with two 8’ benches pushed together. On any given day, we have three pastry chefs working, in staggered shifts, at one of three distinct stations: Big mixer, small mixer, and top-up.
Since I’ve started back in May, I’ve been assigned to the small mixer station for most of my shifts. I’ve worked the top-up station a couple times, but haven’t done the big mixer yet. Each station has a core set of responsibilities and tasks, with the remaining tasks being shared across the team. Most of my shifts have been at 7am and follow the same script: I spend the first hour plating up desserts and pastries for the window display as well as cutting fruit for the one breakfast item to come out of our station (fruit and granola). Once the display items are done and we’re ready for breakfast at 8am, I start decorating and finishing the items that were baked off the day before. This is things like chocolate tea cakes, orange cakes, polenta cakes, and large 9” cakes. Decorating need so to be done by 10:30am or so, then it’s on to mixing and baking. On the small mixer, I’m responsible for baking various small-batch items like chocolate tarts and Guinness cakes. Once the baking is done, then it’s prep, assembly, and planning for the next day, things like cutting brownies, setting up jams and butters for breakfast, filling financiers, wrapping stuff up to keep it fresh, setting up sheet pans of muffins, cookies, and viennoiserie for baking the next day, and cleaning the station.
The top-up station is a little less structured, with the emphasis on making sure the window pastry display is always full. This can take quite some time out of the day, or sometimes there’s not a lot to be done. The top-up station is usually the last to arrive in the morning and will start out with decorating and finishing, then demolding whatever’s been baked earlier, managing the oven, and picking up breakfast tickets. It’s the most random of the stations and can be the most frustrating since you’re never really in control of your timing or schedule.
The big mixer, which I haven’t done yet, is the first person to arrive and is largely responsible for getting the window display going and baking off all the pastries from the commissary kitchen. Once that’s done, they move on to making the 9” cakes (usually about 10 at a time), then the signature meringues, and some decorating. More on that once I get a few shifts on the big mixer.
So in all, my job at O* is more than I could have hoped for a job here in London. It’s a great company with a world-wide reputation, and the staff there are all friendly and fun to work with. So far so good!