Stage: an insight into what it’s like auditioning for a job in the kitchen
Stage (pronunciation rhymes with Taj, not age) is an audition for a job in the kitchen. You want to work in a particular restaurant? you go there, work from the time the chef says “GO!” until he decides he’s done with you. You do this for free, and you pray that the Kitchen Gods smile on you and keep you from doing/saying something stupid. It’s an experience like no other, and something anyone outside of the culinary world may never understand. Notwithstanding, this pretty much sums it up:
You’re about to explode. There’s too far too much blood and oxygen coursing through your veins, and your eyes your pupils are so dialated that they would catch the attention of any police officer you came across. You just finished your stage, and it went so beautifully that you’re too wound up to eat, or drink, or even talk about it. This is one of those perfectly fleeting moments, so you just sit there on the bus, missing your stop, so you can soak it all up. You start Tuesday as the new fish cook.
You blew it. It seemed like your stage was going ok, but right around the end of the first turn the sous told you that you could take off. You considered protesting, but instead you decided to change, have a smoke and get a bite to eat. Sitting down at the bar, you order your food and a drink, and sometime later the chef tells you that you’re welcome back anytime…but no job is discussed. And you dont ask about one. Your stage is over, and you wasted it. So how did this happen?
You went into the restaurant between lunch and dinner service dressed appropriately, resume and knives in hand. For a week you’ve been reading the menu on-line, and bringing yourself up to speed on the background of the chef and the restaurant itself. After your chat with the chef, you let him know that you’re ready to stage that evening if he would like. He tells you to come back Friday instead. On Friday you show up early, smiling and introducing yourself to any staff that you come across. You take your knives and a spoon out of your kit that you slimmed down a bit, and settle in with any prep work that they’ll give you–herb picking, cutting bread, citrus supremes. You work quietly and cleanly, with eyes and ears open so you don’t miss a thing.
You drop into the restaurant as you walk by, and approach the chef who is expediting a fairly busy lunch service. He doesn’t have time to talk to you right now, but tells you to come back that evening at 4 for a stage. You tell him that you have tickets to a show, but could you come in tomorrow? He asks for a resume. You dont have it with you. When you do show up for your stage, the chef asks you why you want to work in his restaurant; what is it about this place, this food, that turns you on? You stumble through some bullshit answers. He smirks at you. Unpacking your kit you pull out 6 knives, a spatula, tongs, and a handful of spoons. The sous steps in next to you.
“Um. What’s all that shit for?”
Working through your prep, you dont shut up–about your last job, your opinions on how things should be done, and who you think should win top chef. No one really responds to you, but you go on anyways.
The chef had told you that he needed a fish cook, so this is the station that you stick with through prep, line-up, and into service. During line up you politely ask if you can taste mise, and as you taste dishes you take notes, and try to memorize the station set-up. Just before service you sweep the station and wipe down everything for the cook. You ask the chef if he wants you anywhere else during service, but he says no. During service you pull plates, and garnish, but generally try to stay out of the way and observe. Eventually the pace starts to build a bit, and the cook catches your eye.
“Alright. We’re going on 7 fish and 6 scallops. We’ll go together, ok? You take the scallop dish.”
An hour later you’re cooking all of the proteins on your own, with the fish cook plating and garnishing for you. When the sous asks how it’s all going for you, you tell him you love it, and want to close the station that night. There will be no end of shift meal or drink for you. Just a cold family meal, a watery iced tea, and a nod of approval from the brigade.
You bounce around the kitchen getting all up in everyones shit, but not really absorbing anything. You taste without asking, and more than once you criticize the food. During one of your rants about how you used to do it at your last job, the grill cook catches looks at you and growls “Well that’s so fucking interesting.” Most of your evening is spent leaning against the ice machine, and when you do step in, you’re so fucking slow wiping plates and garnishing that the sous knocks the chervil out of your hand and shouts “JUST FUCKING SEND IT!” You cook zero orders, and when you sit down to eat at the bar, you order an expensive cocktail, and dont tip. You. Fucking. Blew. It.
There is nothing like a stage in any other field of work. Sure, athletes have tryouts, and actors have auditions. A stage is both. It lasts many hours, is physically and mentally draining, and everyone is already expecting you to fail before you even begin. It’s the culinary equivalent of getting jumped into a gang. You get one chance to get it right, and being thrust into an unfamiliar, borderline hostile environment guarantees that if you don’t fail outright, you are at very least probably going to make a stupid mistake.
And at the end of your stage, it’s all of this pressure that makes succeeding all the more sweet. To have cooked well, and won over the cooks that let you into their home is a special thing. It’s a re-affirming rite of passage, and a fleeting feeling you only get to enjoy every once in a while. Don’t let your stage just pass on by.via http://linecook415.blogspot.com/