I recently got my first job in the culinary industry: working as a pastry cook in a busy restaurant in New York City. Before this, I worked a normal 9-5 desk job, staring at a computer screen for hours on end. I knew it would be an adjustment switching to a job on my feet all day, but it came with a few other surprises as well!
To give you a quick glimpse into my new life, here are my first impressions on working as a pastry cook:
1. My legs are not equipped to deal with this.
Not too surprisingly, my legs are not used to me standing on my feet for 8+ hours a day. During my very first shift, I thought I legitimately would not be able to make it to the end. I have started to get used to it, but it seems like lately I just always have a bit of soreness in my legs.
One night after work, I took the subway home (which usually involves sitting for 45 minutes or so). After I walked up the stairs to leave the station, I felt the weirdest muscle cramp in my quads. I had never felt something like that before, and I think my legs were just groaning from what I had put them through.
On the bright side, you burn a lot more calories working on your feet all day, so it balances out all the delicious desserts I get to try!
2. Despite being around so much food, it's hard to find time to eat.
I had been told about this before in pastry school, but I am truly experiencing it firsthand now. Like most restaurants, we have family meal each day before the dinner shift starts. During family meal, the savory side of the kitchen prepares food for all the staff, and everyone has time to grab a bite. However, most days I have so much to do that I either skip family meal or grab the food in a to-go container. That to-go container then sits in the back of my work station, and I have to keep warming up the food in the microwave because I keep forgetting to eat it.
Since I am still adjusting to the new work routine, I do think that I will get better about my eating habits during work as time goes on. Nevertheless, the work is usually so fast-paced that I am not really that hungry during my shift. As soon as I leave the restaurant around midnight, the hunger kicks in, and that's when I usually scavenge for a late-night dinner.
Just grateful I don't have to do this for my job
3. I am going to have to get used to dry and hurt fingers.
Over the past few weeks at work, I have already:
- slightly burnt two of my fingers using a blowtorch (don't ask)
- cut both of my thumbs peeling apples (yes, both at the same time)
- and gotten countless other scrapes
To be fair, I am a pretty clumsy person as is, so that might have something to do with the number of issues I've had. Nonetheless, my fingers are bound to take a beating. And all the times I have to wash my hands during my shift? My hands constantly feel dry, which drives me a bit crazy.
4. By the end of the night, you get pretty lonely as the pastry cook.
The restaurant I work at closes at 11pm most nights. This means that the last tables will be seated before or around that time, and the line cooks will fire their entrées. As soon as they finish all the entrées, the line cooks clean up and leave.
Working dinner service on the pastry side, you wait until the last table decides if they want dessert or not. As soon as I get the ticket from the last table (or hear that they don't want dessert), I can start breaking down and cleaning up my station.
By this time, there are usually only a couple of people left working in the back of the restaurant: the dishwashers, one or two runners, and a few servers. It is nice to really get to know everyone during those last few minutes of my shift. I also love leaving out any leftovers we can't keep—everyone loves free food!
5. I have so, so much to learn.
A lot of people go into the culinary industry without a culinary degree. They get their foot in the door at a restaurant and work their way up, little by little. Since I was switching careers, I am glad that I decided to attend pastry school, and I am grateful for how much I learned there.
That being said, working in a restaurant is a completely different ball game from pastry school. I feel like I'm learning new skills and techniques every day. While it sometimes feels a bit overwhelming, it also reassures me that I'm in the right place. What better place is there to be than one where you are constantly growing and improving?
Going forward, I'm so eager to see what this new chapter in my life brings. In addition, I can't wait to look back at these initial impressions in a few months or years and see where this journey has taken me.