The ultimate goal of Restaurant Week, beyond showcasing our new skills and amazing food, was to get us ready for our externships and working in a restaurant for 2 months.
After meeting with the founder of our school, Jodi Liano, we were carefully and thoughtfully placed in a restaurant that would work with our food interests, style of kitchen, schedule and location preferences. My classmates and I were placed at some of the best establishments in the Bay Area! Our school has such a good reputation and puts out such kitchen-ready cooks, that it’s no surprise we got such wonderful placements.
I was thrilled with the restaurant where I was placed. Flea Street Cafe in Menlo Park is where I just finished 2 months learning directly from the Executive and Sous Chefs. It is a small kitchen where I did day prep in mostly organic, local, California cuisine; exactly what I wanted. I have been a fan of Flea Street for many years. My in-laws gave my husband and me a gift certificate for our anniversary when we were first married over 18 years ago. I knew my father-in-law was a big fan of this food and I quickly became one as well. He also gave me a signed copy of the owner Jesse Ziff Cool’s first cookbook which I have cherished for many years. Years later when her most recent cookbook came out and was on display at the restaurant, my husband bought me a copy. I’m a lucky girl. These cookbooks, along with Michael Pollen’s Food Rules and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle shaped my view on food and time spent in the kitchen and I am forever grateful.
As I’ve told many people, I sure hit the jackpot with this placement. The Chef and Sous Chef are just nice people. They allowed me to work in their small space, listen in on debrief of the service the night before, allowed me to make mistakes and correct me in a respectful manner, treated me kindly and trusted me to try new projects (testing some stuffed cabbage rolls, making a cioppino-style fish sauce, harissa sauce, crab cakes, parsnip puree, braised cabbage, cauliflower saute to accompany the gnocchi dish and many other components to their delicious dishes) as well as take the wheel on a recurring dish on their menu (butternut squash soup and then broccoli and cauliflower).
They were a great balance of fun, entertaining and laid back during day prep and serious, focused and took great care in the food that was prepared for their guests each evening. They are so talented and make killer food. The optimistic person that I am, I assume all kitchen are this way. But, I know better. I know that some kitchen environments are hostile, rude, ego driven, and not female friendly. Thankfully, I don’t know that kitchen first hand. As I said, I hit the jackpot.
While I am finished now and more than thrilled for a little break, I already miss the Chefs and staff at Flea Street. I also miss seeing my classmates. We gathered two weeks ago for graduation, celebrated together, and will continue our fun group text chat to keep in touch. Everyone will go on to do a variety of food industry jobs, and we will continue to support each other any way we can. If someone is throwing a dinner party or a pop up, we’ve got 13 other willing and talented professional cooks to jump in. I’ll not call myself a Chef, but rather a professional cook or professional chef (with a lowercase c), because Chef is an earned title, one that I must earn over time, or relevant setting.
I’ll spend the next bit of time practicing all my new kitchen skills on friends and family. I’ll dive in to a few new cookbooks that have been taunting me on the shelf, begging me to open them, but with little time to do so. At some point, I’ll look for teaching opportunities in the area, as that is my true gift and passion and I’ll kick up my food blogging. But for just a little time, I’ll give my poor elbows a much needed rest and a chance to recover- double tennis elbow is no joke nor is cooking for 6 hours a day for 6 months. (A nice shot of cortizone and some CBD balm have helped wonders!) I am so grateful for the opportunity I had and my supportive family cheering me on.