I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Monday, June 8, 2009

About A Job

The new job is going pretty well, thanks for asking! I am loving being back in a kitchen and knowing that I am making great food. I'm working with fresh ingredients, interesting flavours and I have a huge amount of pride in knowing that I alone am responsible for the food on the days I'm there. Our first major task of the day is to set-up, re-stock and bake fresh all the display items - of which there are approximately 35 or so items. Once that's done, I tend to stand back (on the customer side of the counter) and do a quick visual scan of what is out there. I might then 'jujse' a platter, move around a few things, or just smile and nod because I'm pleased with what I've done.

The callouses have come back to my index finger (where the top of the shank of the knife sits), the splits have returned to my skin (a hazard of all that hand washing) and at the end of the day my feet ache and I smell like a roasted pumpkin (perfectly seasoned, natch!). Still, I love the feeling of satisfaction I get from my job. I love feeding people, knowing that my food makes people happy, and I love the immediate satisfaction I get when I leave at the end of the day and there are empty platters and positive remarks from the customers.

In The Age this past weekend, the Sunday Life magazine had a feature all about female chefs and about how difficult it can be for women to "make it" in a man's world. The article focussed almost entirely on female chefs who work in fine dining arena - an arena I had no interest in and one which I know is not at all family friendly. As I read the article, my eyes grew wider and wider at how judgemental, demeaning, and downright offensive the article was. Jacques Reymond (a famous, fabulous fine dining chef here in Melbourne) talks about how he trains female chefs to a high standard and then they leave his kitchen "...because of relationships....[and] then they go to work in a cafe, they make a sandwich." Further in the article the CEO of Restaurant & Catering Australia says, "You can't work in a kitchen and have family responsibilities. It just doesn't work."

Are these people kidding me? Firstly, Mr Reymond, great food is about GREAT FOOD. It's not about if you're making a foam, or a jelee, or a sphere of something, or a sandwich. It's about making a quality item, from quality ingredients, which your customer will enjoy enough to come back for a second time. I'm not sure when sandwiches and cafes - which are the lifeblood of the Melbourne food industry - became an object of derision. It's unfortunate that you think you have somehow wasted your time by training these female chefs - because the skills you've given them will reach far beyond the heat of your kitchen and the plates of your restaurant. They've learned discipline, time management, team work, respect for others, appreciation of quality food, and in most cases have learned to teach others all these same skills.

...and yes, many of them will go on to make a sandwich. Tell me, Mr Reymond, when's the last time you ate a sandwich at a local cafe? I'm guessing it was pretty recently. I hope for your sake it was made by a properly trained, female chef.

Mr Hart (above mentioned CEO), what makes you qualified to know about being a female with family responsibilities who is working in a kitchen? I trained as a chef only AFTER my children were born. Many is a night when I would be woken by a small child, only to fall asleep and have the alarm wake me 10 minutes later for my 4am bakery shift. Was it hard? Of course it was. Did I manage to - and continue to manage - work in cafes, bakeries, restaurants while being a good mother? I think it's fair to say the proof is in the pudding. I would even argue that food jobs are among the BEST to have while being a parent - because with good time management skills I've still managed to not only be there for my kids, I've also managed to pass on a lot of the skills cheffing has taught me. They know proper food handling, they know when things are fresh, they understand the value of a home cooked meal and they will often try new flavours without my having to ask.

Best of all, Mr Reymond and Mr Hart - my kids say (to all who will listen), "My Mummy's a chef!" and they say it with pride. As for me, why don't you come over sometime? I'll make you a sandwich.

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