Wondering what it would be like to be in the kitchen, behind the scenes, I spent a day working in a bakery. Ready for a look at the inner workings? Keep reading!
Lay the dough in the center of the circle. Gently push it down with my fingertips. Make sure it lies flush against the pan. Repeat.
I quickly got into the groove, working to the whir of the electric mixer and the intermittent beep of the oven. French, Hebrew, and the occasional burst of English flew by my ears, snatches of conversation that I couldn’t quite keep up with. I rode high on a moment of pride that, yes, I already know how to use a piping bag. Crashed down when I was chastised for talking to the other pastry chef instead of bringing the peeled potatoes right back to the kitchen. Peppered the pastry chefs with questions:
Why did some tart shells puff up while others didn’t? How come you roll out your dough with cornstarch, but he uses flour? When do you add water to your babka dough? I had to know everything. And I was in a place with people whose minds run on the same wavelength.
Even after doing my research I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. For some people it would have been a torturous experience, sheer monotony. But despite the almost mechanical routine, the day flew by.
It started two Sundays ago, when I walked into the bakery for the first time, asked to speak to the owner, and said “Hi, my name is Sara. I want to work for you.” I don’t know what possessed me to think that this constituted a good plan. Probably more a sense of having nothing to lose than true confidence. All that mattered was that I showed this man I was worth taking on, albeit untrained.
After some back-and-forth later that week and a near cancellation the night before, I was set to go in at 9 AM on Sunday for a day in the kitchen. Excitement and nerves (and my alarm) woke me early. Breakfast, coffee, comfortable sneakers, breathing… I was ready.
No amount of research really prepares you for the physical challenge, though. For about 8 hours straight I shifted my feet at a prep station just a couple of inches too high for me. Laughed at everyone’s shock that I’m 22, not 12. Did whatever the pastry chefs gave me to do, with a smile. Eagerly asked “what next” each time I finished a task. By the end of the day, I ran up an impressive tally for my first time:
- 250 miniature and 50 medium tart shells, shaped, baked, and packed in boxes
- 11 large apple tarts with almond cream, filled and baked
- 40 chocolate mousse trifles, piped
- 20 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
- 3 butternut squashes, 24 carrots, and 10 potatoes peeled
You better believe I kept count. How else would I give you an accurate picture?
Time marched on but I didn’t know it, since I left my phone and watch in my coat pocket when I swapped it for an apron. My rumbling stomach was the only indication that I must have worked for at least several hours. Eventually I gave in to the hunger and asked for something to eat. (Knowing my track record, I wouldn’t be much use otherwise.) I don’t remember the last time lunch was of such little concern to me, though. Perched on the staircase, I scarfed down most of a sandwich and chugged a water bottle so that I could get back to my station faster.
“We’re done for today, thank you,” never sounded simultaneously so sad and happy. I wanted to keep going even though my arm muscles were burning. I wanted more responsibility, to mix the batters and knead the doughs myself. But that will take time, which is why I’ll be back in the kitchen this Sunday. Hair pulled back, apron on, covered in a light dusting of flour and pastry cream all over my hands.
Maybe this time I’ll ask for a stool to stand on.