I no longer work in a pastry kitchen full time, but this is an accurate representation of my day when I worked production at a fine dining restaurant. I didn’t feel like changing all of this to the past tense, so just go with it! If you’re considering becoming a pastry chef, chef or cook and you have never cooked professionally, you should probably give this a read.
Many people are intrigued by what it is that chefs do on a daily basis. I thought it might be interesting, or at least eye opening, to write an hour by hour account of what goes on from the moment I hit the door until the moment I clock out. I come in early, at 7:00am and our pastry cook. Lucia, comes in at 10:00am on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to help with all the prep. We are closed on Saturdays and Sundays, so we run everything out on Saturday nights. As a result, there is always a lot to do on Tuesdays.
So you know and aren’t wondering “why is she making popcorn?” here’s what I’m responsible for at the restaurant. Aside from making all dessert components and garnishes, I have several other responsibilities that are not generally thought of as the realm of the “dessert lady:”
- I am responsible for making the spiced caramel popcorn that we give away as a bar snack.
- I make the gruyere biscuits that we sell for our bread service as well as
- the bread pretzels and taleggio fondue for the pub menu.
- Lucia and I also keep us in mignardise. You know, like the mints you get with your check? We make what we like—peppermint marshmallows, filled chocolates, nut brittles and toffees—whatever sounds good. We need to make sure that there are always enough for all guests to get something when their checks come.
- In addition, I make tart dough for quiche and Alsace tarts for garde manger and
- spicy gazpacho (for Bloody Maries)
- and sour mix for the bar.
Now that you know what I’m in charge of making, welcome to my day…
7:00am: It’s still dark outside. I hate that. I have my keys ready so I can get in the door as quickly as possible. Lock it behind. Run and turn off that damn alarm before the cops show up. Turn on the lights. Check the bar. They ate all the caramel corn?! Savages. Survey the damage in the walk-in from the night before. Do we need financiers? How are we on croquants? Chocolate sauce? Chocolate paint? Now the freezer. Oh, no—they ate all the biscuits. Make a double today. Pretzels, too? There goes an hour and 15 minutes right there. Better check all the ice creams. Do we need more base? How about that semifreddo? Is it all gone? Put the frozen brisee for the tarts in the walk-in to temper. Are the servers passing out the mignardise? Do we need to make more of those, too?! Oh, I hate Tuesdays….
7:20am: Okay, here we go. Wash your hands. Pop the corn—9 quarts twice, please. While the corn is popping, set the oven, turn on the hoods and the gas, light the burners, turn on the other big convection oven. Scale the caramel for the corn. Oh, no spiced pumpkin seeds?! Quick, make those and throw them in the oven so they’re ready to go when the popcorn is popped. Put the caramel on the induction burnerso the butter melts. Scale 2X biscuits. Grate 6 pounds of cheese (thank goodness for the Robot Coupe. Butter’s melted for the caramel; it’s boiling. Set the timer for 5 minutes, turn down the heat and cut the flour into the biscuits. Timer goes off. Wash your hands, and stir the caramel into the corn; don’t forget to add the spiced pumpkin seeds. Put the corn in the oven for 20 minutes.
8:30am: Cheese is grated and butter is cut into the flour mixture. Now, scale out and put your pretzels in the mixer. Knead 5 minutes. Go back to the biscuits. Add the wet ingredients and get ready to roll. 5 minutes are up already?! Wash your hands, put your dough in a bowl to rise (in the fridge if it’s really warm in the kitchen). Back to the biscuits. Roll in the cheese in 6 additions. Popcorn timer goes off. Stir the corn and set it for 20 more. Wash your hands. Make the other batch of biscuits. Save the “ugly ends” and bake them off for lunch service. Put the lovely biscuits on trays to be baked off for dinner service. Mark biscuits and popcorn off the list. Wash your hands.
9:25am: Get out your mass of pretzel dough. Divide into 48 3oz. balls. Popcorn timer goes off again. Stir and set for 20 more minutes. Wash your hands. Keep that pretzel dough covered! Don’t let the dough dry out. Have your sheet pans sprayed and covered too. Now, roll 48 pretzels—16 per sheet tray. In the freezer they go. Timer goes off again. Don’t stir, but set for 15 more minutes.
10:00am: (Still in the middle of pretzel-dom) Thank goodness Lucia is here! Please paco the ice creams and let’s split up this list!
10:30am: Pretzels are done. They need to freeze until hard. This makes them easier to pan up after blanching. Okay, until they’re hard, I can make the fondue. Wash your hands. Oh, wait! Do we have whipped butter for bread service? Better throw 11 pounds in the mixer with smoked sea salt and let her rip. Okay, now back to the fondue. Wash your hands. Make a basic Béchamel, add mustard and other good stuff. Don’t forget the porter reduction. Melt in the cheese toward the end.
10:50am: Put the butter in a Cambro. Label everything. Portion the fondue and label/refrigerate. Wash your hands.
11:00am: 30 minutes until lunch service begins. Gotta get the mise en place together for the station. Sauces go in the steam well. Whipped cream? Check. Chocolate sand? Check. Orange confit? Check. Mint tips? Check. Biscuits and pretzels? Check. Get the bread baskets ready and pie pans (for heating up biscuits/pretzels to order). Okay. Now we’re ready, keep going with the prep.
11:10am: Blanch and bake off pretzels. Don’t forget the baking soda in the blanching water if you want your pretzels to be pretzel colored, otherwise they will be light and won’t have the crackly pretzels bite on the outside. Wash your hands.
11:30am: Everything is paco’d. Lucia, what are you going to do? Brulees and chocolate peanut butter terrine? I love it. I’ll deal with the triple chocolate semifreddo, the cinnamon rolls and the pig tails. When you’re done with the terrine, could you make the langues du chat for the brulees? Great!
11:32am: Make the triple chocolate semifreddo. Wash your hands. 3 bowls, each with a different chocolate. Make your custard base; strain it into the 3 chocolates—weigh it so it’s evenly distributed. Whisk everyone smooth. “Order in: ugly ends!” “Ugly ends, heard.” Throw six on a pan and put them in the oven. Back to the chocolate. Whip your cream, divide it among your bases. “Order in: soft pretzel!” “Soft pretzel, heard.” Throw those in the oven, take the ends to the window. A quenelle of grain mustard, a ramekin of fondue. Pretzels in the basket and it all goes to the window. Wash your hands. Back to before baking.the chocolate. Layer one goes in. He goes in the freezer. Leave the other two bowls in the walk-in so when layer one is frozen, you can add layer 2 and then layer 3.
12:00pm: “Order in: ugly ends and ugly ends again. That’s two all day.” “2 ugly ends, heard.” Throw 12 in the oven and get out your cinnamon roll dough. It’s been in the fridge all night, and it’s ready to go. Wash your hands. Mix up your cinnamon sugar and butter, divide your dough in half. “Order in: ugly ends!” Ugly ends, heard.” Send the 2 ends to the window. Drop 1 more order. “Order in: pig tails!” “Pig tails, heard.” Drop 4 pig tails in the fryer and set up your plate. Get your chocolate sauce and a glass with a liner for the tails. Ends are hot? To the window. Back to the rolls. Wash your hands. Roll the dough and spread the cinnamon sugar. Roll up; cut in 12. Repeat. Check pig tails. Ready? Yes. Good. Toss in cinnamon sugar, put in the lined glass. Hit it with some powdered sugar and send it to the window. Back to the cinnamon rolls. Where was I? Oh, yeah—repeat. One more cylinder of cinnamon dough cut into 12 more pieces. Cover and let proof.
1:10pm: Financier time! Do we have any ground almonds? Let’s do that, now. Again, thank goodness for the Robot Coupe. Get those cinnamon rolls out of the oven. Do we have browned butter? Yes—we did 4 pounds a few days ago. Melt the butter, mix the batter. “Order in: ugly ends!” “Ugly ends, heard.” In they go. Cut the pineapple and toss in rum caramel. Do we have enough of that? Running low, I’ll make more in a minute. Ends are hot—in a basket and to the window. Okay, caramel and pineapple in individual baking dishes, top with financier batter. Bake off low fan 325 degrees 16 min. + 16 min. In they go. Label and put away your batter. Glaze cinnamon rolls before they cool off too much.
1:40pm: Rum caramel. Get the sugar going. Go see Larry at the bar and hit him up for Myer’s Dark Rum—just 2-3 ounces. Keep an eye on that sugar. “Order in ugly ends X3.” “3 ugly ends, heard. One more order of ends all day, chef!” “Heard!” Throw those 18 ends in the oven. Check your sugar. Still okay. Order in: pig tails! Pig tails, heard. Drop the pig tails. Set up your plate. Check the ends. Check the sugar. Ends go to the window. Check the pig tails. Check the sugar. It’s getting close. Turn it down and rescue the pig tails from the fryer. Powdered sugar, and off it goes. Check the sugar. It’s starting to turn. Let it go. Let it go. Let it go. Stir and let it go. When it starts to sting your eyes, it’s just about there. Let it go. There! Off with the heat and in goes the cream. Jump back—it splatters and spits and steams like Vesuvius! Add some salt. Stir and stir. Once it has calmed down a bit, add the rum and stand back again. Let it cook for a minute and let cool. Go pour layer 3 on that semifreddo so it will be freddo by service! Label and refrigerate that caramel. Order in: ugly ends! Ugly ends, heard; 86 ugly ends. 86 ends, heard!
3:00pm: How are we looking? Ice cream base? I’m on it.
48 yolks. 1 gallon of milk, plus a bunch of cream for good measure. Sugar, salt and vanilla. Heat. Temper into yolks. Cook to 160 degrees. Strain and flavor. Portion, label and freeze to be paco’d tomorrow.
3:30pm: Line individual tart pans for Alsace tarts for garde manger. Freeze so they can be baked off. How many today? 16! 16, heard. Thank goodness I froze some brisee on Saturday. I’ll have to make some more tomorrow. Put it on the list.
3:45pm: How’s it all looking for dinner service? You’ve got 16 orders of pretzels all day, 48 orders of biscuits. Brulees are done. Financiers are done. We’re good on cinnamon rolls, triple chocolate and chocolate peanut butter terrine. Don’t cut that triple chocolate until service time since I just did the last layer at around 2:00. Pig tails are fine. You’ve got what you need for sundaes if anyone wants one and you’re fine for root beer floats. Do you need me to do anything else to make your service life easier? You’re good; okay.
4:00pm: Check off what we need for The List for tomorrow. All right, then. I am out. Have a lovely evening, all!
*If you are considering working in a commercial kitchen, keep in mind that you have to be able to multi-task, work quickly and cleanly while maintaining consistent quality and take direction well.
The job is not for everyone. It’s sweaty and hot and there’s a lot of heavy lifting, but here’s what all cooks who love the work say:
“Being a professional cook means that you’ll always have a job and you’ll never go hungry.”