Externship


To complete my culinary degree, the program requires us to commit a 210 hour externship in the food industry. It could be in a restaurant, catering or media company of your choice. Since I have a full time job interning at a food media company, even though it would be my first choice, was out of the question since I'd have to be there during the week. Therefore, I decided I would complete my externship at a restaurant. To be honest, I don't have any desire to work in a kitchen of a restaurant; and have no experience whatsoever, so I thought it may be a good experience for me to try. I knew it would be difficult, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I have known about this chef/owner, and I'm excited for the opportunity to work with her. She is well respected in the industry and her restaurant offers the type of food that I want to learn about. She happened to be one of the panelists at a seminar I attended last year and I spoke to her about the possibility of interning at her restaurant. After trailing there one full day, and spoke to many people, I made the decision of doing my externship there. I committed at least 18 hours a weeks which would roughly takes about 12 weeks. I thought 3 months would go by quickly. Well I was wrong and I have underestimated how difficult this was going to be. I was miserable in the beginning. I hated that I'm being told what to do by 20 something year old. The way some of them spoke to me was a bit degrading. It felt like they think I am incompetent, but I bite my tongue because the fact is I have no experience, and there was a lot to learn.

I was put on the line right away. Being on the line is being where all the action is during service. The line is set up by various stations. Each station has a line cook that heads up that particular station. This is a fine dining restaurant, and they only open for dinner service. The kitchen is really small and only consists of the garde manger (cold appetizer/dessert), grill and saute stations. On certain nights, the chef/owner is there to expedite the orders. Other nights either the sous chef would expedite the orders or the line cook themselves would work together.

I was require to work at least one full day so in the beginning I worked on Saturdays, and then a couple of nights a week to make up the hours. On Saturdays, I am due in at 2:30 and often worked straight until the restaurant closes which is mostly 11:30 or 12. Every day at 4:30, everyone gathers to have dinner aka "family meal". Each line and prep cook takes turn cooking the family meal each day. The prep cooks help to prepare all the desserts as well as fabricate all the ingredients on the menu including breaking down the proteins.

It was very intimidating to be on the line because as the orders come in, especially on a busy night, you need to properly put together each dish and make sure that the presentation and the taste are spot on. There is no corner to be cut. I had to learn all of the components to each dish, and each dish has at least 6-10 components that make up a dish. It was very challenging especially on a busy night; there is no room for error. You have to send out dishes that are exactly the way it was created and nothing else.

After a few weeks interning at the restaurant, I got to learn the personality of everyone and didn’t take things too personally. It took a few weeks to get use to the hours that I was putting in and I tried not to be resentful. I was torn because the nights that I am scheduled are usually not as busy so there were a few weeks that I was asked not to come in since there was nothing for me to do. I was happy and sad at the same time. I was glad that I can go home and not have to work late but I really wanted to be done by Memorial Day weekend, and if my scheduled days are being canceled, it would mean I would have to stay on past my target date. So after much consideration, I decided to give up my weekends and work full days on Saturdays and Sundays and still pick up couple nights a week. By working full days I was able to work with the other lines cooks and help them with prep for the service that day and not just to be on the line during service.

I was also asked to prepare family meals on Saturdays. I was nervous and happy at the same time because this means I finally get to cook, but I have to make a meal for 16 people including the chef/owner. It was a bit intimidating, but I was ready. We have a list of ingredients we can choose from, and if certain things are not available, we can order or purchase separately. I knew what I wanted to make. It was a simple recipe but I tested it at home to make sure it came out good; and if I needed to, I'd change some of the ingredients. That became part of my weekly routine. It’s been weeks since I started making family meals. I still get nervous, but not as much as my first week. I’ve been getting more compliments about my food each week and it’s been giving me more confidence each time I do it. I still have to practice on my knife skill and time management to get my mise en place done more quickly.

I am now a week away from completing my 210 hours. I am exhausted but I know that if I can survive these last 3 months, I can do anything. Along with my full time job, I was putting in at least 60 hours a week. I have never worked so hard in my life. I have so much more respect for the line cooks, back of house, pretty much the whole restaurant industry. It's been an eye opening experience. I also found out what I am made of. I am a hard worker and even though I have no experience, I am a pretty good cook. I just need to believe in myself so I can show more confidence. I am glad that I stuck it out and have the opportunity to work in a restaurant, but to be honest I can't wait to have my weekends back as I plan to be able to spend more time testing recipes and cook for families and friends. Most importantly, I am looking forward to catch up on sleep and not have to whine about how tired I am anymore.

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