I started the internship with more confidence than I've had in the past. My first day at Grace I spent cowering in the corner anxiously awaiting what daunting task my chef asked of me. It took me four times and two dozen eggs to make an aioli for goodness' sake! (…And even then, I relied on poor Flood, the Chef de Cuisine, to make it for me.) But this year I chose to make myself seen and heard - I would no longer be a mouse hiding for fear of being incorrect.
I met Dana, an extern from the CIA in Poughkeepsie, who I had exchanged emails with before and who would be training me. With her black bandana tied around her thick dark brown hair and big eyes with thick lashes, she screamed confidence. She led me to her station, the "hots," that I would be helping with that night. We started by rolling out pizza dough to be assembled with blanched kale and spinach, chopped Greek olives, tomatoes, red onion, asiago, and feta. I was so glad knowing that she would be leading me, a young woman whose brightness shone in each dough she rolled out, in each olive she chopped. Everything looked so easy for her as she chatted to me about the environment of Greens and how she felt about those she worked with and the food she created. Everyone seemed to communicate with ease and a functionality that was clearly practiced. Chef Denny, my sous chef for the evening, explained how the kitchen worked, but allowed me to learn organically, or with the help of Dana. This freedom would follow me throughout the rest of my time at Greens and I believe, helped me gain a better understanding of both the kitchen, and my own strengths and weaknesses.
With merely an hour left before the required break time (a new concept!), Dana put on the Rancho Gordo beans and tomatillo sauce to be seasoned and heated before settling in the steam kettle for service. We then set up the station, quickly slicing avocados, gathering utensils, and getting ready for "test plates." Annie and Denny would taste each dish to ensure its quality every night right before we went on break, then give us a commentary on their thoughts, whether it be praise or needed areas of improvement.
In the coming days, I would learn how difficult finishing up the pizzas would be. Rolling out the doughs alone took such a long time for me. It would take me another three weeks before I really was able to get my station set up in time without needing help from another cook. The frustration I felt in this kept me from enjoying my time at the beginning of service, at 5:30. I felt completely hopeless and disappointed. I constantly doubted myself, saying, "I should have been faster! I should have been more efficient!" Ironically, when I started accepting help and advice, I was able to quiet my mind and therefore work with a speed I had not seen in myself, even while at NECI.
At NECI, I always felt down-graded, as though I was less than other students. I was never able to keep up with them, despite my making lists and obsessive organization. In fact, this seemed to hold me up more, as I was constantly interrupted by my own pressing thoughts. Now looking back, I felt that I was never given enough time to feel comfortable enough with my station. I was always a step behind because I naturally need time to adjust to change. I have never been one to blindly jump in; I always want to fully understand and plan for the tasks ahead. My perfectionism, while helpful in some circumstances, has always been an issue for the pace at which I work.
Now that I have become accustomed to all the parts of the station Dana has taught me, I can finally breathe and feel proud of myself rather than putting myself down for being too slow, too careless, too untimely. I thank Dana for a lot of this progress. She helped me to understand that everyone is like me at first, unsure of oneself, maybe asking too many questions. And I will get to a better place, it just may take a few misshaped doughs, a few pots of beans with burnt bottoms until I get to a comfortable point in which my confidence gleams like Dana's does. Ultimately, I have learned that I will get there - even if the destination is far away and my steps are slow - I will get there.