Tuesday, 23 October 2012

What I've been up to...

Greetings dear blog readers!

I am so sorry for the long blog hiatus and I do hope you are doing well.  I have missed you all and I cannot wait to catch up with my blog reading list. There are loads!!  I had some peeks and there are so many delicious posts.  I may need to get another round of sea salt caramel mocha frappuccino (my current favourite drink) to stop me from drooling all over my laptop later.

But before I start reading (and drooling), I want to share with you what I've been up to the past few weeks and my experience working as a culinary trainee at the pastry kitchen at the JW Marriott hotel Medan.

To just suddenly work in a kitchen surrounded by professional chefs, it was quite daunting to say the least.  I was nervous.  I have no formal culinary qualification.  I taught myself to cook and bake by reading countless cookery books, watching many hours of cookery shows and experimenting at the leisure of my own kitchen.     I just couldn't help but feel how if suddenly I realise that I couldn't actually cook or bake.  You know, that kind of thoughts...

But at the same time, I was very excited to learn... The first few days I felt I was the annoying new kid who asks for everything.  But then, I would rather be the annoying kid who asks a lot than to just assume and later make a complete fool of myself.  Especially since the recipe books only come with the list of ingredients with no instructions, required oven temperatures or timing.

Freshly baked rolls...
The kitchen is a shared space as well as all the equipments and tools. I am not used to this.  Living on my own for several years, I enjoy having my own territory.  The kitchen has always been my private place... where the magic happens.  At home, I know my way around the kitchen very well.  But here, very often I cannot find, oh for example a knife or a mixing bowl or the spatula that I wanted or it was being used by someone else.  Very annoying.  I was faced with the dilemma either to keep looking or wait and waste valuable time; or I could just used a different type of knives, dishes or spoons.  I was quite naive at first thinking that I must use the right tool for the right job.  Well, whenever possible, yes, I actually would.  But, to be honest, as long as I can get the job done properly, it doesn't really matter, does it?  So what if I cannot find the paring knife... the cheese knife would do just fine :)

There were plenty of daily tasks and I used to think that there weren't enough hours in a day to get everything done.  But it took me to a good week to realise that even though the tasks change daily and also depending on the shifts; there's a pattern to the routine, especially when setting/clearing up the daily mise en place.  Once I realised this, I was in competition with myself (my kind of competition and it's the best kind) to get the job done as efficiently (and of course, properly) as possible.  Then, I can get on with the rest of the tasks which also require a simple but useful tactic.  For example, when making a chocolate mousse, I always start by boiling some water in a couple of pans.  So that I don't have to wait for the water to boil later (I hate waiting and nothing worse than waiting for water to boil).  Then I use this time to weight the rest of the ingredients, cracked some eggs, get some iced-cold water to soften the gelatine and lightly whipped the double cream. Once the water is simmering, I can start melting the chocolate and make the sabayon.  This may sound a bit neurotic, however true, whilst whisking the eggs and sugar vigorously until they thicken, I make a sort of mind map to my next task; planning ahead and prioritising my workload, because at some point during my shift, I do want to take a break :) Anyway, after adding the now soften gelatine to the sabayon, followed by the melted and slightly cooled chocolate, I can start preparing the dishes and piping bag for the mousse.  And if the chocolate mixture is still a bit warm to fold the cream in, I can start preparing the ingredients to make other mousses or sauces or perhaps, a bit of a clean up.  What I'm trying to say is time management is the essence.

By the third week, in one afternoon I found myself making hundreds of mini quiches, donuts, sausage rolls, croissants, sweet buns and Danish pastries. It was madness but oh-so much fun!  However exhausting, I was always excited to learn, absorbing everything like a sponge.  I baked so many different types of breads... from the everyday white and brown toasts to various rustic French and Italian breads.

My first attempt at making baguettes... Not too bad I say.
I have also discovered that working in a kitchen is not that glamorous... unless your definition of glamorous is smelling home like bread, butter and sweat... :) and I still haven't managed to not cover myself in flour...
Oh yeah, before I forget, there's a great kitchen mantra "I taste the food I make" and I certainly tasted a lot!  Not just my creations but also everyone else's... :) I will  have to spend more time at the gym to make up for it now...

Bread basket for brunch service
Six weeks gone too quickly and I am sad that I had to leave the work experience earlier than planned due to other commitments.  But during this however short time, not only I gained valuable knowledge and hands-on experience in a professional kitchen, I met so many people whom  now I call friends...

To all the staff, my friends, at JW Marriott hotel Medan, I thank you for the opportunity.  And last but not least, I want to thank Louise from Fraiche Recruitment for putting this idea into my head and for your encouragement.  I hope this will be the beginning of something great...


  1. What a marvelous adventure. I'm sure all your readers are as grateful as I to hear of it.

  2. Welcome back Michael! And I'm so glad to hear that you had a wonderful time in the hotel kitchen :D It sounds like a great experience :)

  3. Wow that sounds like such an adventure and a challenge! How exciting and exhausting! Thanks for the update and insight to what it's like working in a professional kitchen.

  4. Thanks for your sharing Mike and I'm so glad that you have a great experience at JW Marriot Hotel. However, see you soon in Jakarta~~~. Miss u. Dewi.

  5. A great culinary adventure, Mike. Those thank-you cupcakes are great.

  6. What a great experience! It makes me a little jealous! It sounds like you were very busy and learned a lot of new things. Now you will have putting to use all that you have learned. That bread is making me drool!

  7. Amazing stuff Michael, good on you for putting your money where your mouth is, so to speak. Now, when are you going to teach the rest of us how to make those baguettes?

    1. Thanks Lucy. Once I get a bit more practice, I'll be sure to share the recipe with you all :)

  8. wow omg michael you are freaking amazing. congrats on your culinary adventure, and can't wait to see all those recipes you've picked up!

  9. I'm so proud of you, Michael! Now, you're on your way to culinary school...but this is the best way to learn 'hands on'. It's been so many years ago, when I was in 'your shoes' and have not regretted one day of it. Extremely hard work, but comes with great rewards. You can do it...and YOU DID IT!