The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Living the Dream . . . sorta

Emelye's picture

Living the Dream . . . sorta

At our 4th of July family picnic, my spouse's cousin told me the hotel he worked for was looking for a baker.  They needed someone quickly and he thought I'd be able to get in.  He arranged for an interview the next day!  All I had on hand was some lavender rolls that I had just made so I brought two of those along with me.

The interview went OK although it was over way too quickly.  I figured they didn't like me.  I was very up front about not having any professional experience and I guessed that this was my disqualification.  Nevertheless, I called them about a week later and left a message, asking them about the position.  An hour later their executive chef called back and invited me in for a second interview.  I hade some sourdough loaves (Nancy Silverton's white sourdough formula) on hand and I brought the best looking one with me.  Once again I made it very plain that I had no professional experience as a baker.  The exec chef told me that didn't matter and asked me when I could start!

I started the day after the next.  It was a rocky start, to say the least.  I was told to come in at 1:00am.  When I arrived, no one was there!  Talk about being thrown into the deep end of the pool to sink or swim!  They had a 60qt and 20qt Hobart along with a 5 qt Kitchenaid there.  I had no experience with a planetary mixer - I have an Electrolux N28 at home.  The oven was an old natural gas Vulcan 3 deck oven with no steam and a lower deck that didn't work properly.  I barely knew where anything was, never used a mixer of that type and they were asking for a few hundred dinner rolls, half as many sandwich rolls, a dozen and a half pan loaves - each using 3 different types of dough (white, whole wheat & a savory dough)!  Needless to say I didn't get much done the first day.

The work was very physically demanding but I was slowly getting the hang of things.  Between the warm weather and the high friction factors I learned to use ice water and buttermilk/eggs, etc. right from the fridge to keep my final dough temps below 80ºF.  I figured out how to control the proofer so it wouldn't overheat my dough and race through the primary ferment stage.  I got the hang of mixing 25 to 30 pounds of dough in the 60 qt mixer, splitting the batch and putting half in the cooler to retard the ferment so it wouldn't go too far before I was finished rolling the dinner/sandwich rolls with the other half.  I was making 50 to 60 pounds of dough a day and turning it into white (BBA Buttermilk white bread) and whole wheat (Hamelman's Oatmeal bread) dinner and sandwich rolls along with garlic and rosemary focaccias.  I made a couple dozen pan loaves of brioche too, on occasion.  I was exhausted by the time I got home but I was really enjoying things, learning every day a little more about how to control my dough and my outcomes.

Unfortunately, my aging knees betrayed me and last week I had to resign.  The pain was too great to bear and I was hobbling around with a cane for three days before it receded.  I am grateful that I was able to get the opportunity to have a taste of being a professional baker, even if the conditions weren't exactly ideal, and I'll always look back at those few weeks as a highlight.


mimifix's picture

Wait - don't tell me - the executive chef (Chef Ray? I know the fellow well) made it all sound so easy. "All we need is blah blah blah, insert some half-truths, and blah blah blah."

This kind of work is very demanding. Even young, strong, healthy workers quit after a short time. Many hotels have a high turn-over rate because executive chefs don't understand the amount of work; it's somewhat different in bakeries. A little easier but still lots of heavy work.

Emelye, I am so impresed with what you were able to do. And now you can scratch this off the bucket list.

Emelye's picture

That was one of the problems - I was the baker, there was no one else!  It certainly was an adventure though.  If I get an opportunity to do it again, but in a real bakery rather than an adjunct to a professional kitchen, I might just try it again but this time with a knee brace.

I really was thrown into it with no life preserver and I did screw up theose first few days.  I was getting things figured out though, and the abrupt halt is very frustrating.  Oh well!  Better luck next time!  :)

Candango's picture

Having been thrown into the deep end of the pool with no life preserver, and not only surviving, but also raising the ante and doing it singlehandedly definitely deserves admiration and praise.  Well done you.  Perhaps it is just as well that the knees quit when they did, as it appears that the most praise and encouragement you got was self generated.  (About the knees, my granddad used to call it "Anno Dominitis" (too many annos past the Domini - his explanation for advancing age), but that was a half century ago when the study of Latin was more in vogue).  If you consider doing it again, try it in a bakery or a larger hotel kitchen which has a multi-person bakery attached.   Cheers.