Check out this related article from NPR posted earlier this week.
There are all of the things I learned during my time in professional kitchens and studying at The International Culinary Center. Things that working in the basement of Jean Georges with amazing pastry chefs taught me. Things like: Why would you ever not pick up a tiny piece of trash if it’s on the ground? Things like: Why wouldn’t you have a pristine work space? Things like: Why would you lean any body weight against your work surface, even if you’re exhausted? Things like: Why would you ever work for less than 18 hours at a time?
I abide by those rules, but they aren’t what I’m talking about here.
I’m talking about real lessons that apply to every area of my life. I spend a lot of time alone, in my kitchen, working on orders – but last week when I was preparing 300+ lil’ pies, I had a lot of time to think. I wasn’t switching things up, by making lots of different things like cakes, fillings, buttercream, cookies, crumbles, etc., etc. – I was making a lot of the exact same thing. Pies. Over and over. Monotonous tasks like that can mean boredom, but this time it just really made me think. It made me think about my last 12 years (Is that all?/Twelve years already?) in professional baking.
- Plan ahead. Like the article NPR just released, if you are not prepared, then what is the point? If I haven’t made lists over and over, both written and in my head, my baking will fail. I will fall behind schedule, which means I will be rushed, and then my customers will not end up with the highest quality product possible. Mise-en-place your life. How can I get my business in order from a higher level? How can I organize cleaning and organizing around the house in a more structured way? It can be completely obsessive once you start, but the calm it brings is outstanding.
- Keep your head down and work your ass off. I don’t know, maybe I’m a little too crazy with this stuff, whatever. We have so much to learn from people who have been at “It” longer than we have. “It” can be baking, it can be computer programming, teaching, landscaping, or anything! Listen to people who have suffered the consequences of poor decisions. Hear their reasons for working in a certain way. Once you know the rules, you can break them. Once you’ve proven to yourself, and to others, that you can slog through the boring stuff – reward yourself with the fun stuff that is meaningful to your life!
- Minimal, temporary monotony is OK. This has a lot to do with number two above. When I was working as an intern at Jean Georges in NYC, I basically started as the lowest human being to ever exist. I was lucky to be there and I knew it. When i was cutting apples for pies this weekend, I remembered slicing boxes and boxes of apples for overnight confit apples at JG. I had a giant blister inside my forefinger and my lower back was just killing me. I sliced and I sliced and I sliced. When I was finished, I was so proud of myself – and I was the only one who was! Another night, we had to pipe macarons. Hundreds and hundreds of tiny macarons. The other interns said they didn’t want to do it (THAT WAS AN OPTION??), but I hung around and piped those goddamn macarons until 1am. I think that was the night I earned the respect of my coworkers. Moral is: You want to be the best at something? Work hard from Day 1 and treat each step as an opportunity.
At the end of the day, I think about the amazing, focused, disciplined chefs and cooks that have come before me, and I’m just overwhelmed. It’s really emotional for me. Watching people who have dedicated their lives to passion, but have built an effective, defined lifestyle around it – that is amazing. I guess anyone can be passionate, but without discipline and extreme, almost psychotic motivation, what comes of it?
This extreme discipline, I’ve realized recently, really dictates my life. I think it’s something to watch and be mindful of, though, because it can be really annoying to the people closest to you. Freedom and spur-of-the-moment actions are wonderful – and those should never stop. I just think the greatest and most powerful thing for my work and my business, is to stay incredibly motivated and focused.