This is a paradigm shift.
I’ve mentioned recently that I got hired at a bakery here in Minneapolis that focuses on artisan bread and pastry. This is my first position in the food service industry in general and the baking sector specifically.
From what I can tell from various accounts of life in food, the atmosphere of a bakery is very much different than that of a restaurant kitchen. Nowhere to be found are the sordid affairs of nefarious line cooks. The people here are squeaky clean. I can’t even light up a cigarette in my own car for the trip back home without feeling dirty, like the lone guy in the porno section of the video store. Bakery people are happy people, enlightened people, seemingly above the fray of the alcohol and the partying that I’ve been drawn to. In other words, these people are the adults that I’m afraid of becoming, and I feel like they can smell it on me. I don’t smell of cigarette smoke to my coworkers, but instead of immaturity.
I spend my days slaving away at the mixer because my skills in shaping dough were abysmal going into this job, and, while I was given a chance on the bench, these skills did not improve fast enough to warrant any consideration. So I mix together very specific combinations of flour, water, salt and yeast to make the dough that eventually turns to bread at the hands of those with more finesse than possess. This is a very difficult job because the temperature and hydration of the dough must be kept within a very tight range in order to make bread with the best flavor and texture possible. Though I keep copious notes on each day’s different doughs that include the amount of water used, the room temperature, the water temperature and the final temperature of the dough, I still find that at times, my product leaves something to be desired. In these times, I get the pleasure of discussing my shortcomings with the rather gruff head baker. She is a stocky, shorts-wearing woman with a tight pony-tail and a low voice that conveys disappointment better than any other emotion. She rarely smiles–in fact, she rarely looks more than pissed off. All of that aside, she is incredibly good at what she does, and the bakery likely wouldn’t function without her. She has earned the right to act however she pleases.
I have read accounts of apprentice sushi chefs in Japan that spend years learning the nuances of cooking rice. Until they have mastered rice, they are not allowed to move on to anything else. In my present situation, I find myself feeling a sort of brotherhood with these apprentices. I am already sick, after only one month, of the monotony of simply mixing dough every day. I wonder how they get through the daily regimen of rice cookery. Is it the knowledge that these are the dues one must pay in order to move onto better things? Is it some sort of built-in, cultural patience–a Zen that comes from being raised in a society that praises hard work more than anything save family? Whatever it is, I want to find it, to tap into it and finally become satisfied in my work, satisfied to seek the subtle perfections and nuances of mixing until it is determined that I no longer need to pay these dues.