Working 8 hours a day in a top restaurant in LA is a wonderful learning experience for an aspiring chef. It can be very challenging and intense, but fun and a joy at the same time. Those things I’ve missed since the last week of August.
Working with some of the most talented and respected chefs in the business is an invaluable experience. I wish I could be a part of such a team always and grow and develop such genius. But..the scary thing about the restaurant business, though, is the business owns you. One’s schedule can change every week, like mine did. At first, I made a sacrifice for the sake of learning – I had to pay my dues. But after over a year, my schedule was still changing and my pay went down due to hours being cut down (like many others) and I never received a pay raise, not one cent above my original pay. Of course my morale would go down when I’d think about it, sometimes affecting my performance, but I kept going… I was addicted to the work. I still wanted my own cafe or business of some sort so I chugged along for the experience and education. I kept learning and would enjoy it more and more the more I learned and developed skills. On top of that, my coworkers and I grew very close – I considered them my family.
To alleviate stress about finances, I was proactive and started my private chef business and decided to get back into selling real estate on the side. To my luck, things were happening. I experienced a boom in both my side ventures – so much of a boom that I felt I was being spread too thin and something had to be done about it.
I asked for a raise at Tavern, but it was not possible. Pay in this business is so low because I guess they think we are replaceable (although the girl that replaced me, after searching for a month, quit and I still have not been replaced). I think if I was paid more, I would have stayed and not held other jobs. I would have been committed to just this one job and I would have been happy.
Sure, my restaurant job brought me a lot of joy and happiness in many aspects, but one thing that the restaurant business didn’t bring me was a sustaining income and flexibility, which then led to my ultimate decision to leave.
As I mentioned, I held other jobs at the same time in order to survive financially– I have my private chef business, cooking for clients 5 days a week, and I am back in the real estate business. Since I made commitments to my clients in my other lines of business, like planning/preparing menus and food, delivery…and listing houses for sale and showing homes to clients, I needed flexibility in my schedule and needed to be available to take phone calls. In real estate, time is of essence and I need to make moves fast to facilitate the transaction… but in the kitchen, it was against company policy to have our phones on us. Sadly, I didn’t have the flexibility I needed, holding my restaurant job. I wish I did. It was a tough decision, but one I needed to make in order to be an independent woman.
I had to leave the restaurant. I have to say that I am sad about it because it brought so much joy to my life- the lessons and skills I learned in cooking and baking, the tough love I’d get from my superiors that only made me stronger, the friendships I developed, the broken Spanish that I spoke with dishwashers and prep staff, the goofiness and silliness that emerged out of me that was once caged in me in my former life as an accountant, and my star-strucken-ness with celebs watching us cook through the larder window. It was awesome! Despite all the cuts, burns, and bruises I got in the kitchen, I will never forget the feeling of accomplishment, especially after a busy night’s service. I will never forget the feeling of going into battle…almost feeling like we’d be at war and we needed to prepare before the war in order to complete our mission, the line of tickets that would accumulate at my station. I don’t recall ever screwing up a dinner service. As stressful as it was, it felt great to finish the night with success and with a glass of wine, shot of tequila, or beer in hand.
I was proud to be a part of the Tavern team of cooks. I will never forget the experience and will always be able to say that I helped make the dessert for President Obama’s dinner at Tavern.
Many thanks and appreciation goes out to Suzanne Goin for giving me the opportunity to work within her esteemed family of restaurants, Lucques and Tavern. Although I plan to continue working with Lucques Catering, as of the last week of August, I am no longer a full-time employee of Tavern.
Below, are a few memories I’d like to share… not personal stories we shared in the kitchen, but the actual fruits of our labor. Memories… my tribute to Tavern.
Pictures taken during my last days at Tavern.
I’d get to work by 5am and bake off and set up larder pastries. I now know what it takes to open a bakery/cafe. It takes A LOT of work and sacrifice. Many missed family parties and not spending time with my significant other/family when they’re available. It’s a tough business, but I still loved it.
At Tavern, I was able to work all shifts…I baked off all morning pastries and set up the larder; I worked in production- made doughs, batters, sauces, ice creams, croissants, desserts…everything we needed for service, special orders, and the larder; I plated breakfast, lunch, and dinner desserts, fruit plates, cheese and charcuterie plates.
I once overheard Breanne, our former pastry chef, say we had over 50 items on our production list. Big job. One must be organized to manage all of it! Not only did we make items in these pictures, but for lunch and dinner service. We would also make compotes and pie doughs for the savory side. In the picture above, you’ll see chocolate sables, walnut shortbread, orange pistachio sables, lemon bars, dulce de leche brownies with cashews, famous Tavern chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cookies, molasses/ginger/date cookies, upside down cake with seasonal stone fruit and blacknerry compote, blueberry shortcakes, bran muffins, blueberry muffins, monkey bread, pecan sticky buns, plain croissants, pain au chocolat croissants, walnut bundle croissants (my favorite!), black forest ham and gruyere croissants, pistachio tarts, and the best granola.
Display case that was not fully set up. Before I left, we added more of each item so that the case looked more abundant and plentiful. From top left: crispy thin mint cookies, Tavern’s famous Snicker’s Bar (which was featured this month in Food & Wine magazine), chocolate cake and my favorite carrot cake. From Bottom left: cookie dough logs, caramel chocolate tarts, chocolate-dipped honeycomb, variety of French macarons. We had vanilla, Mexican chocolate, and Coffee. Since we changed to a new pastry chef, Sarah Kang put her creative cap on and developed some awesome macarons- lemon, peach, and some other neat new flavors.
We made the best croissants I’ve ever tasted. The difference is the love we put into them and a secret ingredient. Really, Bouchon and Euro Pain can’t compare. In the above picture, you’ll see the variety of croissants, monkey bread, part of a pecan stick bun, blueberry muffins and blueberry shortcakes. I took a lot of pride in my baking skills. I try out a lot of other local bakeries’ croissants and I always find they have too much color and they start getting dry..they also need more salt. Tavern has the taste and texture down perfectly. If you haven’t tried the pain au chocolat or walnut croissants, you must try them!!!
For brunch, lunch, and dinner I plated cheese and charcuterie plates. I am not a big cheese person (for personal health reasons) but could appreciate their beauty and taste. And, Tavern has wonderful cheese selections and charcuterie, too. They serve 3 and 5 cheese plates, Larder plates which include cheese, charcuterie and other accompaniments, and just plain old meat plates. All are beautifully presented.
One thing you’ll also notice above the cheese case are mason jars of jams that were housemade at the restaurant.
This picture is of Tavern’s larder section, where patrons purchase food at the counter. There are 3 parts to the restaurant- the larder which is a more casual and cafe-like area, the sexy and swanky bar area, and the more formal atrium, where you get a neat feeling that you’re outside, on a patio (but you’re not, it’s enclosed). The building is a lovely space. I once ran into Benito del Toro outside, at the back of the restaurant..I said hi and he said hi back. (:P) .. He was smoking a cigarette and hiding from the paparazzi. He said being at Tavern makes him feel like he’s in a restaurant in Toronto, and he liked it a lot. Not sure what he meant by the Toronto bit – never been to Toronto before…I guess I have to go there to find out. Oh Benito, he has a rugged and beat up look. Nevertheless, I find him attractive…even if he was wearing a muted floral sports coat.
Speaking of style, the designer of the restaurant made the space so elegant and rustic at the same time. And really cool.. he’s on the Million Dollar Decorator show on the Bravo network, Jeffrey Alan Marks. Bravo to him.
At the larder, you can purchase condiments, ingredients that we use in the restaurant, from special honeys, vinegars, and salts, to exotic Colombian and European chocolate and coffees. Also, Suzanne’s book, “Sunday Night Suppers” is available for sale.
Tavern has bread bakers that come in at 7pm, work through the night, and bake off bread fresh as early as 3am…in the very wee hours of the morning. All bread is delivered to the family of restaurants : AOC, Lucques, Hungry Cat, and other restaurants that special order from Tavern, like Momed and the Farm. Patrons can purchase fresh bread daily at the Larder.
I will definitely go back to visit and have meals at Tavern. But for now, so long, farewell my Tavern friends. It was a good time. Thanks for everything. Cheers!
My last night of service with some of my kitchen buddies. They head chef popped open a bottle of champagne and Jose purchased a bottle of taquila for us all to enjoy! It was a very nice last night and celebration with my Tavern team!
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