Taj Update!

We’ve been busy at my job the last couple of months with Easter and Mothers Day being big brunch holidays! I’ve been lucky enough to get the chance to practice showpieces and really experiment with new flavors and designs. It’s been a lot of fun! Check out some of the work my teammates and I have been up to!

 

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Burnt Out

Fellow blogging community!

For the past couple weeks, I’ve been feeling a little lackluster with the blog posts feeling like I’m confined to this schedule of posting. I’ve also been feeling like my content is suffering and I’m just writing something for the heck of it. I know that this  is something I completely put on myself but when I decided I needed to make a schedule for more regular posting, I was the one who needed some structure in my life.

Thankfully, I’m in a much better place in my life where I have more of a balance between work and social. I feel like I’m finally comfortable with making baby steps into adulthood whether that’s making regular doctors appointments or buying a new rug for my living room. But it took a long time and a ton of patience to finally feel like I’ve achieved this balance.

I’ve decided that I need to sort of take a step back from blogging on a weekly basis and find the foundation of my voice again. I want to make posts that I’m proud of and excited to write about. I will continue to write about anything food related in my life and of course all of the awkward, weird and cool things that happen in my social life as well. That being said, I do have a few things so share over the next couple weeks, so it’s not a means to an end! I’m just exploring new ways to renew my inspiration and share it passionately with this community. Posts will still appear on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the future!

All of this being said, I think it’s important that us young professionals of the world figure out what that point of exhaustion is and how to avoid it. I spent the first year of my professional life sleeping 4-5 hours a night, working 2 jobs 60+ hours a week, regretting the fact that I didn’t have any time for a social life and only finding solace and control in my ability to go to the gym and write this blog. All of which felt very isolating and quiet.

I kept lying to myself that it was only temporary, that I was paying my dues in the food service industry and making a sacrifice for a better future. And while this is true, everything comes at a cost. I consistently made myself sick and caught colds left and right. I had anxiety about my job every night and would restlessly sleep for the few hours I could catch on a regular basis. I got pink eye from either the gym or the kids I used to babysit which caused me to miss days of work and worry about my paychecks. Not to mention, I got in two very expensive car accidents during the worst winter of my life attributing to my stress thus causing shingles to perpetuate in my body.

I cried by myself, to my roommates and my parents on a daily basis but refused to acknowledge that I had the power to make a change. Through lots of encouragement and persistence, I got a new job and the entirety of my life changed for the better. I cannot stress the importance of caring for and putting yourself first. It isn’t selfish and it isn’t weak. At the end of the day, no matter how much support you have in your life, you’re the only one accountable for you.

You have the power to dictate the way you live your life and seek out what brings you happiness. It’s 100% okay to be lost in that journey. That’s what makes it an adventure. But everything can be adjusted to fit your lifestyle. Thats the beauty of it all.

Happiness is not a limited resource.

 

Post Grad Struggle Bus

Note from Abby: Perhaps Lexy will become a more than once in awhile guest blogger because she’s one of my best friends who also likes to write and I happen to find her extremely hilarious. She’s also sometimes full of sage old woman advice. For all of our fellow post grads out there, this one should hit home!

This May, I will be two full years out of college. Two whole years! That feels like a lifetime to me. When I was accepting awards and handshakes and congratulations from my undergraduate program, I knew that two years out, I’d be settled into my own classroom. Making a difference. Being the One To Watch, as I had been my entire educational career. It seemed like nothing could hold me down. For years, nothing could.

Now, I haven’t lost hope entirely on this dream. It’s just that the sunrays of reality are shedding some much needed light on the path connecting my current vista to where I want to go, up in the clouds. And let me tell you, it is all uphill. I’m no stranger to hard work: I worked three different jobs simultaneously in college, double-majored, and still found time to volunteer. I work two jobs now. I know how to work and still find time to live, even if I feel like I am barely clinging to life. But somehow, I did not ever guestimate that it would be this hard out in the “real” world.

It’s almost like nothing that happened in my life prior to age 23 even mattered. It’s just this unaccounted for time in my development into a post-baccalaureate “real” person. Like, might as well have popped out of the womb wearing a pantsuit or something, because nobody is going to hire me based on anything that happened prior to my college acceptance. It’s not like I founded my own start-up at age 12, or was a computer genius at age 3. According to my mother, it was most miraculous that I started speaking at 18 months, but then I never shut up, so even that’s not super exciting.

I suppose it is exciting that I’m currently employed, and even though my jobs make mediocre use of my talents, I get paid money. That’s cool. I’m sure in 15 years, I’ll look back on my current foolishness and wish I was more grateful. And I am grateful. But I find myself frustrated often at the Universe that my life doesn’t look like My Life did in my head, despite my best efforts all along to be realistic and practical. I fear frequently that the narrative of get-good-grades-go-to-college-get-a-job is horribly inaccurate and only serves to make money for the people who write and promote that narrative, but that is a radical idea that makes me unpopular at dinner parties and in certain political circles.

I know that I am talented. I have this innate talent for teaching and a sincere love of young people, however complex their background or what brings them to me or my classroom. I am patient and gentle and kind, even though when not in the presence of young people, I swear A LOT. I just don’t know yet what type of job will pay me to be these things. Or worse, I will have to work a job that never pays me to be these things, and these qualities will become my “after work hobbies.”

Abby: For the time being, we’ll all have to live in this in-between state of knowing what we’re doing and PRETENDING like we know what we’re doing. Does being an adult get any easier? Do taxes become easier to understand year after year? Every day presents a new challenge and most likely, a new Google search is enterted to figure out how to fix a situation. But at least we’re in it all together, right? All aboard the struggle bus!

Who else is out there feeling the same way? Any suggestions on figuring out your passions and how they can fit within a fulfilling career? On Food for Thought Thursday, I give an update of our winter dessert menu at the Taj Hotel in Boston! You won’t want to  miss it!

Iggys Bread of the World: An Inside Look!

Flour is super cool because every couple of months, a field trip is scheduled for anyone who’s interested. This time around, we were visiting the official site of Iggy’s Bread of the World. Iggy’s Bread is sold ALLLLLLL over New England. I’ve seen their bread at a bunch of liquor stores, Whole Foods, open air markets, and more. Their bread is always fresh and looks soo good, so therefore I was pretty pumped about getting to visit their production site!

410Iggy’s was started 17 years ago in a small bakeshop, only 3,000 square feet where they produced and sold bread at the same location. They really focus on the quality of ingredients and where they’re sourced from, trying to maintain the wholesomeness of the bread baking process. Currently, their production site and storefront is at 130 Fawcett Street, Cambridge MA where they have a 30,000 square foot facility to accommodate their continual rising popularity!

Upon arrival, we got a good glace at the front of house operation- a tiny storefront but still busy with customers coming in and out. Soon after we were shuttled to their back offices to begin our tour. Hair nets donned, we headed to their packaging room.

Every day, that packaging room gets BUSY. Workers are quickly assembling, filling, labeling and organizing the boxes of bread getting them ready to send out for the morning delivery. They start the whole packaging process late at night as the first delivery leaves at 2am. Iggy’s makes a promise to deliver the freshest bread which is why they’re a 24/7 365 bread bakery!

Basically being in disbelief of how large their facility is, we entered their mixing room. As we passed through the doors, we passed their 3 silos full of flour. They then have an automated system where you can punch in how much flour you need which then dispenses the flour into another room. SO COOL! That machine also transports water and can change it’s temperature to accommodate different types of bread. Bread is only made four ingredients for the most part: Water, flour, yeast and salt. These four ingredients are then manipulated in different amounts and times of proofing all to produce different flavors and textures making bread a truly complex process.

402 403The mixing room was temperature controlled so all the bread proofed at the same rate consistently. Alongside the automated dispensing machine were two HUGE mixers that had fork tongs. Usually bread is mixed with a dough hook (the spiral shaped hook) but apparently the fork tongs gently mix the dough to create a more tender crumb.

Next we walked to the largest part of their factory. There were HUNDREDS of rolling racks filled with cooling loaves and rolls and workers shaping and loading loaves ready to be baked. It was so amazing to watch them work and be so in sync! Around the top of the room was a large conveyor belt. So listen up, this part is really cool. When the bread is ready to be taken out of the oven, a machine unloads these HUGE deck ovens and then lifts it up to the conveyor belt which then acts as a cooling system as it travels around the room. Once it makes a full circle, it can be loaded onto other racks for storage until packaging.

404 406 407 408They stick to fairly simple breads and never dabble in gluten free alternatives because it’s “irresponsible business practice” as our guide explained. It seems to me that they’re turning a huge profit so they’re able to really make their business focused on whatever they want!

It was a really cool experience and I’m so lucky to have been able to have had the opportunity. While making bread isn’t really my passion in baking, I’m always looking for the next opportunity to learn and grow within my profession! I hope you enjoyed this post and a special glance into the food service world! Until next time!

Baker Pet Peeves

As a baker, I realize that I work so hard to serve the customers. What the customer wants is what the customer gets. And most of the time, I’m happy to make their day! However, there are moments where my head is about to explode due to specific requests that totally goes against customer etiquette. Here’s a compiled list of my baker pet peeves (because we’re people too, ya know!)
1. If you need to change the serving time of a cake, don’t call 15 minutes before you’re coming to pick it up! Often times the cake isn’t finished because we’re on a very tight time schedule or maybe the cake hasn’t thawed enough to be servable! The earlier you let us know, the better.

2. On another note about time, if you’re making a same day order, you can’t rush the process. Most likely, we’re not going to say no but we can’t always have 100 mini cookies ready for pick up in an hour.

3. I’m on a baking team of 7 and only 4 to 5 of us work at the same time. So basically that’s only 8 to 10 physical hands that produce everything you see on the counter! If I happened to burn the croissants that morning, you can bet I’m more pissed at myself about it. Having a customer be mad because we don’t have them in house isn’t going to help.

4. Insider secret: if you want the mini versions of something, they’re usually 3/4th of the price of a full but only half of the serving. You’re getting jipped. But also, it makes my job a lot more difficult because I don’t make that stuff on the norm.

5. Also along the lines of minis- you can’t eat 7 mini tartlets and feel okay about that because they’re “small” when usually 2-3 minis equals one regular sized tart. EVERYTHING IS A LIE!

6. The mark up on fruit platters is RIDONKULOUS. We hate cutting your fruit for you. Don’t be lazy. (Although it is a good money maker soooo)

7. Don’t buy a single pastry to split with someone and then expect us to cut it in half for you in the back. Will my cutting it make the pieces more even or something? We DO offer utensils out front- you don’t have to eat like a barbarian so use them please!

8. I’ve also encountered orders where people ask for products to be pre-cut in half. Yeah, maybe that makes sharing easier, but it also makes the products look worse. Not to mention that some products aren’t meant to be cut in half which then totally ruins the integrity of the food. I worked hard to make that food so nice; don’t make me mess it up too!

9. Don’t eat 3/4ths of a pastry and then return it because you “didn’t like it”. YOU ATE MOST OF THE GODDAMN PASTRY HOW CAN YOU SAY YOU DIDN’T LIKE IT. Since we’re big on customer service at Flour, we WILL give you another pastry of your choice but we also really hate you big time.

10. Lastly, if you need to cancel your order, call. Don’t not show up and let the product go to waste! Nothing is worse than going into the walk-in and seeing a 14” lemon raspberry cake sitting there from the day before. UGH.

Overall, please please please just remember that food service workers are people too! We work hard to make food that’s both beautiful and delicious and want to make our customers happy. Check back on Tuesday for my review on another awesome Boston find- the SOWA market! 

America’s Test Kitchen!

My first job out of college was with a company called America’s Test Kitchen! ATK is an amazingly huge conglomerate of all sorts of food media- a couple magazine publications, two TV shows on PBS, TONS of published cookbooks and even an online cooking school. ATK is a test kitchen dedicated to finding recipes that work to share with the home cook and also explain WHY they work. It’s a company focused on the fun and education behind food.

I was a total PBS kid growing up since I didn’t have cable. SHOCKER I KNOW. Given that we had 8 channels to choose from, I would watch so many shows on PBS. Throwbacks to Arthur or Zoom anyone? I can even remember memorizing the address for the show Zoom- BOSTON MASS 0-21-34! Send it to Zoom! Totally ironic now that I live here now.

I would spend day and night watching PBS and would watch all the cooking shows with my mom on the weekends which is probably where my interest for food began. DAMN YOU EDUCATIONAL SHOWS! Julia Child and Jacques Pepin were my favorite people to watch and of course America’s Test Kitchen. ATK showed you not only recipes, but they talked food science, kitchen gadgets and product reviews. I LOVE knowing how things work so I was hooked.

I jumped at the chance to work for them so when I saw the internship posting, I knew I HAD to apply even though it was supposed to be a culinary internship. After phone interviews and giving my references, I was one of four interns who landed the job for the spring term.

Photo team!

Photo team!

Part of the kitchen before renovations began!

Part of the kitchen before renovations began!

I was place on the photo team and it was my job to help prep and execute all finalized recipes for the magazines, cookbooks and online cooking school. It was a super cool job! Occasionally, I’d spend a whole day outside manning the grills in sub-zero temps since we tested recipes about 6 months in advance. Other days, I would be able to stand in on the photo shoots and watch the food photographers and stylists works their magic! (Don’t be fooled, their hands touch EVERYTHING!) I occasionally got to switch teams when they needed help and mise/test recipes for Cooks Country, Cooks Country or the Books team.

My little mise station!

My little mise station!

Grill dayyyyyy

Grill dayyyyyy

The coolest part of my internship however, came in May when they filmed the 15th season of America’s Test Kitchen for PBS. They filmed right on our facilities (you’d never know the kitchen was even there from the outside) and set up camp. Our storage room turned into the tech room where the director sat watching and giving feedback during filming. Half of the kitchen was filled with camera and audio equipment as well as craft services which is a fancy way to say FREE FOOD/SNACKS. Our dry goods room turned into the runners area with a live feed tv set up in it so we’d always know what was happening.

Setting up for TV!

Setting up for TV!

The back kitchen was used for prep of the recipes! You know the magic of television, when they pull out a perfectly golden turkey out of the oven after about 3 seconds of cooking? Well, we’d be in the back pushing out these recipes so everything would be ready when they finished filming the talking segment beforehand. We’d have to prep recipes upwards of 15 times- on set, on set back-ups, back kitchen, flash forwards, flash backs, food props, half prepared foods, etc. You could only walk on and off-set when the camera’s weren’t rolling and you could NEVER look directly at the cameras. All the cooks in the background usually were testing their own recipes and actually getting real work done, but sometimes I’d get to stand in and chop some carrots to look busy while the other cooks were doing a tasting or prepping their own recipes.

Prepping for tv... I always wondered what a whole box of lemons zested looked like

Prepping for tv… I always wondered what a whole box of lemons zested looked like

Trying to look busy on set...

Trying to look busy on set…

Waiting off set but still watching the live feed!

Waiting off set but still watching the live feed!

At the end of TV filming, the whole crew gets together to do a rice krispy treat competition! We would split into teams and work together to create the best rice krispies. It was all VERY competitive. Then the filming crew would be the judges in the end. Of course, team intern bonded together (WILL WORK FOR FOOD PROPS) and made a lemon meringue RKT. Sadly, we didn’t win but it was a lot of fun!

286I really loved working there and made some pretty great friends there as well. Most of the work was culinary based so I knew I had to move towards something more in my field but it was definitely an experience I won’t forget! Check out an episode below where I might actually be seen walking around in the background and my name is in the credits! I’M FAMOUS!

ATK Family!

ATK Family!

Bon Appetit and see you all on Tuesday for another post!

Click here to see me in the background in the first couple minutes!

Staging- A Working Interview

Hi Friends!

So as I’ve explained in a past post, staging is an integral part to working/finding jobs in the food service industry. There’s no escaping needing to do a stage when looking for a hands-on job. Stages are used to help determine if you’re a good fit for the company and to see if they’re a good fit for you! Unfortunately, it is all time unpaid (usually many many hours) however, they can prove to be really incredible learning experiences! As I mentioned in my post on Tuesday, I recently was having an existential crisis on where I wanted my career to go next. Did I want to look for work in restaurants and learn plating? Did I want to move more towards food management? Was my learning experience really over in the bakery or did I have more to learn?

The only way I knew to help clarify/answer any of these questions was to start applying for jobs and then spending time staging. I’ve done stages at places that are SO dirty and gross so not only do I NOT want to work there, but I also never want to eat there! Ick! At this point however, I have staged a few different places that I think are worth sharing!

My first stage was at Ribelle, a restaurant I previously reviewed and loved! I could tell that the food quality was very important to the business and all of the staff was so nice that I wanted to spend some time there and see what a typical day was.

A stage can sometimes precede an interview because when you work with someone for 5 or 6 hours, you tend to get a pretty good feeling about the type of person and worker they might be. Upon showing up, I was able to meet the staff and chat a bit about the type of work they do. Finally, I was able to get my hands dirty and help them out! I ended up shaping bagels and bread, scooping cookie dough, prepping thyme milk that would be used as a foam, supreme-ing oranges and grapefruit (this is something that can show your knife skills and attention to detail), and then assisting another pastry cook in prepping other components that they would need for that nights plating. I stayed through the beginning of service and watched them in action as the night began. The pastry cook as helped make the pizzas for order so that was pretty fun to watch! But the best part of the night was plating up different desserts for me to try! It was cool to be able to do a myriad of projects but I was surprised at how laid back the atmosphere was. My current job is so busy all of the time and I constantly multi-task which is what makes my shift fly by. While this was a really fun restaurant, I want to make sure that there’s never a moment where I’m bored or slow. I’m a worker bee and need to be kept busy all the time!

Another more recent stage was held at a place called Commonwealth Cambridge. This place was pretty cool because they weren’t only a restaurant but also a market where people can come and grab anything like sandwiches, coffee, ice cream, local meats and cheese, pretty much any kind of snacks on the run! The restaurant at night basically has a glorified ice cream bar as their dessert menu where you can mix and match different hot and cold components. I wanted to explore here to gain more experience in making ice creams but also the use my creativity to come up with new grab and go items. I went to a stage there for 3 hours where I helped decorate sugar cookies for a catering order. While I liked the staff there and the whole feel of the restaurant/market, it seemed more of a lateral move in career. And at this point, I want something to really challenge me and make me work for it!

The last stage I went to was for a restaurant called Harvest in Harvard Square. This restaurant is full of history- plenty of world renowned chefs spent some of their career there and it has a reputation that can’t be beat! Their current pastry chef, Brian Mercury, has recently been named one of the best pastry chefs in Boston so I couldn’t wait for the chance to spend some time learning from him for the night.

As soon as I arrived, I was put to work making a chocolate cremeux. I also had the opportunity to help mix and shape their house bread, prep some of their items for plating but best of all, actually plate up some desserts for order. There’s such an art to plating and it really is focused on making things beautiful as well as delicious. Here are a couple plates below!

Taza chocolate cremeux with salted caramel center and cookie base, housemade granola, homemade sea salt, malted chocolate sauce and marscapone mousse

Taza chocolate cremeux with salted caramel center and cookie base, housemade granola, homemade sea salt, malted chocolate sauce and marscapone mousse

Citrus Cheesecake with poppyseed biscotti, hibiscus marshmallows, grapefruit gel and meringue shard

Citrus Cheesecake with poppyseed biscotti, hibiscus marshmallows, grapefruit gel and meringue shard

Cheese plate with crostinis, bar nuts, honeycomb, vanilla mango jelly

Cheese plate with crostinis, bar nuts, honeycomb, vanilla mango jelly

Apple and Manchego pie- golden raisin puree, pink peppercorn soaked apple slices, manchego crisps

Apple and Manchego pie- golden raisin puree, pink peppercorn soaked apple slices, manchego crisps

Harvest was such a great place to learn! I’ve decided to continue learning at Flour as my position is changing soon and I’ll be able to learn many of the other stations. But in my free time this summer, I want to practice my own plating and be really creative with things that I find at the market! Maybe I’ll even stage at places for fun just to add to my learning process. I’ll always be a student to this industry!

Thanks for sticking through this lengthy post, but I just get so nerdy and fan-girly about the food industry! Check back on Tuesday for a post about my top favorite bars in Boston! Have a great weekend!