From the kitchen

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The decision went like this: "Okay, head to class now, or... " I glance over at the simmering basil syrup in the works, and the strawberries blending in the robo-coupe ..."just stay here."

"Here" was the kitchen, and "class" was college. And finally, I decided to stay "here," because it seemed like a good idea. Because I want to learn things they don't teach in most colleges. Because my heart and mind are in the kitchen.

Fast background: I (aka: Tyler the Intern) have played culinary bouncy ball around Denver restaurants for a few years, started blogging for Cafe Society last fall, and graduated from Johnson and Wales with a culinary degree in December. But in the eyes of most chefs, having a culinary degree is like having a venereal disease: No one wants to get too close, and everyone is suspicious of your decision-making abilities.

I ended up going to the University of Colorado while working at a restaurant in Boulder. And about four months ago, as another semester approached and corporate cuts hit the kitchen, I threw my glove on the ground, went up to my exec chef and said, "I want to be sous."

Then I stammered on like a drunk toddler about motivation and dedication and whatever else you say to your boss when you ramble on about wanting a job. And that got me thinking about all the things that a sous chef should be able to do, things that I wasn't sure I was capable of doing. I came up with a long list, but here's the short version:

1) Hold down the grill and saute stations (not necessarily at the same time) on a night when the restaurant does at least two turns.

2) Confidently order food for the next day and not sound like a confused monkey-child.

3) Come up with specials off the ingredients at-hand.

4) Feel like you have respect in the kitchen. You really have to earn the right to not have the dishwasher try to hump you all night.

5) Come up with staff meals five or six days a week. It's not something you really ever think about, but it's tough, especially with a smaller menu. Try coming up with five completely different complete meals that don't contain garlic or onion (don't want to mess up the server's breath). I'm still waiting to catch them off-guard and drop a French fry salad on their asses.

So this fall, I'm leaving college and going full-time into the anti-environment of a classroom. I've worked in kitchens plenty before, but have never devoted all my time to it. How will I react? Am I ready to dive in? Can I actually get it? Will I be a cascading train wreck of failure?

I don't know, but we're about to find out. Check this space often for updates on my trials and tribulations from the kitchen, Under Fire.

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Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


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