"Hot! Behind! Hot Behind!"
One of the first things I learned on my day (September 20, 2007) helping out in the kitchen of Google's Cafe 7 was not to step back when someone's yelling this. Not that I did, but I was warned almost immediately after starting that "behind" meant someone was walking behind you, "hot" meant someone was carrying something hot, "heavy" meant someone was carrying something heavy, and "corner" meant someone was coming around a corner and anyone on the other side should be careful. It's a cozy, compact kitchen and these warnings came in handy. Perhaps the reason one finds few overweight people in food service is because working together in a tight kitchen is difficult, and head chefs hire people who are easier to get around and work with.
I learned a lot during my internship. For instance, I learned that having the right tools makes everything easy. When I made and wrapped sandwiches, the plastic wrap had a fancy slicer to make cutting it much easier than the usual struggle it is at home using a serrated metal blade. Similarly, spreading peanut butter and jelly with a huge spatula that fits inside the containers is effortless. I also learned the handiness of having extra utensils everywhere. If you drop one or need a different one, just grab it. Don't stop to wash and reuse the old one. In short, everything in the kitchen is about efficiency so food can be prepared quickly and at scale--much like Google, I have to say.
I also got lots of practice putting on latex gloves. It's not as easy as I thought. Although the kitchen didn't require gloves, some people wore them. I certainly felt more comfortable assembling messy dishes when I didn't have to worry about the uncomfortable feeling of gooey stuff stuck to my hands. I actually needed to swap gloves a number of times: e.g., I didn't want to get jelly in a ham and cheese croissant, nor did I want to leave chocolate fingerprints as I plated bon bons.
During my internship, I helped out in three main areas of the kitchen: the deli section, the pastry/dessert section, and the food serving line. At each, I chatted with the cook-mentor as I did my best to help.
- Deli Section. Here, I helped Tony M. Google is his first job after graduating culinary school in this area. (It was an externship which turned into a job offer.) He loves the bay area, despite the high cost of living. When he started, he was mostly filling in at other stations; thus, he knew a lot about how things worked and was happy to share. He was very friendly, helping alleviate my nervousness as his station was my first of the morning. We chatted while I helped make ham and cheese croissants, make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cleaned and marinated portobello mushrooms, and cut bread for make-your-own sandwiches. I was impressed that he made peanut butter and jelly from scratch, including roasting peanuts and even knowing how to fix it when the peanut butter consistency looked a little wrong. Kudos to Google for making peanut butter in-house. Also, kudos for using Acme Bread.
- Pastry Section. Here, I helped Elizabeth K. Basically, she did all the hard work. I added fruit compote (macerated berries) (which she made) to slices of a rosemary olive oil cake (which she made) and plated or boxed the results. I also dipped bon bons, which took a lot of practice and, even with practice, didn't look as perfectly symmetrical as hers. While I assisted, we chatted. She came to work at Google from a fancy restaurant, Viognier in San Mateo, following Scott G, the executive chef, when he left to join Google. She told me most culinary professionals switch jobs every year to get a variety of experiences and acquire knowledge; she's similar, holding six jobs in the six years it's been since she graduated culinary school. She's worked at Google for a bit more than a year, saying, almost apologetically in explaining her longer presence, that she likes this job the best of all the ones she's had. Cooking since she was a kid, she wants to open her own pastry shop eventually. Right now, she's still living in San Mateo, commuting to Google, and becoming a vegetarian. We spent a while chatting about restaurants in San Mateo, and how she's become snobby about food when going out to eat.
- Serving line. I and the other culinary intern at Cafe 7 helped serve googlers entrees and vegetables. It was a lot more fun than I expected. I was worried I'd be awkward and uneasy interacting with all those people I didn't know. Instead, I enjoyed knowing my role and being helpful. A few coworkers who didn't know I was interning happened to come to Cafe 7. They did double-takes. The best comment I heard was, "thinking about another career?"
The lunch crew arrives early (6am?). Because I was only assisting and because I guess they didn't want to scare us off, they asked me to arrive at 8:30am.
When I arrived I changed into the special non-slip shoes Google bought us. Apparently some kitchens have slick floors, and people wearing regular shoes have had difficulties (accidents?) in the past.
I also changed into the white chef's coat Google bought me. It even has my name emblazoned! This has got to be the best piece of Google schwag I ever received. I'll show it off when cooking at home with friends. In the cafe, however, it made me feel a little uncomfortable--although all other workers had similar coats, mine was one of only a few that had its wearer's name emblazoned, making me feel a bit uncomfortably privileged. (Nevertheless, I certainly wouldn't trade my coat for a nameless one.)
I asked how the cafe plans its menus and orders its food. They always run out of food, often simply by putting leftovers out on snack trays in mid-afternoon. Meals are scheduled a few weeks in advance. According to the pastry chef, generally pastry is the only station that can and does things occasionally at the last minute due to surprise offerings from suppliers of fresh ingredients (e.g., peaches). Often the sous chef plans the entire (non-pastry) menu. For instance, although the person running deli makes the sandwiches, he only gets to give some input into the sandwich selection, not making the final decisions himself.
Addendum: I'm told, "The majority of kitchen staff do not have their name on a coat because the logistics of washing monogrammed coats and returning them to the right person are too complicated. With plain -- unnamed -- coats, the laundry is much simpler to do."