Cody Middleton, one of the pastry chefs of the Polo Club of Boca Raton, encourages chefs to try new dishes and techniques when the club is slower to help improve the operation when business heats up again.
For seasonal clubs, the offseason is the time of year that chefs at seasonal clubs look forward to. After the grind from the season, this slower time is a chance to recover, spend more time with family and friends, go on vacation, and strategize for the upcoming season. It can be easy to use the months during the offseason for leisure, especially when we have to buckle-down during the season and are often doing the same thing for consistency and efficiency sake. But utilizing this time to try and test new ideas with the membership and cross-train with employees in your department builds one’s personal skillset and also builds a safety next in the case someone gets sick during the season.
One of my instructors in France told our class, “The best pastry chefs aren’t necessarily the ones that are perfect at every aspect of pastry. They are the ones who are able to be the jack-of-all-trades because they adequately understand the fundamentals necessary to produce an array of products across the pastry spectrum.”
From breads/viennoiserie, cakes, chocolates/confections, pies, tarts, cookies, and pastries, there are endless niches within the pastry field. More so for independent bakeshops than for country club, a chef may quickly find his or her day-to-day routine monotonous. While this is a good way to master a certain skill and learn how to do it efficiently, stepping out of one’s comfort zone is definitely a breath of fresh air.
Recently I had the opportunity to work in our bakeshop here at The Polo Club of Boca Raton (Fla.) while our baker went to France for a few weeks. Bread was initially one of my first interests when I started my career. I was once told by one of my instructors that I should become a “baker” instead of a “pastry chef” because there weren’t enough bakers in the industry.
Needless to say, I was glad to accept the responsibility and challenge. Like anything that you don’t practice regularly, you naturally lose some of the finesse and muscle memory associated with the task. The hands-on and “living” aspect of bread production was something I had missed. Bread is without a doubt very mise en place oriented. Bread waits on no one. So working in the bakeshop helped me to improve upon a skill that is applicable in each and every part of the industry. It was gratifying to see and feel the improvement I was making each day I worked in the bakeshop. It’s funny how you are still able to pick-up old skills after a few times of doing the task. I will definitely miss the hands-on learning and improvement I was able to accomplish during my time in the bakeshop, but I know the skills I used will be utilized later in my career.
Working in my coworker’s shoes also gave me further appreciation and respect for the role each person plays in the grand scheme of the pastry department here at Polo. Being able to practice and build upon my repertoire is something I never turn down. No one ever got better by sitting on the sidelines.