This week’s obsession: Kitchen Etiquette
I’m baaaaaaaaaaaaack!!! So sorry for abandoning you with no warning – I flew off island for two glorious weeks to attend weddings, kiss babies, and bask in the love and support of my incredible family and friends.
While I was off enjoying my life, I did just a tad bit of baking: a wedding cake for one of my dearest friends. Flying in with just a limited amount of equipment made it a little challenging but it was nothing earth shattering. I did, however, encounter a situation that has happened several times before, so I would like to shed some light on it if I may. One of the toughest things I’ve ever done as a pastry chef is share a non-commercial kitchen with someone who has clearly never worked in a kitchen before (well that and getting people to actually use my hard earned title of Chef. Never once have I introduced myself as a professional baker, but that’s all people seem to be able to call me. I have my own theories on why that is, but that’s a rant for another day).
I suppose that because I’ve had professional kitchen skills drilled into my head repeatedly, it never really occurred to me that health and sanitation skills do not come naturally to all people. Self preservation apparently doesn’t either (i.e. if I’m taking a cake out of a hot oven, maybe don’t stand directly behind me to watch [seriously is this something that some people find interesting? Taking a cake out of an oven?? Really?!] so that you immediately get burned when I turn around holding said cake, because you will get burned and I’m not going to apologize to you for you being a moron.) I also want to share some basic sanitation rules with people, because those don’t seem to be in abundant supply either.
For starters, human hands are FILTHY. I mean down right disgusting. You’ll notice that if you slice a loaf of bread and in the next day or so it molds, the mold will appear first in the places you touched it. That’s because our hands carry way more bacteria than most of us are prepared to grasp, and this is why you MUST wash your hands any time you handle food. If you ever watch me working in a kitchen (and if you do I’ll ask that you don’t make it obvious, please, because my anxiety ramps up when people stare while I work; usually because they almost always start talking down to me like they know more about what I’m doing than I do and it takes a lot of effort not to stab someone when they do that. I work with knives and fire on the reg. It’s prudent to be nice #justsayin ;) you’ll notice that I wash my hands every few minutes. Part of it might be the result of a slight compulsion because I can’t stand having sticky hands or smearing flour/sugar/butter/etc. on other surfaces, but a lot of it is because I know that by handling food products I am responsible if someone gets sick.
However, even if I’m going to such extremes to keep everything clean and sanitary, it won’t do a damn thing if someone sticks their unclean fingers in my bowl of frosting or if they lick my spatula while I’m not there. (I can’t say for sure that both of those things happened this weekend, but I came back to people hovering around my work station whilst licking their fingers, and my spatula was sort of clean and was no longer in the bowl of frosting that suspiciously had the plastic wrap removed from the top. All I’m thinking when I see that is 🤢🤬. Gross. Also I hadn’t put the outer layer of frosting on the cake yet, so I was worried about having enough to finish the cake. Something else that you should do in a kitchen is ask before you start eating dish components!)
Also another rule that I would like to share (because I observed this weekend that this one apparently is NOT common sense either) is do not come into the kitchen to brush your hair while someone is preparing food 🤦🏻♀️I really hope I don’t have to explain why, but seriously - contain your hair stylings to any other room but the kitchen. And of course regardless of hair color or texture, if your hair weasels its way into whatever I’m making, people will only yell at me. I’ll thank you for not getting me a bad rap.
The next thing that I would like to remind people is that if someone is working and is VISIBLY stressed out, it’s probably a bad idea to insert yourself into the situation (especially if it’s occurring in a very small space) to say “oh can I take a picture” or “can I see? I just want to look!” because I promise that’s not helping. Just wait until it's presented.
The situation I’m referring to is when I delivered the cake about an hour before the ceremony (this is atypical. I usually will recommend having the cake delivered several hours before a wedding, but given our very casual circumstances, I wasn’t too worried about bringing the cake over that early) so that the designated person could do the fresh flower arrangement. Usually I sketch out most of my cakes so I have a good idea of how I want them to look, but since someone else was appointed to do the decorating for this wedding, I skipped that step. And you should know that I’m pretty against putting non-edible decorations on my products - especially when those decorations could have been exposed to pesticides - but because this was my very close friend and I wouldn’t have been able to pack more supplies to decorate it on my own anyway, I agreed to the real flowers.
However, the person who was supposed to do the flower arrangement on the cake looked at me like I was crazy when I told her that the cake was ready for her to decorate. She told me that she was absolutely not decorating the cake 🤯 #PANICMODE In all honesty, I can’t blame her for not wanting to do it. It’s a very intimidating job, and typically professional florists create and place the arrangements for cakes, so I was just as out of my element as she was.
I had no sketch for how I wanted to make the cake look, and I've never worked with fresh flowers before so my hands immediately started to shake because I was stressed out, which is a really terrible trait for someone who needs to use their hands in stressful situations like this to make things look pretty. So with visibly trembling fingers and a considerable amount of stress sweat (TMI, I know, but it's a constant in my life), I started trying to figure out a design for this cake, but of course that's when people started coming up to me asking to take photos of the unfinished cake. Fortunately one of the bride’s friends who I just met the day before stepped up, elbowed those people aside, and together we arranged the greenery on the wedding cake before imbibing in a large solo cup or two of wine to steady my hands.
With all of that being said about how stressful/frustrating it can be to have other people in your space while working on big projects, it did allow for some fun moments like letting the bride (and friends) lick the bowl of her wedding cake batter and frosting for a fun preview of what they would all be enjoying the next day.
Also, I do have to give a huge shout out to the person who obviously DID work in a kitchen because she made a conscious effort to stay out of the space I was working in for the most part, but when she did need to move past me she announced, “behind you!” I almost dropped my spatula and kissed her out of gratitude.
This is a statement that people in kitchens say all the time to let their coworkers know that there is someone walking through their space, which prevents those in action from colliding with an unexpected person and maybe dropping food, receiving accidental burns, and/or occasional stabbings if you're unfortunate enough to work with someone who does not have knife skills training. By communicating your whereabouts as you move through tight kitchen spaces, especially if you are carrying something that is scalding, extremely heavy, sharp, or all of the above, you’re protecting yourself and all of your coworkers from catastrophe. It shows consideration for other people in the workspace, which is a great trait to have.
So please PLEASE keep all of this in mind if you ever find yourself in a situation where a chef is working in the kitchen. Your best bet is to pour yourself a drink and have a seat.
Now that I have imparted my wisdom, please enjoy some outtakes from the wedding! We had a blast, and it was so awesome to spend time with my friends again! Congratulations, Hadley and Ian!