What I've Learned After a Year in the Kitchen
June 15th was my official one year anniversary of working in the Manresa kitchen. One year has flown by at an incredible rate. It went by so quickly that I feel exactly the same as I did a year ago. But when I analyze where I was a year ago in terms of skills, technique and knowledge, I know I’ve learned a ton. Compared to others that I work with, one year in fine dining is nothing. It definitely means I still have a lot catching up and learning to do.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’ve grown and what I’ve learned. Here are a few of my thoughts:
1. Everybody makes mistakes
This is a really big one for me. I overthink everything. I dwell on it for days or weeks, sometimes months. I’ve had to work really hard to recognize my mistakes when they happen, learn from them, and let it go. Everybody messes up. It’s what you do about it after that makes all the difference.
2. Always work to improve
I’m going to be honest. A lot of what I do day-to-day doesn’t change. Each week follows a pretty steady pattern. Some are more busy or stressful than others. So instead I’ve been focusing on improving each task I do. Test a new way of doing something to improve the technique (sometimes they fail). Ask more questions to learn something new. Push myself to work faster or more efficiently. Take extra time to keep things organized and neat. Like I said, sometimes I fail at this —I get busy or tired or in a funk or whatever. But each week’s a new week and I’m trying to not let myself get complacent.
I’ve learned more crap about knives in the last year (even in the last couple months) than I ever thought there was to learn. There are all these types of knives for different purposes, different steels, ways of sharpening and caring for them. And it’s all so important to know. I’ve definitely learned the hard way that not having a well-cared for knife can make getting stuff done a lot harder and take a lot longer (see #2). Investing more (time and money) in knives has helped immensely. And I have only scratched the surface.
This has been the hardest for me. I’ve said this before, but I feel incredibly fortunate to be in the Manresa kitchen, because (as we were reminded at a staff meeting the other night) it’s a nice kitchen. We are all expected to speak nicely and respectfully to each other. I think I’m pretty good at that. But I’ve also been reminded that I can be too nice (oops) to the point where people take advantage. I have a hard time speaking my mind or telling people what to do. I don’t like bossing people around. Part of that’s my lack of experience, but a big part is just my personality. However, this is another area I think I’ve improved in and learned a lot about from watching the others around me and how they interact with each other. I still have a lot of improving to do, but I think I’ve definitely gotten better in a year.