10 Things I Learned in 30 Days at Marina Social
I did a bit of a disappearing act last month. And it was the best decision I made in a long time (probably since I started my blog). I ended up doing a 30-day internship in the pastry kitchen at Marina Social. Jason Atherton's one and only UAE venture (as of now. You just never know, The Social Company seems to be expanding faster than the universe lately). The menu has Jason's signature style sprawled all over it - seasonal, quality produce, Mediterranean nudging against true Brit, rich, sticky, carby things presented flawlessly, and a dessert menu to die for. Which is why I had been eyeing this internship for a while - A year, to be exact, but don't even get me started on that story - it deserves a blog post of its own! And if it weren't for Tristin Farmer (Chef Patron) sorting my life out, it would have never happened.
Despite it being on hold for so long, it ended up happening at the perfect time. Life can be funny sometimes. I've been a bit bogged down and confused with work lately - Looking for a kitchen space, meeting with investors, making business plans, thinking about the future - It was all just a bit... Overwhelming - When did life become so serious?! I just wanted to not to see anyone, not speak to anyone, and go back to doing what I loved in the first place - cooking; and not have to be the boss for just a minute. But the question remained... Nadia, how are you going to juggle Marina Social with blogging, cakes and catering orders? (I don't know why I insist on being superwoman all the time.)
It's just a month, right? I can just not sleep for a month. That's not too long... I used to do it all the time in university during my late teens. No problem...
...Yeah... Turns out it was a problem. My late teens were 6 years ago! *Gasp*... Who was that girl?!
I just don't have the stamina I used to. I need at least 6 hours of sleep a night or I just don't function properly. Dare I say, I'm getting old *sigh*. And for that month, my alarm would ring at 6am and my day wouldn't end till about 2 or 3am, I found myself falling asleep on my laptop while replying to emails, and in the shower with shampoo lathered in my hair, toothbrush in hand, I had to blast the music in my car to stay awake while driving home (Probably not my most responsible decision), and coffee was my BFF.
But... It was so very worth it. I don't regret it for a second, And here's 10 things I learned along the way:
1. I don't look like I'm cut out for a kitchen.
I don't know what it is about me - The way I talk? The way I look? The fact I have a blog? All of the above? Who knows! When I was working at the Fairmont I found out people were betting on how many months I'd survive - Turns out I resigned after they'd all left. Having said that - It didn't take long at all until I felt like a part of the team at Marina Social, I was definitely welcomed with open arms - Being taken seriously took a lot longer of course, but that's fair, something like that has to be earned anyway.
2. Service is like a well oiled machine... Or at least it should be.
So this was the first time that I was actually doing service. I've always been in production, and I had nailed that aspect of the kitchen, but service is a whole other ball game - It's actually quite fun, an adrenalin rush, if you will, and it takes a lot of teamwork. No matter how much you plan and organize yourself, everything WILL happen at the same time and you'll just have to deal with it. On the nights you have a function in the private dining room, the rest of the tables will order dessert at the exact time that you have to plate 20 desserts for that function; and in that moment you'll also get a table that decides to come sit at the dessert bar... Seriously? *eye roll*. The worst nights would be when we wouldn't get any orders till 10pm. We would look at each other, wide-eyed, because we knew what was coming next... Thankfully though it was all-hands-on-deck, and I wasn't held back by anyone at any point when it came to helping out during service. I was assembling brunch desserts and making soufflés on my first day; and plating dishes by my second - There's no better way to learn than throwing yourself into the deep end.
3. Open kitchens can be really tricky.
You know those dim lights that make everything all warm, fuzzy and romantic in restaurants? ...Yes... It's a nightmare for us. we had to position ourselves under the few spotlights at the dessert bar to actually see what we were doing! Not only does Marina Social have an open kitchen, but it has Dubai's first ever Dessert Bar, which means people come up and sit right in front of you, and watch... Everything! We had to stop production, be extremely neat and tidy, mind our language and actually interact/socialize.
4. The service staff isn't given enough credit.
Ultimately, the service staff is the kitchen's way of communicating with the customer (& vice versa), and an integral part of making service run smoothly. With the same number of people in a restaurant, depending on how the reservations are taken and the rate at which the orders are punched in the system, the outcome of service can be very, very different. There's a method to the madness and a delicate balance behind it all, right down to the table you're allocated to when you walk in. So next time, (and I am personally guilty of all the things I'm about to say), think twice about showing up late for a reservation, walking in without a reservation, asking to change your table (because that would ultimately move you onto someone else's station), getting annoyed when your order is taken 5 minutes later than it should be (they could be stalling on purpose if the kitchen is backed up), or if your food arrives a little behind schedule. Okay. Sometimes it really is just bad service, but sometimes, there's a reason behind it.
5. It's ironic how horrible chefs' eating habits are.
This took me right back to my Fairmont days. When your job is to make mind-blowing food for other people and you're in the kitchen all day, you'd think you'd make time for some semi-decent food for yourself! The hotel cafeteria was just... not working for me, to be polite. And when you're on your feet working you just don't feel like eating much, but you'll have about 5 cups of coffee of course, (I really wanted to collect all the empty cups of coffee that were consumed by the whole staff in one day and take a nice flatlay ... But sadly that never ended up happening #BloggerUrges). By the time you get home, you realize just how hungry you are. But the problem is you're also so exhausted that you just end up eating whatever's in your fridge and go to bed... Bad dieting 101.
6. There's different levels of discipline when it comes to kitchens.
Some are easier to work in than others, it all depends on the senior staff, the standards they set and how many shortcuts they allow. Obviously michelin star kitchens are a lot more particular than your average restaurants, the amount of checking and supervising done by the sous chefs is intense and you can't really get away with anything that's not up to par. Before anything leaves the kitchen and goes into the customer's mouth it should be tasted by one of the senior staff.
7. Restaurant kitchens trump hotel kitchens.
(This coming from a girl who has a hotel background.) Although I must admit, the moments of peace and quiet that I would get when I went down to the hotel bakery to use their industrial mixer were gold; before coming back up to the crazy busy kitchen that is Marina Social... Felt like a tornado hit me sometimes. Yes, I learned a LOT while I was working in hotel kitchens, my speed in production increased tenfold and the range of production is much more than in a restaurant, they definitely have their pros. But ultimately that adrenalin isn't there, it's just not as fun and the team spirit is a bit lacking as well, you tend to feel like a nobody because the operation is so large.
8. Soufflés are one of the best & worst things you can have on a menu.
I used to say a little prayer every time a soufflé would go in the oven. It can be incredibly frustrating because there's so many different factors that could ultimately be causing it to flop, and it's impossible to know exactly which one it is. Even if you knew, you can't fix it during service. But when you get it perfect, there's just no better feeling, and it seems to impress diners every time.
9. People don't understand this industry.
It's really not so glamorous to be a chef in a restaurant or hotel! The truth of the matter is it's a lifestyle choice. It's long and obscure hours, you're always on your feet, working weekends and holidays is normal, the staff turnover is rapid and on top of that it's not easy to find good chefs to replace the ones who have left. Especially if it's senior staff, because ultimately it's not just about being a good cook. It's so much more than that. It's speed, teamwork, leadership, supervising and teaching all-in-one.
10. Sometimes it's good to take a step back and get some perspective.
It's easy to get lost in work, life (and blogging), and forget why you're doing something in the first place. You'll be surprised how much you can actually fit into your schedule if you prioritize and give up a little (okay; a lot) of sleep. But it's worth it in the end to get some perspective or re-evaluate. And that can come in different ways - If you're normal - A beach vacation, some much needed family time, some much needed alone time... In my case it was very little sleep, lots of coffee and going back to the basics of what I love... But people are different I guess!!