Tonight’s jelly will be served with a straw: My (mis)adventures as a cook.

May 25, 2011

You know you’re having a bad day when elderly women complain about your balls being too small.

I’ve been working weekends in the kitchen at a seniors’ residence and, of all the things that can go wrong, you’d think serving up balls of ice cream on jelly would be the least of my problems. Apparently not.

Working in a professional kitchen, preparing two meals a day for more than 50 people, is a significant achievement for me, considering there was a time in my life when, if I couldn’t toast or microwave something, I ate it raw.

My move up the food chain started in 2002 when, in a moment of pure madness, I put my hand up when friends were looking for someone to manage their B&B. Suddenly, I was cooking something called Smoked Salmon Scramble. I was making my own muesli and omelettes.

Soon after, I started preparing our personal meals as well. With Viking Woman working at a real job all day, it seemed only fair that I take over the kitchen duties. I actually enjoyed the idea of creating something yummy – although the time I substituted bran flakes for corn flakes on the Crispy Chicken was a bit of a misfire. Lesson learned: not all flakes are created equal.

But none of my previous experience prepared me for the kitchen I’m in now. For starters, I was used to feeding no more than six people at any one time at the B&B, and that, by definition, was only breakfast. On the domestic front, I was cooking for two.

Now, as I mentioned, I have 50-plus mouths to feed. My first lesson: don’t keep seniors waiting for a meal. Gathering in the dining room three times a day is a major social event. You do not want to bugger that up.

I’m suddenly roasting meat, something I’ve never done in my life. I’m making mashed potatoes and Quiche Lorraine and all sorts of dishes that Viking Woman and I have never bothered with in our make-it-cheap/make-it-fast approach to meals.

Sure, there are recipes and directions, and I’ve picked the brain of the kitchen manager, madly scribbling notes while she demonstrated the size of a smidgeon or the volume of a pinch. And then my jelly doesn’t set, even though I followed the instructions to the letter. Anything remotely liquid tends to splash everywhere, so I’m constantly cleaning up messes. And the soup that does nothing while I stand over it somehow manages to boil over the very instant I turn my back.

Hell’s kitchen? Welcome to my world.

There is, however, one bright spot in all this culinary chaos. As maddening as being the weekend cook has been at times, it is a step up from when I worked in the facility’s laundry.

Now, at least, I’m dealing with food as it goes in as opposed to when it comes out.

I’m going to hang onto that positive thought the next time I’m scrubbing egg yolks off the walls.

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