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Career Story: Assistant Cook At An Institutional Kitchen

Assistant Cook At An Institutional Kitchen

Job Title: Assistant Cook

Education: none

Previous Experience: I cooked for differently abled members of my community

Job Tasks: I work in an institutional kitchen. During the summer, we serve children's sleep-away camps, and during the year we work with various buisness or religious retreats. I typically work nine hours a day, six days a week, but I get paid by the job, not the hour, so the time can vary depending on the size of the groups we are feeding and the complexity of the meal we are serving.

We serve four meals a day during the week: breakfast, lunch, and dinner for our campers or retreaters, and a seperate lunch for the maintenance crew. All of our meals are served famliy-style, and seconds are always available upon request. A typical meal is a salad, a vegetable, a starch and a meat, sometimes followed by dessert, for example: A caesar salad, peas, steamed potatoes and cod with creamy dill sauce.

On weekends we serve brunch and dinner. Most groups request a banquet sometime during their stay. If at all possible, we schedule these on weekends so that we will have more time to prepare them. A typical banquet is served in courses and consists of an appetizer, a salad, a soup, a main course and a dessert, for example crackers with homemade artichoke dip, a basil tomato and fresh mozzerella salad with a balsamic vinegarette, minestrone soup, stuffed potatoes and apple pork roast with fresh berries and cream for dessert.

As an assistant cook, I help prepare and clean up two meals a day, and run the kitchen on the head cook's days off. I am in charge of making special meals to accommodate any of our campers or retreaters with different dietary needs such as vegetarianism, veganism, lactose intolerance, nut allergies, PKU, etc. I usually try to serve them something relatively close to what everyone else is having. Sometimes this involves research on my part, and working with people to find out what they eat at home and sometimes asking them to teach me how to prepare it.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: I love working with food, trying new things, coming up with new recipes, making art you can taste.

I dislike working with picky eaters and those unwilling to try new foods. Clean up can be unpleasant if done all at once instead of as you go, and sometimes the people in charge of the groups we serve expect specific and highly implausable things from us, and can be difficult to reason with. This is also a job that carries very little prestige, and I am often talked down to after people discover my profession.

Job Tips:
1. Cook for fun, experiment with flavors and spices, learn which ones can be combined and which ones should be kept seperate.

2. Study food-borne pathogens and how to keep them from spreading. Research special dietary needs and how to work around them while maintaining a healthy diet. Work on your knife skills, they are invaluable in a large kitchen.

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