Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Interview: Part Two

This term, Thursdays start for me with pastry production from 6am to 11, a break till noon, followed by "Intro to Cooking Techniques" - a classroom class taught by one of my favorite chefs at the school. Not only do we get out of class an hour early, he even makes us mac and cheese. Straight up, nothing fancy, nothing added to it. Basic bechamel with cheddar mixed in with elbow macaroni and parmesan on top that provides a lovely crust upon baking. Delicious.

I came home for a quick change and headed straight to the Blockley for my interview with the chef, Ross Esner.  I navigated my way around the back of the building, where two men making chitchat told me I was in the right spot (a sign in the front had informed anyone trying to get to the Blockley to go around back, without mentioning where it was in relation to the Korean restaurant that's also around back). The first people I come to are two of the men I originally interviewed with, in a small office to the left. They're going over what no doubt is stacks of applications and resumes. I swallow my nerves, yet again, throw a big smile and say hi. They look up and see me, saying hi back, and Nick the tall one even says, "I told you we'd put in a good word for you." They send me off to the main room where the chef is giving people walkthroughs.

I see no one other than a middle-aged Mexican man filling out an application by the bar, wearing jeans, sneakers, and a letterman jacket. It looks to be a waiting game, just as before. Fortunately for me though, a few minutes later two more people join us - the first guy I actually know. He worked at Distrito with me, where I spent a total of about two weeks before being laid off back in October, and also goes to The Restaurant School. He immediately heads over to talk to me, and we share our knowledge on this new restaurant, the chef, and the menu. It's not only calming, but passes the time. Frank has a habit of giving me his number, despite knowing that I live with my boyfriend. He gives it to me again, "in case you change your mind," and I laugh and tuck it into my purse pocket.

The other job hopeful that came in behind Frank was another guy that looked to be in his mid-twenties, good looking with a plaid shirt, jeans, and some of the strangest shoes I'd ever seen on a man. Finally, the chef appears with a few other candidates, and it's easy to indicate which one is the chef. Not by attire, no - he's wearing dusty boots, jeans, and a denim jacket - but the other three men all seem to have that hope and desperation that seems to emanate from people going into an establishment looking for a job. He finishes talking to them individually to go over their resumes, and tells us he'll take us all on a walkthrough.

It starts off in what is to going to be a small kitchen, back behind the stage, in charge of the food for the bar area. He also explains that there will be an AM crew that comes in and bangs out the prep - breaks down proteins, etc. Night crew will have a small list of responsibilities. Typical set up so far. Then he leads us through a hidden walkway into the restaurant next door. Here is an open kitchen, where the menu will be much more seasonal with higher prices, and more focus on the service. The bar will have more of a set menu - sandwiches, salads, wings - but all done well. As Chef Ross says, "The food's gonna kick ass." He finishes explaining his plans, and takes us full circle back to the bar, where he takes us aside individually.  I'm very thankful that Frank is here - his presence and being able to talk to someone while I wait has given me far less time to build up nervousness.

"Tell me about yourself. Why do you want to cook?" Esner has an oddly shaped nose, scraggly dark hair, and a sense of comfort and confidence about himself.
"Well," I say, scratching my head, "I fell in love with food a couple of years back. I worked at a coffeeshop owned by an Indian family and the owner made a lot of things from scratch. We did soups every day, and baked, and it was the first time I really started getting into it. I played around at home a lot with food. Eventually, I changed my decision to go to school in Memphis for sound engineering to follow this instead."
"The live music will be good for you then," he says. "Why did you change your mind?"
"I was a band geek in high school. I thought I could kind of play off of that, but in the end I realized that this was something I really thought I could be better at."

He nods and thinks. 

"Well, as for me, I'm involved with a couple places already. I closed up Django, a small BYOB, a few months back after having it 3, 4 years." He tells me about the place not turning a profit - something he partly believes was because of not selling alcohol - and how hard it was seeing everyone else get a paycheck but himself. Eventually he couldn't do it anymore.

He then asks me what days I can't work, and what my comfort level is. I tell him I'm a bit nervous about grill - I've never worked a grill station, and I'd be more comfortable on saute. Somehow I also say that I'm fine grilling a whole fish, and I'm not entirely sure how that happened. But the most exciting part, the part that made me call and squeal to one of my friends on my way home, was when he told me he'd be happy to have me take over the pastry area of the menu and put my stamp on it. He says there are some things he definitely wants to do - bread pudding, sticky toffee pudding, baked alaska, and apple cobbler. All simple, all tasty things that people won't be put off by. (Well that's not completely true - people are generally freaked out by baked alaska if they don't know how easy it really is.) No problem, I think. Some ideas have already popped into my head while we speak.

He writes the days I'm available onto my resume, as well as "pastry" at the very top. 

"I'll e-mail you the menu and be in touch." I can't help my smile at this point, shake his hand once more and thank him.

I leave the soon-to-be-restaurant with a quick wave to Frank and a bounce in my step.

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