For the past week and a half I’ve been in pastelería. Hasta la pasta, fishy hands! Truth be told, I really wanted to work with Juan, the chef de partida. He is organized, logical and methodical. Sure all the jefes have their moments of berating you on the line if you sprinkle a few too many carrot brunoise but there is rhyme and reason to his madness.

Tejas de Chocolate

Every morning we begin at 8:45am and work in groups of two and three, which Juan assigns the night before. Note the organization. I’ve been assigned to chocolate tempering a few times now and I must admit it is quite nice to start the day ‘tranquilo’, tempering chocolate in the serene, downstairs kitchen versus breaking down dozens of monkfish with a cleaver.


I was fortunate to spend the first week of service on the front line, plating the picas de primero (amuse bouches) of salmón y crémat, the coconut ice cream and the picas de segundo, also known as the petits fours. Funny how much more familiar we are with french culinary terms, eh?


Thankfully I had quick hands working alongside me to mollify Juan’s continuous buzzing in my ear. My pastry brethrens caught me up to speed in the sink or swim environment of “emplatando” (plating) and within two services, the three of us were plating like the musketeers: one for all and all for one.


As with pescado, I particularly enjoy plating for large parties, but even more so in pastelería because we are so organized [thanks to Juan], thus with every movement, we are that much more efficient. Everyone has a specific duty and order in which to carry out the duty, whether it is making a quenelle or spreading rum granita. This way when it comes time to plate, we are in sync and without hesitation. Tak Tak tak and out go tres medio chocolates a mesa grande.


The best part about pastelería so far is the way Juan treats you with respect. No matter how much he has scolded us or how many Spanish insults he has cursed, we still have a debriefing every night to review the day’s work and plan for tomorrow. Moments of tension are short-lived in this kitchen. While the Spaniards and the Basque alike can get very heated in the moment, in the end, they are loyal, humble folks. Every night Juan looks each and every one of us in the eyes, shakes our hands and thanks us for the work we have done. He always tells us we will be better tomorrow. Heck, I should record one of his inspirational talks some time because he sure has a way with [Spanish] words.

One of the most important lessons you can learn about being a jefe is to treat your employees with respect and gratitude. I have the utmost respect for Juan and Martin because they employ this every day and it is what makes them admirable role models and successful jefes.

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