Going into it, I was nervous. I thought I wasn't going to know a lot of their ingredients. But once I stepped into the kitchen, it felt good.
These were some of my fears going into Marcus Samuelsson's kitchens at Red Rooster Harlem and Ginny's Supper Club. I was visiting New York City for a long weekend and had the opportunity to stage under Executive Chefs of both kitchens, Michael Garrett and Jeremie Tomzcak. Although Marcus was out of town that weekend to check up on his new restaurant Norda, in Sweden, he still allowed me the chance to visit his restaurants and work under his chefs for the weekend.
A stage is a brief apprenticeship where you donate your time in a new kitchen for new knowledge. The main reason you partake in a stage, or estage, ("st-ah-je") is because you want to learn under a particular chef of caliber, or a specific trade that you may not know about. Back in the days, there weren't a lot of culinary schools, so young aspiring cooks would go to the chef of an established restaurant and offer to cook for free or for food. Kids as young as 13 years old would start by washing dishes and taking out trash, then gradually move around in the kitchen and learn from every station.
Now staging is more structured and more corporate, and you most likely need some sort of a connection in order to set one up with a well-known chef. One thing is for sure, it's not as glamorous as it may seem; it's hard work and you have to be humble and willing to learn. They can ask you to take out the trash or wipe the floors or clean the fryer, which is one of the worst tasks, or do one particular task for the entire day.
I went into this stage as a first-time professional. I'm an Executive Sous Chef for a large hotel in San Antonio, Texas so I've been cooking for over 15 years, so I wasn't there to learn how to cook. New chefs have the opportunity of learning a vast amount of cooking skills and procedures, while more experienced chefs can perfect their skills, learn new techniques, or see the differences in how kitchens can be run. I didn't know what to expect going into the Red Rooster kitchen, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn as much as I did in such a short time span.
Like I said, I was nervous, but once I stepped into the kitchen I saw some familiar ingredients, similar techniques and seeing how this kitchen was similar to others made me feel comfortable. My first day was in the kitchen at Ginny's Supper Club. I started off doing prep for later that night and their first-ever brunch the following day. I also got a glimpse into some of the ingredients on their regular menu.
At first, I didn't expect the kitchen to be as small as it was, for how many guests they serve each day and for the large staff; but it was very well-managed by Executive Chef Jeremie Tomzcak. Â I noticed all of the orders go out on time and Chef Jeremie makes it a point to also train the wait staff, which is very important. It's nice seeing a chef that cares about service as well as food. I worked my way up from prep and eventually made it to the line that night for dinner service. It was exciting to see how the staff adapted to the new menu for Ginny's and how they put new techniques to work in creating the menu for this new restaurant.
Stay tuned for Part II of David's stage experience at Red Rooster Harlem and Ginny's Supper Club.
Photos: David Roldan
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