“High School Baking” – AKA “Path To Immaculate” Part 2
It was during my 9th grade year that I started my second job ever. Originally, I was hired as a dishwasher at a restaurant, but thankfully I was quickly promoted to a “prep cook” position (the regular guy didn’t show up). As prep cook, my duties included things like the making hushpuppy mix, coleslaw, dipping sauces, and desserts. I hadn’t made too many dishes on my own (much less from scratch), but I jumped at the opportunity. At first, it was kind of daunting, but it was either prep food or wash dishes…a no-brainer!
The restaurant had this notebook full of recipes with steps broken down. I was surprised how easy things came together and eventually I got a real boost in cooking confidence. This newfound interest led to further curiosity and experimentation. I decided to expand my repertoire and explore the then very small aisle of cookbooks. I bought books like “The Silver Palate Cookbook” and Jacques Pepin’s “la Methode”. These books took me to another world, a world beyond my small southern hometown. I loved looking at the books and dreaming of dining in Paris, NY, or Rome. At that time, most of the ingredients weren’t available in the South, and I didn’t really understand much of the cooking terminology. Still, my curiosity was high, and I wanted to give it a try. So I began to experiment-substituting items and doing the best I could with what I had. Some dishes flopped, and some ended up in the “to be eaten or taken home by staff” pile. Others were instant crowd pleasers. Luckily the restaurant was pretty low key and appreciated my enthusiasm to expand on the current offerings.
Through all of this, I found the most pleasure in the baking. The restaurant had only two choices for dessert: a New York style cheesecake and key lime pie. I mastered the two offerings pretty quickly. With these basic recipes under my belt and the restaurants blessing, I began to expand the dessert menu. Being a lover of chocolate, my first endeavors were chocolate infused overload. I made a pie that was layered and loaded with nuts, chocolate chips, and marshmallows. It was sort of a rocky road pie (I have a huge ice cream sweet tooth!). It was pretty awesome and people loved it. My second venture was into the salty, sweet world of peanut butter and chocolate. The recipe I followed used a jar peanut butter, but I was insistent on using fresh peanut butter and dark chocolate instead of milk. The result was a rich addictive slice of pure indulgence. From there, I was on my way.
I look back at that first job fondly. I was very under-paid, but the memories, confidence building, and experience that it brought me were priceless. To this day, I still continue to have some of my best ideas either while I’m playing in the kitchen, looking through cookbooks, or wandering the aisles of a specialty cooking store.