Monday, April 11, 2011

Steer Boot Camp - Summary "Respect"

This post is a summary of my experiences and learnings at "Boot Camp" at Steer Bar and Grill in South Yarra. You can read more about how I got the opportunity to work in a commercial kitchen for a week and also about my previous days in the links below.

How I got to work at Steer
Steer Boot Camp - Day 1 "It's All New To Me"
Steer Boot Camp - Day 2 "Food, Lots of Food"
Steer Boot Camp - Day 3 "So That's How You Do It"
Steer Boot Camp - Day 4 "Show Time"
Steer Boot Camp - Day 5 "Cabin Fever"
Steer Boot Camp - Day 6 "Front of House"
Steer Boot Camp - Day 7 and 8 "A Drink, Sir?"

"What have you learnt?" That's the question that all my friends, family and colleagues have asked me about my stint at Steer. I've learnt many things, from practical useful things such as being more proficient at using a knife, making bernaise sauce, shucking oysters, opening a bottle of wine and how to make a cocktail. I've also learnt about how a commercial restaurant operates, seeing how the kitchen, front of house, bar and administration all need to mesh together for a restaurant to function.

Each section of the restaurant has it's peculiar characters, each a joy to work with...most of the time. The chefs in the back kitchen were a lot of fun, passionate, crazy and hard working. In the front of house, again the guys and girls were all fun and hard working. Each person who was in the restaurant all knew the amount of work that they needed to do and what they wanted out of the restaurant. People were all at different stages of their career, and having gone through different experiences in other restaurants. Some had a clear end goal that they wanted to achieve, others were happy to live for the moment at that particular moment, and others were ready to go onto different things.

I would say that I was particularly drawn by the chefs, as they are the heart and soul of any restaurant. Without chefs cooking innovative and delicious food, no restaurant would exist. I think the passion for food was also strongest in the chefs, with many choosing the profession from a young age. What hit me most, and I always knew it but seeing it really made it sink in, was that being a chef is such a hard profession. The hours are so long, the work tiring and hot and the payback very tumultuous. Some nights a service goes well, diners are happy and you feel happy. The next night, it could all fall apart and you feel awful. In terms of monetary renumeration, it's a sad reality that they make less than minimum wage once you factor in all the hours. As one chef told me, if they were to be paid wages in line with their hours, no one could afford to eat out at restaurants.

Despite saying that chefs are the heart and soul of a restaurant, I learnt that the business aspect is probably the most important. You can cook amazing food, have great wait staff and a beautiful decor, but if you can't bring in the customers, then you have failed. It's hard to put your finger on what works and what doesn't. The restaurant industry is so fickle. Trends change quickly, diners are extremely volatile, produce prices fluctuate rapidly and good and bad reviews can change a restaurant's fortunes. With so many variables, it's a tough tough industry to work in. I fully respect everyone that is in the hospitality industry. Most want to please the customers and try their best. I have learnt to be more forgiving of problems when I dine out. Obviously, if there are serious issues, I'll try to point it out in a constructive manner.

With Steer, they are undergoing a menu change to a New York style steakhouse to try and get more customers. I really hope that the change in menu is embraced by Melbourne diners and the restaurant succeeds. Having spent some time with everyone involved, I feel a personal connection with the restaurant and want it to do well. I've met a great bunch of people who have all been generous enough to reveal to me a bit about their dreams, thoughts and struggles in working in the food industry. I would like to thank everyone that was involved in my boot camp. You have all taught me a lot and I respect you all very much.

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  1. I believe that in every profession there is a degree of difficulty in one wants to do well. And there is a always a certain type of person that excels in each profession.
    In my short days at Steer, I learnt the words - dedication and passion.

  2. Hee hee.. so skinny in this picture!

    I do think you have learnt a lot from the work experience and it's wonderful to hear all your stories :)

  3. Thanh, you look the true professional chef, is a career change on the cards? Well done :-)

  4. Penny, you are absolutely right. Nothing is ever easy but the food hospitality industry is extra tough and they are all passionate indeed.

    I-Hua, oh thank you, it's my 7/3 profile pose. I learnt so much from my stint there and I hope to have other chances to experience other aspects of the food industry.

    Stella/Rick, no career change for sure. I had fun but I'll be sticking to my day job.