During the month of December I worked for a month at a French caterer in Toronto: Daniel et Daniel. I wanted to share with you this unique experience I had as an assistant chef. Cooking only by passion, it was for me an intense experience!
When you arrive in front of Daniel and Daniel's little store, you can't imagine the huge machinery that takes place behind. The store is barely bigger than a small neighborhood bakery. But once passed the door of the store, one is far from expecting the immensity of the thing! The kitchens are spread over 2 entire floors. On the second floor, several "quarters" are visible. First of all a smaller room than the others is dedicated only to the handling of the meat and the fish, in this last one we prepare as well the minced meat for the hamburgers, as the fish while passing by the shelling of the lobsters. It is a rather noisy room, to tenderize the meat, one does not hesitate to hammer it with great blows of mallet. One suspects that nothing that this work is physical is imposes a rhythm throughout the day.
The largest room has all types of cooking: like the preparation of canapés, or whole recipes prepared especially for certain customers. In fact, a part of this room is adjacent to the grill. You can see one person working in this area, only cooking meat, fish, or small cakes whose dough has been prepared beforehand. Next to the grill, we can see large pots that stand in the middle of the room. They have been marinating for many hours in order to prepare the soups or sauces that will accompany the different dishes.
The last room of this floor is one of my favorites, it is the pastry shop. A good smell emanates from it throughout the day. If you pay attention, you can see small cookies in the shape of Christmas trees or even Santa Claus cooling on large metal plates. While the pastry cooks are working on their tasks like artists. One can observe the speed at which they execute their movement for their creations. During the preparation of a pie for example, the slightest mistake or error in cooking can lead to a failed dessert. I don't mind that because it makes a dessert that we can enjoy during our break. In the center of all these rooms is a person practicing in my opinion one of the most difficult jobs, that of dishwasher. This person is going to clean tirelessly and with an exceptional speed, the dirty containers, burned, of all the kitchen (of the 2 floors). His work is expected to be done with great care, because a lack of efficiency on his part would be equivalent to a lack of accessibility for the cooks to clean utensils.
Let's change floors and go down to the basement. Near the coffee machine, there is a very narrow staircase that goes down to other kitchens. Then we arrive in the corner of the sandwiches. We observe people cutting bread and preparing sandwiches for the store but also for the different events that can take place. In this same room are 3 cold rooms all filled from the bottom to the top. The secret to not getting lost is to memorize where the fruits and vegetables, herbs and meats and fish are; and most importantly, not to lose sight of when putting your preparation in the fridge, it can waste precious time later.
In another room, there is what I could call the peelers' room. Here, the main task of the people is to peel and cut up kilos of fruits and vegetables of all kinds according to the needs of the kitchens. Thus, you can see people tirelessly cutting peppers, tomatoes or even peeling pomegranates with a very special technique. The place where I worked and which interests us is in front of the people making the sandwiches. In this place there is a chef who has been there for years, he manages everything with a master's hand in order to satisfy all the requests that the customers make throughout the day. Glancing at his board we see multiple handwritten notes on the day's orders, on it are many erasures and annotations that only our chef understands. On top of this, the phone can ring at any time of the day to indicate a last minute order change. This puts a lot of pressure on that person's shoulders, which can be felt by the rest of the team.
But there's no time for bickering, all the day's orders must be ready on time. It's best to be mentally and physically prepared, standing all day results in sharp pain in the thighs and legs. This pain is something you get used to and it fades away after several weeks. The repeated movements eventually cause horny fingers, and the artificial light in the basement makes you lose track of time down here. When you arrive at 7 a.m. and leave at 5-6 p.m., it's dark. You feel like you spend part of your week in the dark. The rhythm slows down and then stops during the lunch break. It is then finally possible to sit on the tables or buckets present to rest. The most courageous eat their meal always standing. The meal is prepared by the different people in the kitchen, it is at this moment that one realizes the quality of the preparations that one makes.
Sometimes, we find ourselves participating in the organization of a client's event. This can be in small teams of 1 to 3 people or in large events where more than 20 people are required to work in addition. We then find ourselves in the life of the work of the people we will serve. The Christmas period is extremely rich in Christmas Party. At this time, companies do not hesitate to spend a lot of money so that the employees participate in this party. I remember the most outstanding one: a company had rented the entire Royal Ontario Museum to organize an impressive party. You could see an electronic violinist playing next to dinosaur bones or animations organized on both sides.
Meanwhile, with other people we were in charge of running food stands. This is one of the most rewarding parts of the job, serving the people in front of us live, and some of them don't hesitate to tell us that we are doing it in an artistic way and come to congratulate us on the quality of the food.
The owner and the employees
During my work for Daniel and Daniel I had the chance to work with some great people who taught me a lot about the kitchen business but also about their passions and knowledge in other fields.
I also had the pleasure of spending time with one of the founders of the company. It was a great human encounter, he taught me a lot about French expatriation in the 80s. He told me how difficult it was at the beginning but how much he believed in the rise of his company which had started at home with his partner. A proof that the quality of his work paid off in spite of the difficulties and failures that one can encounter when arriving in Canada at the beginning.
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