Friday, March 25, 2011

Steer Boot Camp - Day 6 "Front of House"

This post is about my sixth day 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"

After getting cabin fever from being in the kitchen, it was welcome relief to work front of house. I got to meet new people and interact with the customers. I got artistic and decided to take lots of photos of the restaurant while it was closed between lunch and dinner service. I love the decor in the restaurant and feels it has a really modern vibe, but I would prefer the lighting to be brighter during dinner service. That's my pet peeve about restaurants, when it's too dark.

View from outside the restaurant and the view of the cafe area (which will be turned into a bar area) from above the stairs.

The Chef's Table which seats up to 22 people and the upstairs bar area.

On the floor, I met the sommelier Monolo and one of the waiters Layne. I had a good hour long chat with Monolo, about how he went from an accountant to a sommelier, about wines and different flavours and about Spanish food (he's Spanish). He described Spanish food with such vivid imagery that we both said we were hungry at the same time. It was so funny how we were both salivating from what we were saying ourselves. According to Monolo, Movida food is good but no traditional. The closest to traditional Spanish food is at Entre Tapas Y Vinos, but even that is more complicated than the Spanish food he's used to. He described some dishes to me that were all very hearty and simple, served in large pots for communal eating with simple breads and beans. We also both discovered that we didn't like a certain Spanish catering company who cook their paellas by cooking the rice and seafood separately. It was such a funny story because it coincided with another blogger getting blasted for writing about that catering company and how their food wasn't good. More on that saga soon. I also had a good chat to Layne, who has been in the industry for a long time, but is now working towards a degree so he can change professions because the hospitality industry is very tough.

Since it was a Sunday service, it was fairly quiet. After learning what I could about front of house and serving the few plates to customers, I had time to kill so went back into the kitchen and convinced the other chefs to help me create a dish. Look how happy the chefs are and how much they loved each other.

The dish we created is called Grilled Chilli Spatchcock with Textures of Corn and Salsa. I think the title describes it all. It was a spatchcock covered in a chilli type paste and grilled and then baked to crisp the skin. Next we made a corn paste with some marinated whole corn pieces with herbs. A salsa was made and finally some avocado finished off the dish. It was a truly sensational dish, and I'll take some credit for suggesting the items, even if I didn't cook it.

Front of house is probably just as stressful as the kitchen and can get very hectic on busy nights. I think that with the ever changing customers, there is at least some change, but not much. As Layne told me, it's the same small talk, and can anyone honestly say they like small talk. I despise it and tried to chat with the customers but they weren't particularly in a chatty mood. I learnt the few tricks that waiters use for holding food and remembering who had what. I also learnt how to use the Point of Sales system to monitor what customers had ordered and to call in orders. I think I pretty much picked up everything that you had to know as a waiter.

That wrapped up a very tiring and crazy week in the Steer Bar and Grill kitchen/floor. I learnt a lot about cooking, the industry, and most importantly, the people who make up the industry and what drives them. As I will keep repeating, people in the hospitality industry are tough and deserve much praise for their work. I look forward to next week's adventures working the bar and learning about wines.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook and view the Flickr stream for more photos.


  1. Nice work Thanh. You're absolutely right about how tough the industry is. Just starting a cafe/restaurant is hard enough let alone running it. Food cost is so critical but so is a good team. By the looks of the photos, they all seem to be a great bunch!

    Again, big props to you for doing this gig.

  2. I agree having a restaurant is hard at start..its ok in time you will learn how to run your business just be patient,.

  3. Reading about this helps me gain a lot about this industry. Thanks for all the posts. :) You've worked hard!

  4. Adrian, thank you. It is so much more work to running a restaurant than I thought. They are all a great bunch and I hope them the best.

    Deutschland, it is very hard work running a restaurant.

    Michelle, hope you've enjoyed reading. I had fun in the restaurant and writing it.