Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Steer Boot Camp - Day 1 "It's All New To Me"

So I've started my Steer Boot Camp experience, and it's been all of ONE day, but boy am I tired and fully in admiration of all the chefs who work in the industry.

Day 1 started off no earlier than when I would normally go to work, at 9:30am, but it sure as hell finished a lot later, at 11:30pm. In the morning, I was greeted by Executive Chef Shaun Nielsen, who will be developing the new Steer menu in conjunction with consultant Paul Wilson. Shaun helped make me a tea before the day started. We chatted about his experience in the industry, what his thoughts on various produce were, and what he was going to do at Steer. I can't give too much away but there will be a big re-launch soon.

Day 1 for me was to work in the kitchen. I'd come a little unprepared, in my beautiful SABA woolen pants, Llyods German shoes and Trent Nathan white shirt. Fail. By the end of the day, I desperately wished I was wearing track pants, runners and a t-shirt. There's a reason why the saying goes "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen". A commercial kitchen is hot, hot, hot. The radiant heat from all the stoves and oven really make you sweat, and it was quite a cool day too. You are also on your feet almost all of the entire day, with staff lunch/dinner being when you sit down.

All the chefs were hard at work all day. I was amazed that it never stopped. There was constant prep work when you weren't cooking. I've learnt that the key to any successful kitchen is proper preparation. Everything was prepared to a certain level and weighed and portioned out so that it was ready to go. There would definitely not be enough time to do it on the fly. I got to "help" Jane, the pastry chef by making the cheese balls, eating some dulce de leche ice cream, cutting some potatoes, eating a sticky date souffle, putting some produce away, eating some brigadero and so on. You get the point. It was astounding to see the constant movement, which literally made me dizzy. I think the fact that after breakfast, you don't eat till 4:30pm was making my office time controlled body weak. These guys are tough. Below you can see Excutive Chef Shaun filleting some kingfish. Sous Chef Richard was baking some beans, Junior Chef James was making stock and Pastry Chef Jane was making bread. Junior Sous Chef Lexi was prepping a lot of the meats, but is camera shy.

Once prep is done, it's onto the main cooking. And there's definitely a lot of talk in the kitchen. Communication, as in any business, is key. But here, communication has to be clear and fast. Again, I was surprised at how switched on everyone was to instructions. I could not keep up at all, and I have quite a good memory. I guess you get used to hearing certain orders and picking those out from the chef's calls.

So the long long day kept continuing at this fast pace, with the chefs all occasionally breaking out into song or dance. I can see how you can become a bit crazy with the constant pressure. I won't say that it was all nice without some level of anger and the occasional stern words, but all resumed and by the end of the night, a good job was done by all. Just when I thought it was all done and we were cleaning up, some late orders from room service came, which meant things were unpacked and cooking resumed. Cleaning was also restarted. Even when you think it's done, it isn't. Cleaning of the kitchen is key and it was all hands on deck to clean every inch of it. Then it was all done, people said goodbye and it was home. By the time I got home, it was nearly 12am. I took a shower, still smelled of oil and went to sleep. Luckily for me, I only have to go in at 3pm the next day, but the other chefs are already there from 9:30am. It's a tough life. I'm surprised any crazy people do it. For me, a long week in the office is 50 hours max. For a chef, a short week is 80 hours.

Steaks on the super hot grill.

Cheesy bread I helped make and some jalepenos ready to be used as a garnish.

Steak Tartare and the staff lunch of meatballs and salad.

An ultra delicious Sticky Date Souffle that Jane made for me to try and A Poached Egg in Jamon.

That was day 1. I got a great insight into the industry seeing what happened and talking to all the chefs about why they want to do it and what their dreams are. I can't wait to see what else I learn coming up.

Don't forget that you can watch live streaming of the restaurant and at 3pm each day, I'll host a web chat. You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook and leave comments and feedback. Finally, the Flickr account has lots more photos.

Steer Boot Camp Live Stream


  1. Awesome stuff Thanh, what a long day though. We can appreciate it more now that we know how much work goes into a single meal!

    Can't believe you managed to pump out a blog post after it all!

  2. This is certainly good training for your marathon! ON your legs and being exposed to heat most of the time!

  3. This post is better than reality tv kitchen shows. Thanks Thanh!

  4. Michelle, the days are very long indeed and yep, a lot goes into every dish of food. Helped that I had late start so could write the post.

    Michelle, definitely good training. The heat in the kitchen is insane.

    Hi Cookie McBookie, this is almost like reality TV with me monitoring them all day :-)

  5. Can't wait till I start..... I want to smell like oil oil oil....

  6. Amazing.. I still think you and Penny are crazy but really brave for wanting to try this out! Have fun!! I'll try and catch you two next week!!!

  7. Amazing.. I still think you and Penny are crazy but really brave for wanting to try this out! Have fun!! I'll try and catch you two next week!!!

  8. Great work! I have such respect for chefs. Especially ones who can control their tempers! I've worked with many different kinds ;) It is hot in the kitchen!!
    Heidi xo

  9. Mmmm, at least you get a pretty good looking staff lunch! Good on you for giving this a go though, working as a waitress before, I can somewhat sympathise with being on you feet for hours and running around none stop. Hospitality ain't easy!

    Will try to pop by this weekend when you're in the bar (unless i'm mistaken) and say hi. :)

  10. whoa! Lovin your tweets during this bootcamp and oh, the photos are epic! Goodluck with the rest of the journey, I'm sure it will be momorable

  11. Penny, trust me, you will hate the smell of oil very quickly.

    I-Hua, indeed we are crazy, but it was a great experience.

    Heidi, it is really hard to control your temper when things go wrong in such a high pressurised environment. The heat really makes you more annoyed.

    Ashley, the staff lunches were ok. Being on your feet for hours is super tiring, even if you are doing nothing. I really wasn't used to it.

    Please come by and say hi.

    Adrian, thank you, the weekend shift at the bar should be fun too.

  12. Awesome Thanh! I would never willingly work in a kitchen but I am definitely admire people who do. It's really hard work!

  13. Great post! It reads exactly like it probably felt on the day. I've recently done a 1,000 sausage sizzle for a charity over 10 hours and can definitely understand how crazee you get by the end of it cooking just sausages and onion and serving in a bun. Let alone working on intricate dishes like you guys (and other chefs) do all the time... A-ma-zing!

  14. Agnes, I would do it again but definitely not long term. It was hard, interesting and fun.

    Martyna, imagine that sausage sizzle and repeat that day after day, that's how crazy it is.

  15. That souffle looks AMAZING!!!

    I'm going to read all these posts :) :) :)

  16. Merowy, that souffle is one of the best I've tried. Loved it.