What I am learning in the kitchen

Growing up, my parents had a restaurant. My brother and I would often go there after school and I have fond memories of spending time in the kitchen once my homework was done. I Loved watching my mum and the other kitchen staff rush when the restaurant filled up; the customers blissfully unaware of how hectic things were behind the kitchen doors. I liked feeling like I was in on the secrets.

As a teenager, once we moved to France, I remember watching my grandma cooking for big family meals. I liked helping. She would let me do the salad dressing, or arrange the cured meats and or cheese on beautiful plates.

As a young adult, I worked as a waitress while I studied at University. Despite it being hard work, I enjoyed the sociable aspect of the job. I knew of call centre jobs that paid better, but I liked talking to customers and making them feel special. Going out to eat should be a pleasant experience and I took pride in making sure that that was the case for everyone I waited on.

Since university, I did not work in a restaurant again, but I cooked a lot. Enjoying the whole process, from food shopping, to eating and sharing my creations of course. I have even written a few recipes on my blog in case you are curious.

Over the past 8 months, while traveling, I have really missed having a kitchen. Most hostels have kitchens, but the vast majority are not the most practical, if functioning at all. Also, it s not so easy to buy food for 1 or 2 meals. I actually travelled with a few spices (cumin, paprika, cinnamon) fresh garlic (#frenchaf) and dried chillies (#mexicanaf). So when I had the opportunity to help out in my boyfriend s restaurant, I was very excited. Sharp knives and functioning blenders excite me!

Although I have worked in restaurants and cooked a lot at home, I had never actually worked in a restaurant kitchen. I often talk about how much I dislike following recipes, as I like to follow my “instinct” (aka my fingers to taste things as I go), and I find most recipes over complicated. But in a professional kitchen there isn t so much room for error as when you are cooking for yourself or a few friends, so I have had to adapt somewhat.

When I 1st came back to Bocas del Toro, 1 month ago, my boyfriend had just introduced breakfasts to the menu. Breakfast / Brunch is my favorite meal of the day!

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The day before their 1st breakfast I insisted on helping him and he put me in charge of the waffle preparation. I had never made waffles, but that is the beauty of recipes. You don t need to have made something before in order to make it. As long as you follow the recipe word by word that is. And that is where the challenge lay for me.

Eduardo has previously worked in a Michelin starred restaurant, and although Hungry Monkey is more of a surf food kinda chilled restaurant, he takes pride in doing everything to the highest standard possible, and expects everyone who works there to do the same.

Working with Eduardo is teaching me to pay more attention to detail and to follow instructions carefully. If I ever used a recipe and it asked me to pass the flour through a siv I would have smiled and skipped that step, but I didn’t t even bother asking him if I could skip it as I already knew the answer.

I haven t had many machines in previous kitchens and I liked thinking that I enjoyed doing every step myself. I take it back!! Having used one of those dough mixers, I can happily say that it is a lot easier than doing this by hand And it s Fun!

Working in the kitchen is also teaching me the importance of time. I have a relatively relaxed approach to time when cooking, which means that my pasta is not always al dente… But again, in a professional kitchen 1min can make a big difference, between edible or not. So I am doing my best to respect cooking times etc.

The 1st day that the restaurant opened for breakfast I was very excited to be the 1st to order the waffles with the blueberry compote (made by moi as well). I enjoyed every bite of my well deserved waffles and decided that recipes were not so bad after all. Although for now, I will stick to waiting on tables and playing chef at home 🙂

Thank you for reading and if you happen to come via Bocas del Toro in Panama, please come by for breakfast or lunch!

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