During the month of December 2019 I worked for 1 month at a French caterer in Toronto: Daniel and Daniel. I wanted to share with you this unique experience that I had as an assistant chef. Cooking only with passion, it was an intense experience for me!
When you arrive in front of Daniel and Daniel's little shop, you are far from imagining all the huge machinery that takes place behind. The shop is barely larger than a small neighborhood bakery. But once past the door of the shop, we are far from expecting the immensity of the thing! The kitchens are spread over 2 entire floors. In the first floor, several "quarters" emerge. First of all, a room smaller than the others is devoted solely to the handling of meat and fish, in the latter we prepare both the minced meat for the burgers, the fish into fillet and the lobster shelling. It is a fairly noisy room, to tenderize the meat, we do not hesitate to hammer it with large blows of mallet.
The largest room has all types of cuisine: such as the preparation of canapes, or whole recipes specially cooked for different kind of customers. Indeed, part of this room adjoins the grill. We can see a person taking care of this place, only cooking meat, fish, or small patties whose dough was prepared beforehand. Next to the grill there are large pots that sit in the middle of the room. Leaving their contents marinated for long hours in order to prepare the soups or sauces that will accompany the different dishes.
The last room on this floor is one of my favorites, it is pastry. A good smell emerges throughout the day. If you pay attention, you can see small cookies in the shape of fir trees or even Santa Claus cooling on large metal plates. While the pastry cooks work on their task like artists. We can observe the speed at which they execute their movement for their creations. When preparing pie, for example, the slightest misstep or cooking error can lead to a missed dessert. It is not to displease me however, because it makes a dessert that we can enjoy during our break. In the center of all these rooms is a person who, in my opinion, practices one of the most difficult professions, that of diving. This person will tirelessly clean and with exceptional speed, dirty containers, burnt, of the entire kitchen (2 floors). His work is expected to be detour, because a lack of efficiency on his part would amount to a lack of accessibility for cooks to clean utensils.
Let's change floors and now go down to the basement. Near the coffee machine, there is a very small staircase which goes down to other kitchens. From then we come to the sandwich corner. We then observe people cutting sandwich loaves and preparing sandwiches both for the shop but also for the various events that can take place. In this same room are 3 cold rooms all filled from bottom to top. The secret to not getting lost is to memorize where fruits and vegetables, aromatic herbs are found, as well as meats and fish; and most importantly, keep in mind when storing your preparation in the fridge, it can waste precious time afterwards.
In another room, there is what I could call the peeler room. Here, the main task of people is to peel and cut kilos of fruits and vegetables of all kinds according to the needs of the kitchens. Thus, we 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 there for years, he manages everything with a master's hand in order to satisfy all the requests that customers make as the day goes by. By glancing at his table we see multiple notes written by hand on the orders of the day, on it are a lot of erasures and annotations that only our chef understands. In addition to this, the phone can ring at any time of the day to indicate a last minute order change. This increases the pressure on the person's shoulders which can make them feel to the rest of their team.
But no time for quarrels, all orders for the day must be ready on time. Better to be mentally and physically prepared. Standing all day results in severe pain in your thighs and legs. A pain that you eventually get used to and that subsides after several weeks. The repeated gestures end up making the horn appear on the fingers, and the artificial light of the basement ends up making you lose track of time here below. When you arrive at 7 a.m. and come out at 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. it is dark. We therefore have the impression of spending a part of our week in the dark. The rhythm slows down then stops during the midday break. It is then finally possible to sit on the tables or buckets present to rest. The bravest eat their meals while standing. The meal is prepared by the different people in the kitchen, that's when we realize the quality of the preparations we make.
Sometimes we find ourselves participating in the organization of a client's event. This can be in small teams of 1 to 3 people at large events where more than 20 people are required to work extra. We then find ourselves in the working life of the people we are going to serve. The Christmas period is extremely rich in Christmas Parties. During this period, companies do not hesitate to spend without counting for employees to participate in this celebration. I would remember the most striking: a company had rented the entire Royal Ontario Museum to organize an impressive evening. You could see an electronic violinist playing near dinosaur bones or even organized entertainment on both sides.
Meanwhile, with other people we were in charge of running food stalls. It is one of the most rewarding moments of the work, we serve the people in front of us live, and some do not hesitate to tell us that we do this in an artistic way and come to congratulate us on the level of quality food.
Owner and employees
During my work for Daniel and Daniel I had the chance to work with beautiful people who taught me a lot about the profession of cooking but also about their passions and their 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 the expatriation of the French in the 80s. He told me about the difficulty of the beginnings but how much he believed in the rise of his business which had started at home with his partner. Proof that the quality of his work ended up paying despite the difficulties and setbacks that can be encountered when arriving early in Canada.