Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Chef's Assistant at The Brooklyn Kitchen


A new gig for me this year is that I've been volunteering as a chef's assistant at The Brooklyn Kitchen. The Brooklyn Kitchen is a large kitchenware store located in the Williamsburgh neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, that also has a butcher shop inside as well as two large teaching kitchens used for recreational classes.

To clarify, many of the instructors are not "chefs" exactly, which is fitting for The Brooklyn Kitchen's start-up roots. Some certainly do have culinary degrees, but others are self-taught or learn through apprenticeships and other kinds of hands-on experience. The teachers I've encountered have all been knowledgeable enough to teach the courses they're running.

Each class has somewhere between 8 and 12 students. One volunteer assistant is assigned to each class, although certain classes, like knife skills, don't require any help. What's nice is as a volunteer, I learn everything that a participant in the class does, and usually a little bit more because I arrive early and stay late to help set up and clean up, when I spend time talking to the instructors and other staff. The opportunity to network with different kinds of food experts is something I wouldn't get elsewhere. For example, the instructor in the class I assisted last night is a butcher by trade. He was teaching a class on bouillabaisse, but a good deal of what I learned had to do with fileting, deboning, and making stock out of a whole fish (we used a giant red snapper, whose head was roughly the same size as the rest of its body).

Taking cooking classes can become an expensive hobby. Each course at The Brooklyn Kitchen costs somewhere between $45 and $125 per class, and these are all single-session courses. Volunteers, of course, work for their keep.

For anyone looking to get a little bit more experience in a professional kitchen setting, I recommend asking other small cooking schools if they need a chef's assistant. The larger cooking schools tend to use their students and alumni as volunteers, so it's probably not worth your time to inquire with them. But for recreational courses taught through non-profit groups, small start-ups, and other community-oriented businesses and organization, it's a great way to get more experience and education.

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