Work Experience at Jackson’s – if you enjoyed the fennel salad, let me know.

Jackson's restaurant

And so it was that Anthony Georgeff, food blogger, suburban cook, caterer of dishes to house guests, and amateur dabbler in food, came to be standing at a metal door at the side of the best restaurant he’d ever been to in Perth at 1:42pm yesterday wondering whether he should attempt a days work experience and find out that what he loved doing he wasn’t particularly good at, or just run for it. Mildly sweaty, quick-eze still clinging to the molars, wondering if it would be better to stake my claim at mostly ignorant or completely ignorant. I gave the bell a twirl and committed to the anxieties that had started a week ago with my fingers hovering over the phone like a teenage courter. I was, at the very least, exceptionally good at cringing.

michelle the sous chefI was let in by Mark, the fourth year apprentice chef, this alone was a good start a friendly greeting a bonus. Within about 10 minutes, the sous chef Michelle, had me in an apron, had showed me how to stop my plastic cutting board from slipping away with wet teatowel, and kindly told me my knife that I’d be pondering whether to bring or not would be fine. We were going to make gremolata and I was hating myself for always thinking of it as a kind of sweetened ice treat and only knowing otherwise that it was some kind of salsa (which it is in a kind of citric parsley way). I’d managed to make a nice pile of orange and lemon peel shavings. So far so good and shaving got this far, she showed me carefully how to slice them into couscous grain sized pieces. My turn and my fingers turned to numbed chipolatas and I managed to make a dozen cuts, none of which cut through. Michelle was then looking sideways at my knife and a solution. It turned out the board was concave so she deftly kneed it into convex in one smooth action. I think at this point I worked myself into the belief that next would be my groin if any of the peel was larger than a couple of millimetres. Slowly but exceeeedingly finely – they could have snuck through a pepper shaker. Onwards. Check what I’d done was OK, then to garlic, and then to parsley, patiently tutored with each check. Bless. The gremolata would be used to mix in to braised shanks before serving. Next was a herb mix to pluck and puree. Busy busy. Get to meet Neal Jackson, relaxed and friendly and wearing the finest set of reptilian footwear I’ve seen since ever. I am beyond impressed. He gave me a copy of the menu and wished me well.

kitchenThe next person I meet is Tanya. She’s worked with Neal since forever and turns out to be Tanya who I knew as a kid and hadn’t seen for a couple of decades. Tanya’s family and mine used to holiday together every Christmas at a caravan park in Mandurah for about 7 years. Asteroids and Timewarp at Rollerskating stuff. Mucho laughter and small worlds. I feel at ease. I’m taught how to slice an onion finely, I’m assuming I know nothing at this stage – being shown how not chop a pumpkin into chunks was both humbling and necessary. An explanation on how she makes a rissotto. A careful demonstration of how to debone a quail, and I managed to do two of them over accounts of post high school life. Pureering curries pumpkin soup with the world’s largest bamix. Scrubbing oysters and then shucking them, steadying my hands so I didn’t run a shucker through my wrist. Separated half a dozen eggs and then we were all off for dinner out in the alleyway.

The second half would be service and my biggest worry was keeping busy without being in anyone’s way. Mark took over babysitting and talked me through making mashed potatoes. Next was my job for the night. I was fennel and rocket salad and vegetables with oyster sauce. As with everything so far, all carefully explained. The routine was this; Mark would yell out fennel and I would stare like a deer in headlights for a few seconds and get busy making one. The first went pear shaped as it needs a light hand, not an anxious grasp and another quick coaching. The next one had a stray leaf on the side, I was picked up on that. By the third set, an “is that your salad?” followed by “good job”. Huzzah! Felt like my culinary triumph for the year. Veges were a bit stingy on the oyster sauce but fine after that. I also carried out admirably, the thirty second microwaving of small containers of stuff. I had to like Mark, everything he asked me to do was made with the requisite theatricality to make it important. He’ll make a great dad. I did this and watched the work in the kitchen unfold and build in pace, never getting out of control. I was safely away at the other end being helped by Susan the first year apprentice 20 years my junior, who showed me how to make the cos salad.

The food here, by the way, is fabulous. I’ve been here twice and the food always seems to have an angle of smartness over and beyond the way it satisfies the senses. The dishes I had in the tasting menu all seems to have something new, something sharp, or something well chosen would eat through a yard of Spam to get to a scrap of their pork belly with scallops. I was given a couple of pieces of wagyu beef and the lipids did a happy dance with protein on my tongue. It left the otherwise excellent in any other circumstances and just so doneness of the duck in its shadow. I was also witness to a steady stream of luscious desserts from at my end of the kitchen. I got an explanation of parfaits and to try a couple of the sorbets they had. The rice and truffle was interesting tasted of the dusty bits of a shiitake mushroom, and the beef tasted like frozen beef stock but the lime and chili that goes with oyster is exceptional. Apologies for the lack of food pictures but, as you could imagine, I was reluctant to get in anyone’s way.

It was all over for the service with my last bowl of vegetable a little before ten. I made myself useful by carrying out the rubbish and gladwrapping bowls. I was well chuffed by this stage. Eight hours of work and every single interaction I’d had was friendly, patient, and instructive. The modern mythology of the angry chef was nowhere to be seen, just amiable professionals working well together. By 11 I was having a beer and a chat, with a sore back and hands, but satisfied and happy. I said goodbye and gave a heartfelt thanks. I could enjoy this. Go there. Soon.

post work refreshment

Jackson’s Restaurant 483 Beaufort St, Highgate, (08) 9328-1177

35 comments

  1. Stephanie’s avatar

    My Mom just completed her training to become a chef, and will be starting her pastry chef training next month.

    Of course, this is after almost twenty years working in restaurants…

  2. apple of my eye’s avatar

    congrats! it sounds like you had a wonderful first night!

    :)

  3. deborah’s avatar

    Great write up! Nice to get a somewhat insiders view of what seems to be a polite kitchen.

  4. Sue’s avatar

    Dude! Fantastic work. Will you be considering a career change? I’ve thought about it many a time.

  5. 2-minute Noodle Cook’s avatar

    Wonderful insight! Congrats on the work experience. It goes to show all that daily yelling and swearing isn’t part of every commercial kitchen. How about a picture of the dish you cooked at Jackson?

  6. tokyo goat’s avatar

    brilliant spicey…very happy to hear you had a shot at something like this and long for the day that you announce you are opening a restuarant of your own. I’d almost move to Perth to eat there.

  7. Anthony’s avatar

    Stephanie- what a champ your Mum is. Mature age students always ace it. Wish her the best.

    AoME – Thanks, I don’t know what kind of a score I got out of 10 but I was pretty happy at the end of it all. My poor wife got me jibbering about it.

    Saffy – outsider looking inside from the sidelines or something. Better than polite, considerate.

    Sue – Cheers. Me too and I’ve let a couple of opportunities to work in a kitchen slip by includiing one in the north of Japan which could have been interesting. I was told more than a couple of times there how bad the starting salaries are so giving up the rivers of gold that are a teaching job. Can I live without a yacht?

    2minNC – thanks although looking back over it I feel a bit embarrased about succumbing to stereotypes. It’s a bit like coming back from Holland and marvelling how they didn’t wear clogs. Sadly no pic of my creations, I was trying to be at least a little bit cool. Maybe a headcam or something.

    Goat – Thanks. Always worth a shot, best outside of box experience since we did that Mayumi shoot. Restaurant, yes. Would you like the fennel salad or the garden vegetables sir?

  8. tokyo goat’s avatar

    well well Anton, on this occassion I think I might like to try a little of the fennel salad if there is any left over, and it’s not too much trouble…

  9. CW’s avatar

    Wow – I’ve been enjoying your blog for some months now (even at the old URL) and it never once occurred to me that you aren’t a professional chef…

    Thanks for sharing the experience, it brought back memories of working in a commercial kitchen (I did 80% of an apprenticeship but quit because the recurring tendonitis in my weak little girl wrist got the better of me… I’m a librarian now, but that’s a different story). By the way I worked in 4 different kitchens in a large 5-star hotel in Perth (which shall remain nameless), and there was never any yelling or swearing. Even the time I dropped the 30 litre pot of penne. :)

  10. Anthony’s avatar

    Goat – Fennel! [stares like a deer in headlights for a few seconds and gets busy]

    Hi and shucks CW. Thanks for reading. I’m not the least bit professional – those that can, do; those that can’t, go on and on about it endlessly.

    Ah 80% that sucks, but all seems to have turned out well. Boys do tend to have stronger wrists for some reason. And you’re right about kitchens, I tend to be the kind of person who’s surprised when Mexicans aren’t wearing bandaleros and sombreros.

  11. J’s avatar

    hi anthony, wonderful fly-on-the-wall account…kitchen confidential sans the drugs and cussing…cheers,j

  12. Anthony’s avatar

    Thanks again J, you can’t imagine how relieved I was I didn’t have to plunge a carving fork into someone’s hand to prevent myself being anally violated. : )

  13. Anonymous’s avatar

    Great post of a very Devoesque experience. An inspiration to many, you should be! Did you ‘セレブレイト’the run?
    hm

  14. geoff’s avatar

    Great to hear you had a good time, it’s quite a feeling come service time and the vegies get called thick and fast – you picked a good night to do your first work experience!
    (geoff who works with Chris)

  15. Anthony’s avatar

    Heech
    A distinct lack of injury-to-self though, which is unusual. The chap below, Geoff, is the real inspiration.

    I did indeed get to serebreito and with eery accuracy Ms Amuro came on just past King Eddy’s. Cheers for joining in.

    Geoff
    Friend of friend!Your ears must have been burning. Many thanks for organising this, despite my initial reservations it really was a good night. I think the height of fennel salad preparation is when the waiters don’t get told to come back later for it – I didn’t quite make it there. I’ve followed in the path you’ve carved out and I owe you a drink or two.

  16. Kate’s avatar

    What? A professional kitchen without cocaine snorting, tantrum throwing and attempted murder?

    Well done Anthony.

    The only thing that I think would really suck about restaurant work is the terribly unsociable hours –a friend of a friend’s partner is a chef in Sydney and they often don’t see each other for more than half-an-hour for weeks at a time. She’s a shift-worker too, which doesn’t help.

  17. Geoff’s avatar

    the cocaine snorting and tantrum throwing is normally reserved for week 3 in the course, and attempted murder (with a special guest lecturer on multi-pronged implements) is in the post graduate course unfortunately.

    Thankfully, the Jacksons kitchen is not of the Gordon Ramsay or Latino swearing privates grabbing Kitchen Confidential style, which is a very good thing for us moonlighters!

  18. Geoff’s avatar

    and well done on the lack of self-injury, on my first day I managed to have several bloody disagreements with Mr Mandolin, believe that I had locked myself in the cool room and almost mix up the raspberry and chilli/lime sorbets on six oysters
    would be more than happy to take you up on the beer offer!

  19. Anthony’s avatar

    Kate

    I know I know. Althoug I did have several flat whites, a waiter was reminded to say thank you, and I was tormented with the site of two whole lovingly roasted pork bellies just sitting there.

    Who am I kidding with sociable?

    Geoff
    It’s a fortunate thing given my gentle temperament and the position on the food chain of newbies.

    Argh mandolins are my greatest (should be gratest? No) fear although I had put money on an unfortunate incident with the giant bamix but this didn’t eventuate. Whate I thought opened the fridge from the inside was actually the emergency doorbell. I don’t think anyone heard. I luckily avoided any sorbet-oyster related innovations.

    Post day job beer next week?

  20. geoff’s avatar

    sounds excellent to me, any day but Wednesday (Jacksons day) and Monday (going home at reasonable time day).
    I gave Chef the url so he will be able to read of your exploits, will forward it to the rest of the guys as well, you did a really good take on a day in the life…

  21. Anthony’s avatar

    …the permanently anxious.

    Hmm may take some wrangling. Will get your contact details from the tall man with a yellow car.

    Erk argh further cringe.

  22. Chubby Hubby’s avatar

    Fantastic! So, when will you be guest-appearing in Alto’s and Must Wine Bar? Or maybe even The Loose Box? Hmmmm… I smell a TV Show brewing…

  23. Anthony’s avatar

    I smell a fennel salad burning… Appearing in Must Wine Bar horizontal…
    I’d be surprised if people would want to watch a grown man sticking his tongue out with concentration but who knows.

    Cheers, and on things amatuer/professional, nicely defended on that whinge in DMBLGIT. Some people.

  24. fishgirl’s avatar

    wow, great blogsite. Pity there isnt even a place to get a good cup of coffee up here in Two Rocks. Ah, well, I will have to just read about the adventures of others…

  25. Anthony’s avatar

    Thanks fishgirl. Enjoy the relative wilderness while you can. It can’t be long before Two Rocks gets consumed by the northward march of suburbia.

  26. Blimpa’s avatar

    this was a f*cking joy to read.

  27. Anthony’s avatar

    Hey f*cking thanks Blimpa!

  28. pseudo chef’s avatar

    I enjoyed reading this – and now I want to try Jackson’s more than ever.

  29. Anthony’s avatar

    Thanks PC

    I can strongly recommend it (not just the fennel salad) I’ve been banned by Toni from mentioning what I got to taste there.

  30. Fly in my Soup’s avatar

    ummm…..where is your hair net????????

  31. Anthony’s avatar

    Patient: Dr I need something to keep my hair in.
    Doctor: How about a box?

  32. deborah’s avatar

    Spicey I really like your blog. But can ya get pop-ups for commenting, or don’t you like it?

    But more importantly,
    You’re up, Omnivoribus Stylie I hope you like it. If not, ummm I’ll send ya back the cheque.

    Cheers! Saffy

  33. Anthony’s avatar

    First rule of websites, you don’t have pop-ups
    Secnd rule of websites, you don’t say you don’t talk about websites because that’s kinda been done a fair bit.

    I’ll think about. Great work but too late I put a stop on the cheque just in case.

    Cheers!

  34. Lex Culinaria’s avatar

    Wow. What a great experience. Thanks for writing about it. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to work in a professional kitchen. Just to see if I could. I’m glad you had the knackers to do it!

    Did you miss me?

  35. Anthony’s avatar

    I really was packing myself beforehand but I guess this is how we move forward. If you ever get the chance, do it.

    Yes. There’s been a Lex shaped gap here. I trust the busy period is over and you’re now a buffed up boot camper ready to return to the soft pleasures.

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