I’m finally at the halfway point of my externship in Vermont, and it occurred to me that, while I often take a moment to notice how I am grateful for my experiences here, I should be savoring each day of this special time even more. The anticipation of my future nostalgia for the farm hits me most when my hands are dyed red and smell like sweet strawberries from picking them all day or when my baker friend feeds me treats of biscotti and goat cheese crostinis in between kitchen work tasks. On the other hand, there are admittedly times when I question why I chose a farm, like when my back is aching from hunching over digging holes and planting rows of hundreds of potatoes deep into the untilled, rocky soil. To make ourselves feel better, my friends and I complain under our labored breath and share sweaty glances of exhaustion only to result in heavy laughter. Still, at the end of those more harrowing moments, I bask in the feeling of accomplishment knowing that I’m playing an essential part in this small community within Shelburne Farms.
If the whole farm is one micro-community with a specific culture, then our team in the kitchen has its own ultra-specific subculture that becomes more and more defined each day we work. There is a shared breath of life between us all, to the point where one person’s mood becomes everyone else’s. That’s one of the funny things about working in a restaurant. You can’t escape the force of being interconnected with your coworkers. The moment you begin to separate yourself is when things stop flowing, so it’s best to just give in to the melting pot of strange personalities and creativity. And strange it certainly is because personalities get set on fire when the adrenaline of line cooking sets in. The boundaries of communication often get crossed, in both good and bad ways, and the ability to become familiar with people’s tendencies happens exponentially quicker in these situations compared to regular interactions.
In the next couple of weeks, I will move from breakfast crew to dinner crew, which is exciting and nerve-wracking all at the same time. While the expectation for high quality is absolutely present in breakfast service, it becomes heightened for dinner. I will be practicing much more gastronomy focused techniques, like extracting flavors and smoking ingredients, and the finesse will need to be more precise. But after receiving some encouraging words from my head chef, I am eager for the challenges that await me on the dinner line. Although it will be undoubtedly stressful at times, my growth as a cook is just around the bend.