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Foie gras, surprise caviar orders and one tight ship: my 12-hour stage at Splendido

The service entrance at Splendido (click any image for more info)

Our regular contributor Renée Suen was recently invited to put away her fork and don an apron to stage at Splendido (a culinary stage is a brief and usually unpaid educational stint at a restaurant). Renée is an ambitious home cook, but her professional experience consists mostly of high school summers working at a soup and sandwich shop and weekends slinging bubble tea during university. Can she handle the heat of 12 hours in a professional kitchen? Will chef de cuisine Patrick Kriss make her cry? Find out below, and check out our behind-the-scenes gallery at the end.

12:23 a.m. (the night before): Chef Kriss messages me to make sure I’m still game. I send my confirmation and tell him about my borrowed (but new!) slip-resistant shoes, which are a half-size too big for me. He laughs at me.

10:55 a.m.: I arrive at Splendido’s service entrance and recognize Kevin Jeung (who moonlights at The Cookbook Store) among the eight cooks waiting nearby. I learn the names of my soon-to-be colleagues (including Vanessa, a new intern from Humber College, and Alain, one of the chefs de partie). I also learn that there’s a stagiaire from The County General, Splendido’s sister restaurant, who was accepted to stage on the condition that he shave his beard of five years. He did.

11:08 a.m: Kriss arrives and I follow the chefs into the bowels of Splendido’s two-level kitchen. Everyone puts on their chef’s whites and gets busy at their stations; I feel like a lost sheep. Kriss sets me up with garde-mangers Andrew and Rob, who give me the glamorous job of taking fresh herbs and packaging them for proper storage.

11:40 a.m.: My herb-picking instructions: pick out the best leaves, leaving about six millimetres of stem, then gently wash and dry them and pack them for storage.

12:02 p.m.: The entire brigade congregates at the bar for a brief (I stick to the side). Everyone’s equipped with a notebook, a pen and plastic containers of coffee. Kriss goes through the game plan for the day, the special menus planned for the week and the upcoming TBD dinner he’s hosting. Staff members acknowledge their duties with a respectful “Oui.”

12:21 p.m.: Rob comes by and tells me that stems aren’t necessary on the mint leaves. I have to go back through all my leaves to pick the stems off. At least I haven’t burned anything down yet. Meanwhile, Kriss works on some brussels sprouts taken from the garde-manger station and inspects the deliveries coming into the kitchen. He also tests out a new dish of cold cherrywood-smoked oysters.

1:31 p.m.: I’m now on my last batch of herbs, blue cress. I’m a little nervous about the low yield. Kriss looks over at my station and tells me my cress leaves aren’t blue enough. Sigh.

Next up, Renée gets to use a knife! »