Working in Wanaka


“Two rocket salads, gorgonzola salad, one anti board,” Head Chef Matt calls out as the new ticket comes through.

“Got it,” I tell him, while brushing the bread with garlic oil, before putting it under the salamander to warm. I grab two bowls, one for each type of salad and start putting the lettuces in that I washed earlier in the shift when I hear the printer again and listen for which part of the next order pertains to me.

“Tiramisu, two lemon, one chocolate,” he calls.

“Yup.” Okay, Two rocket, gorgonzola, antiboard, tiramisu, two lemon, one chocolate. Shit, get the bread.

Thankfully, one of the other cooks has already moved it to a lower shelf where it won’t burn and has started on the desserts. The kitchen at Francesca’s Italian Kitchen is tiny, as is the kitchen staff, but there is a creative, all-hands-on-deck, let’s-make-this-happen kind of vibe.

I’ve been washing dishes at Francesca’s since it opened at the end of December and have just started training on the larder station. When I applied for the job I said in my cover letter,

“I have never worked in a restaurant kitchen, but I am passionate about food…I have come to New Zealand to learn how to grow food and raise animals, to learn where my food comes from. My goal is to return home to the United States and start a farm-to-table restaurant. I want to create a friendly space that provides healthy, delicious food to excited patrons. Working in a restaurant kitchen is my next step to achieving that goal.”

While I didn’t have the experience to be a prep cook, they took me on as a “dishy” and said they would train me up to work on a station, which is precisely what is happening right now. My schedule here in Wanaka quickly changed from lazy days by the lakefront to working 40 hour weeks again. Work clothes, work shoes, after work drinks, payday, staff meal, it’s all coming back to me now. But I picked it and it is an exciting thing to pick a new job.

I’ve started splitting my time between washing dishes and training with another cook during dinner service. I help prep for dinner service and scrub massive pots of Napoli sauce all afternoon. If I am dishing, you can find me standing in a puddle, up to my elbows in gray, chunky water, rinsing ramekins of aoli and scrubbing cheese off of the forks from 7 until 11pm. Knowing that this job is temporary and that it is opening doors to something that I want to do makes it far more bearable.

When I am training though, I get a little taste of the excitement. I practice making multiple orders at a time and when it gets really busy, another cook will hop in and help out. I’ve quickly realized that working dinner service isn’t really cooking, but more listening, assembling ingredients and staying organized. It is both terrifying and interesting, and time flies by when I’m not dishing. Needless to say, this will be a challenge, but one that is really exciting.

I don’t know if I want to be a cook for ever, but I do want to be one for now. I want to learn what makes a good cook and collect skills that will help run a successful, efficient kitchen when it comes time to launch the Master Plan.

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