The Apprentice Diaries #8

The husband and I eat out a fair bit, and even more so before I quit work. We sample all sorts of joints — ranging from hole-in-the-wall-joints to the more foo-foo fine-dining kind of places. Despite the adventurous foodies in us, there are a couple of places we keep going back to. For days when we want to kick back and not have to think twice, just want be served without too many questions asked, when we know the service will be smiling, friendly and prompt (even if the food doesn’t make my skirt fly up), we have a couple of places we frequent without thinking twice. One of our favourite eateries in Panjim is pretty much a hole in the wall. It is cozy, fits 5 tables, the menu doesn’t boast of a wide selection and I can’t even say everything on that limited list is excellent. We have our staples, we stick to them. And yet, we keep going back there, once every week, on average. Because while no other place has nailed the local chorice-pao (minced Goan sausages, fried up and served up in a pav-sandwich) like they have. It’s the only place where I can walk in and know a smiling Pankaj, our friendly waiter, will plonk a large Gin, a bottle of tonic water and a couple of slices of lime before me, within minutes of setting my bum down. I don’t have to do so much as ask. And that is something I value much more than a 10-page menu with everything from lobster to tiramisu.

Anyhoo, the point of this long winded story is to say that I realised long ago that we’re the kind of people who value service and an overall experience, as much as (if not more) than just the quality or taste of food. And this hit home the most when I worked at the cafe. One of the advantages of being on the other side was to get a glimpse of what it takes to go beyond the obvious good food, good service, good ambience triumvirate. And because I’ve always been a hands-on kind of learner, and harboured the constant nagging thought that my last-job was not hands-on enough, this little stint really hit the spot for me. It was like diving deep right from the start, and from then on all efforts were real efforts to stay afloat. Every day was like field work — live, in the flesh and real. Of course getting hands-on from day 1 was fun, scary and exciting all at once.

And here’s the verdict: it’s far from easy.

The result: it’s made me far more forgiving of waiters and stewards as people, but not so much of those who set up food-related establishments and think the job is done.

I got to see and experience a fair bit of the ups and downs of life behind the counter. I realised just how important time management and precision in being organised in jobs like this really is. I experienced what being dog-dead-tired is. I learned what its like to face an emotional rollercoaster, swinging from frustration to ecstatic highs all in one day. It wasn’t all easy, and some of the things I’ve had to do were downright the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life. Some of them truly tested my patience. Some even made me an emotional wreck.

Some highlights from what I remember:

Taking on rush-hour: We had our off-days, the slow days when people would trickle in, in ones and twos. And those were the days I enjoyed. Because I’d get the time to preen and primp the pastry case, try and make patterns on the cappuccinos, attempt something new like tasting and putting together salad dressing, frosting cupcakes and the like. Things that would otherwise be left to more experienced hands. And it was only possible because we had the luxury of time! Because when rush hour came in, we worked like a factory assembly line. Covers flying, remembering it all, working faster than the speed of light, balancing a gazillion things on a salver, remembering who ordered what, trying not to step on peoples toes, I can’t even finish the list here. There were days when someone managed to send a packet of ice crashing onto the floor. And the whole pantry was a fast-melting pool. One day we mucked up one persons order, three times in a row. Nothing is more painful than making multiple trips back and forth from the same table. One day, bang in the middle of rush hour the busiest time, I spilled hot coffee over my feet and I didn’t have the time to stop and take care of it. Rush hour was a bitch. But it was also where the best highs happened. When the peak time would subside and we’d get a breather, we’d also all be smiling, glad that it was over but also really, really chuffed that we’d pulled it off.

Dealing with children: I’m not a fan of toddlers that are old enough to talk, observe and understand stuff, but incapable of making decisions. Every time someone brought a tot to the pastry case and lovingly uttered those dreaded words, “What cupcake would you like?” my heart would sink. Because it meant nothing less than 15 agonising minutes of painful toddler-driven decision making. Which is basically non-decision-making. There were also days when the toddler would wander off from the table where his adults were seated, come up and demand a cupcake. We’d politely hand it over, only to be told later that it wasn’t authorised. By then the hopped-up-on-sugar kid had climbed up the railing, screeching at the top of his voice, when the mother rushed to grab him before he jumped.

Dealing with finicky/specific/annoying guests: “Can I have a pink lemonade, but not pink?” I was once asked. I took one look at the man and wanted to ask him just how weak his ego was, if a pink lemonade was enough to make him feel less manly. FYI, the pink came from fresh plums that we’d soak in the lemon concentrate. There is nothing more refreshing than that, and when you’re in need of a refreshing drink on a hot day, the colour is usually the last thing on your mind. Unless you are of course, the indecisive kid from the point above. Or the overly beefed up man who asked for the pink lemonade to be made non-pink. There was also a woman who would habitually arrive at 10 am every morning and ask for a club sandwich made of pound cake and cream cheese frosting. I was pretty sure she was doing some hard drugs. Because the mad look in her eyes as she watched me pipe the cream cheese over the slice of pound cake was baffling. It would have been less absurd if she just took her druggie-snack and went away, except she’d want to step in and assemble said crazy sandwich herself. Piping oodles of cream cheese on herself. One day she stacked 4 slices of pound cake laced with illegal, coronary-inducing amounts of cream chesse frosting inbetween. We had to tell her we couldn’t do it anymore. There were plenty of pesky people who came with them whims and fancies. Hummus in a pool on the platter, not in the dip bowl, please. Grilled sandwich, without butter please. Deconstructed salad, please. Bah.

Schmoozing with fancypants socialites: Possibly the hardest part of working at a fancypants cafe, being on the other side, was hobnobbing with the socialites that frequented the place. I realised that visiting the cafe as a customer leaves an impression that is worlds apart from the one that forms slowly when you are there everyday, seeing the same snobby faces day in and out. I was exposed to a weird bubble of socialites that I didn’t know existed in Panjim. Where were these people for the last three years that I have lived here? Panjim is small, surely I ought to have bumped into or at least seen them somewhere before. But it turns out they exist in a bubble, wander around invisible, hobnobbing only with each other at a select few places. Mostly far away from us mortals. I’m not good with fake PC. More so with fancy people who throw their money around but do not display the slightest bit of class otherwise. I serially observed that many of the richest people, who ran up the biggest bills often tipped the lowest. That kind of nonsense gets no respect from me. It was harder then, to keep a fake smile plastered on and be gracious to them lot.

Watching people: That I am a complete people watcher, is no secret. I love observing people, but I rarely stop there. I analysse and hypothesise and build entire worlds that I think they come from. And the cafe was a hotbed of great subjects for this activity. When I wasn’t tripping over my own feet delivering coffee and getting my brain in a knot totaling bill I was busy creating histories and backgrounds for so many people. I met and spoke with a lot of interesting characters too. The cafe is in an art gallery, so it attracted a fair number of intellectuals. And they’re always fun to mock chat with. Artists, writers, journalists, wannabe actors, restauranteurs, the works. World famous in Goa could be found at the cafe. With it came a fair bit of unwanted attention too. Like the one restauranteur who wanted to poach me because he thought having pretty girls as stewardesses wa s agreat hook to attract crowds. Yes, I wanted to spit in his coffee. There was also the bald Italian man who came to the cafe three days in a row and ordered espresso after espresso after espresso and when I still didn’t get why, decided to get rather forthcoming with his intentions. As luck would have it, he was bald and hot. Killer combination where I come from. I was gobsmacked, dumbfounded, speechless. For realz. And I cannot divulge how that story ended.

Getting it wrong some times: No matter how hard you try, there is always that 1% chance of a slip up happening. There was the time the salad dressing went out untasted and miserably lacking in salt. Then, another time when the tea bags were served with luke warm water. And yet another when we ran out of hummus mid-day and it hadn’t occurred to anybody to let the kitchen know. That is just the tip of the ice berg really. Things like this happened every so often and invited varying levels of wrath of the forces that Be. The trick in a hands-on workplace like a restaurant/cafe is to pick yourself up, dust yourself and get going again. All moping and self pity has to be shelved for later. There is almost no time to show that you have fucked up, or that you are low. Because that invariably sets odd a downward spiral of more things that go wrong. And they inevitably do. Trust me. I’m talking from experience of having set cupcakes down frosting-first, toppling coke on a table just as I gingerly set the glass down and cutting a cake off-centre. Wet Hands and Butter Fingers are my other names and the cafe taught me a thing or two in slowing down, focusing just a wee bit more and seeing what a long way that can actually take you.

Breaking old habits: The cafe tested my OCD to the max. There are few things worse than wanting so badly to stack the tissues ina  perfect pile, or line up the cupcakes just so, or keep endlessl wiping down the counter so it is always spotless; but not ever being able to, because you simply don’t have the time!! The same frustration crept u on me when I’d find an odd number of cupcakes remaining in the tray, or Id have to pack and uneven number of toasties, so the foil packages were on varying sizes. Needless to say I was forced to overlook many things, grudgingly, and focus on the big things. Did it reduce my OCD? Nope. Not even in the least bit. The other huge challenge I had was confronting my fear and hatred for math and numbers. I had to learn to sop spazzing out every time I had to total a bill, or key in a long list of things into the cash register. One time I mixed uo the product key with the quantity and ended up with a Rs 58,000 bill for a small pack of cupcakes. It only further enforced my fear of numbers.

This post has been long pending, and I realised every now and then that because I never completed the series, several people think I still volunteer my time at the Cafe. The truth is, it ended up being a 2-month stint because I was ready for more, and the limited space in the pantry just couldn’t give it to me. I wanted to be in the kitchen but that plan was moving slower than anticipated. C’est la vie. Because I had a blast for the 8 weeks that I was there and I cannot even begin to put in words what that experience did for me.


The Apprentice Diaries, was my attempt to chronicle life at the cafe. Follow the rest of the journey here.

The Apprentice Diaries #7

Its safe to say being at the cafe has taught me a whole lot. In fact its safe to say, I haven’t been exposed to a learning experience this quick and this intense, since I was in college. Because I’m used to an organised corporate way of working. When you join a new place, you are inducted into the job. You are eased into it, one step at a time. And most importantly, you are allowed to make a few mistakes, because there is usually someone to back you up. But what do you do when on your first day of work at a cafe, an Italian woman asks for a “Kok-ah” and brushing aside naughty thoughts, you give her a concoction of Kokum juice and Soda (which is a much-loved classic at the cafe by the way), when actually what she wants is a Coke?

The thing with the restaurant industry is that the effects of your service and actions are immediately visible. For someone from the advertising/communication background, who’s always curious about client feedback and business impact as the only measure for how effective my work is, this has been a whole new world. Because at the cafe (and I’m pretty sure this is the same in any face-to-face service industry) your feedback is immediate. The impact of what you do, and how well you do or don’t do your job is almost instantaneous.

The look of confusion, the disgust, when you give someone the opposite of what they actually want. The excitement when you serve up a pink lemonade, when all the little girl was expecting was a fresh lime soda. The premature sense of satisfaction when you’re approaching a table with a tray laden with cupcakes, brownies and cake. Yes, its all very visible. Palpable, almost. And because it is so, what happens behind the scenes is extremely important.

How well set-up were you before start of day?

How smartly did you handle the kitchen squabble of the day, without letting it frazzle you?

Did you multi task quick enough?

Did you remember to refill the ice on time, make the list of what’s running out and remember to tell people what is not available?

Did you remember to throw out the old cake in time, before someone saw it in the case and ordered it?

Did you smile politely, even though you had just spilled hot coffee all over your right foot?

How successful were you in standing your ground and not get the jitters when that incredibly cute man was very obviously flirting with you?

This is an industry that is as fun as it is is ruthless and uncaring. When guests walk in, they almost never care if you’re having a bad day or whatever else your excuse for not smiling might be. They’re hungry, want to get their money’s worth and sometimes that makes them impatient, angry, rude. And it is the kind of industry where, as the one serving them, you have to just suck it up and take it. Of course there are boundaries that cannot be crossed, but that boundary is usually miles away from whatever you are dealing with.

It is also a very thankless sort of business to be in. Unless you really love what you’re doing, and are willing to invest your time and effort unflinchingly, it will be long before you can really reap the benefits of it. Monetarily, or otherwise. No matter how well you’re dressed, how you carry yourself off or how much you chat your guests up, at the end of the day you are still serving them. And try as you may, there will always be that barrier. Which a lot of the time brings out a sense of condescension. And you guessed it, you’re not the one with the high hand.

I think, this is more so in India. Where we have a sense of entitlement when we are at the receiving end of a service. No matter who you are, the minute you step into a restaurant, you want to be served well. And often, just efficient, prompt service and good food doesn’t cut it. You want it fast, even faster than hands can dole it out, in a packed cafe. You want it to be at the temperature you think fit, even though the chef says otherwise. You want it to be white, not pink. You want it without frosting. Sometimes you want extra frosting, even though it’s sort of not allowed. But you think it should be. Because you’re paying for it, goddamit!

So yes, its taught me a lot. About time management. Processes and efficiency. Etiquette, hygiene and politeness and dealing with people. About how tolerance and patience are sometimes the biggest virtues. It has shown me how there is so much more than just good food that goes into delivering a lovely and memorable experience at a cafe. About how sometimes even your very best, is not enough. But above all it has opened my eyes to the flip side of service and dignity of labour, which is quite unlike it is in the corporate world I belonged to not so long ago.

The Apprentice Diaries #6

It happened within a week or so. At the end of six-odd days of cheerily talking to everyone at the cafe, serving up sandwiches, soup, salad and more, it hit me. I had officially seen a side of Panjim I have never encountered in the three years that I have lived here.  In fact, I am quite certain that in the last three weeks, I have seen more tight-assed, fancy, Panjim socialites than I have in the last three years.

I had my Lost! moment. Where am I? And more importantly, who are these people, and where have they been for the last three years?

It was then that I had a half-resigned, half-depressed quiet moment with myself, weighed down by the realisation that for all its faux-fancy-pantsiness, the cafe I work in is pretty much an adda. Yes, it has a fancy-ish, Spanish name with a lazy lilt to it, but there’s really no escaping the fact that what it is, is an adda, which, according to my trusted slang dictionary, Samosapedia, is:

A common place where close friends hangout. Its usually close to the college they attend and generally convenient for the rest of the boys to get there. Its usually a bakery, Coffee Day, restaurant or small shops run by frustrated people or nice people.

Have you ever had an adda? I did, some years ago. When I was broke, had no real pocket money to speak of, but had vast amounts of time to waste and nowhere special to be. At times like that an adda is perfect. Because it welcomes you any time of any day. No matter what you’re in the mood for or what you plan to do. Even if you plan to do nothing, your adda is usually the best place to go. When you’re feeling mindless, need a quiet corner in which to sulk, throw a tantrum with a boy, or generally be boisterous with others in your clique. Its where you can huddle around a small table, drag one too many chairs along and create a crowd that nobody can get past. And you know what was the best part? You don’t have to care.

Your adda accepts you just the way you are. And that is exactly how the cafe accepts this new strata of society I have suddenly been exposed to.

With their almost-Birkins, their flowy patterned dresses, their expensive Hercules sandals and what not. Don’t even get me started on the men and their moccasins with tassles. Yes, I’m aware this is becoming a superficial statement on their attire and appearances, but after 3 weeks of seeing the same bunch of faces hanging out with the same bunch of faces every day of the week, in the same place, spending vast amounts of money on overpriced brunch stuff, I am tempted to believe that like me, back in college, maybe some of these folks have no place special to be, nothing of consequence to do, and nothing compelling to really do with themselves.

I guess I am nobody to judge what they do with their time and money. But it made me wonder, if I could go back to my adda days, today, would I choose to hob-nob with the same faces? Everyday? Dress up and pretty my face up for lunch, Every.Single.Day?

I’m really not sure. So yes, the cafe. Is an adda. And while I make sense of the intricacies of the relationships and equations in this new sect of society I suddenly find myself having to air-kiss and polite-talk with, I will continue to tag them as WhiteGrumpyMan and PregnantWoman and WomanWithTooMuchMakeUp and EverydayCouple and RichBrattyGirl in my little book of orders. Because that’s the only way I can tell one from the other.

The Apprentice Diaries #5

Distractions. They were all over the place. Catching me unawares. Blindsighting me on a perfectly normal morning. When all I really wanted to do was chalk out my tasks for the day, make as little noise as possible and get on with it. I’d think I had it all sorted. And that I was in control. My time, my choices, its how I get my work done.

When, boom! The internet. A news item. A conversation. A food blog. A random thought. Leads to another thought. And another. And so on. A message from the husband. A scary deadline.

Productivity – 0. Distractions – 288632. And then some.

This is pretty much how every day of the last 6 odd weeks (or maybe more, who knows?) of the fag end of my time at work, would begin. The harder I fought the distractions, the harder they came down on me. Extra attempts to focus, seemed only to make me that much more vulnerable. The more I would fret about wasted time and incomplete work, the more deadlines would evade me.

Of late, though, I’ve discovered a new thing about distractions. They disappear. When you’re really engrossed in what you’re doing, no matter how tedious, if you’re minds in it, no matter how mindless, its possible to reach that point where nothing else matters.

Last week, I helped frost and decorate 200 cupcakes. Another day, I sliced close to 30 lemons. One afternoon, we had a barrage of Chinese exchange students. About 20 of them, none of whom spoke English. For a few minutes, there was panic. But we managed it all. No slip ups. No glitches.

No distractions.

When you’re doing what you are like your life depends on it, distractions? They cease to exist. They vaporise like remnants of smoke. They scoot out the back door like unwanted guests. Never to return.

I’m re-discovering a feeling I had long forgotten. Of losing myself in something that absorbs and engages me to the very core. Its one of the advantages of delving into a deep-seated desire, no strings attached, I suppose. Its an addictive high. And now that I have tasted it, I cannot seem to get enough of it.

The Apprentice Diaries #4

It’s hard to imagine that we’re already hurtling through the end of October, because it feels like just the other day I was cursing the days that refused to get a move on and just ambled along, making my skin crawl. It’s like not so long ago I said goodbye to my team and walked off one last time, with an armful of cook-books that they gifted me. It’s like I only just started helping out at the cafe. When actually its been over a month since that horrible last leg at work, 22 days since I bid work goodbye and 2 weeks since I started cafe duty.

It’s a strange sort of start to the sabbatical. On one hand I imagined having all the time in the world to do what I want. I dreamed of waking up to doing morning shoots (because I *heart* morning light when I’m shooting food) and blogging to my hearts content. I thought I’d have days filled with lounging around reading a book, interspersed with many cups of coffee. I fantasized about having a near-perfect routine that would give me all balance I needed: a perfectly stocked kitchen, discipline about the way I cook and eat at home and enough time to exercise — all while not letting it show on the state of my home.

But that has not happened completely. I’ve struggled with getting all the things I want to do, done. It seems the more time I have on hand, the harder it is to fit all the things in. The irony is that being free from work, still leaves me with not enough time. So I’ve done some, but not all of the things I wanted to.

I’ve fallen into a nice little pre-cafe routine, getting my cooking done so I don’t resort to eating cafe lunch everyday. That would most certainly kill me. I get my writing done in the afternoons, when I’m back and sometimes I squeeze in some time to catch up on TV shows or I curl up with a book. I’ve made a start with the running, and when I’m back, I head back into the kitchen to cook dinner. And before I know it, the day is done.

The food blog has taken a beating. I have so many to-blog-about things pending, I have not been able to get down to it. There’s so many new things I want to bake/cook and experiment with and I can’t seem to find the drive to get down to it. There’s the other thing I’ve noticed. Pre-sabbatical, I was squeezing in the baking and cooking into every free window I could find. Ironically, now, with all the time free time I could ask for, I don’t find myself rushing off to bake something.

Here’s probably why: it’s hard to slip out of one kind of routine and mind-space, and glide into another and find your comfort zone in there quickly. 3 weeks in to funemployment, and I still find myself waking up at 6.30 with that horrible feeling like another day has begun and I’m going to be late for work. Quickly, I have to shake myself out of it and remind myself that I can actually go back to sleep. When I do wake up, there’s enough to do from a normal every-day life. Like home chores, cooking, my writing assignments and reading, that it doesn’t leave me with the energy to stretch myself. Also, I don’t feel the need to stretch myself anymore. If I did, I probably could accomplish a lot more. But I find myself enjoying this freedom. This nothingness. Without wanting to fill it with some activity all the time.

I probably didn’t give myself enough time before jumping into cafe world. Maybe this is my mind and body’s way of enjoying what little is left of the free time. So I’ve had a listless, rather unadventurous last week. With nothing spectacular to write home about. The cafe keeps me happy, engaged and I find myself in my element at rush-hour lunch time. When I’m home, I find I’m okay just trudging through my assignments — sometimes lazily, sometimes unenthusiastically, while a book or a TV show fights for my attention. Some afternoons I nap and don’t do squat. Sometimes I get lazy about running. And I find myself feeling okay about it all.

Even when the going is slow, nothing really seems to be happening, and even with the what-I-want-to-do list bursting beyond what the eye can see, I’m okay to take it slow. Yet, time is freaking flying. Before I know it October will be done, we will be two months away from 2013 (if the world doesn’t end in between). And I will once again find myself at the threshold of the new year, asking myself where the last three months have vanished.

I guess time flies when you’re having fun.

The Apprentice Diaries #3

I used to be an avid reader of this blog, and this post, where she talks about evolving personalities, reinventions of self and shifting of all those little things that make us who we are, has always sort of stuck around in the back of my mind. eM does such a fabulous job, so I’m just going to quote her here:

“…they say you change the most in your twenties, possibly growing at a rate even faster than your teens. (Not physically growing, that ship sailed for me at sixteen, and I have been the same height ever since) This decade, I have reinvented myself at least three times, and sometimes, I feel a flashback to an older me, a reaction I forgot I used to have, that just crops up in moments of vulnerability, and I’m taken aback, I’m all, “Oh, right, I used to feel like that.” What happens to old personalities? Do we fold them up and put them away among mothballs? Where are the mes that used to be? Maybe, like an onion, if I kept peeling layer after layer of myself off, I’d find the original me, the me I began with. On the other hand, the me that lurks closer to the surface is who I am now, for better or for worse, my personality has formed, and it’s hard to break yourself of it.”

This is really what I have been wondering about all week, because in just six long days, I feel like the cynical, diffident, mostly-happy-but-somewhere-deeply-unhappy person has made way for a completely cheery, happy, smiling-a-little-too-much me. And that’s just scratching the surface. The superficial physical differences. Deeper down, I feel a kind of metamorphosis I wasn’t expecting. The kind that makes it feel like the life I was living just 10 days ago is a thing of the distant past. I cannot think back and imagine what that was like. I feel like eons have passed between then and now. I try and think back, but it feels strange, like a charade I was just playing along with. Like a point in time, that was just moving along to bring me to where I am now.

So what happened to the old me? Where have I gone? And who is this new happily exhausted me?

But wait, this is meant to be The Apprentice Diaries, right? What then, am I doing, talking about shifting selves and onion-peel like personalities? Here’s what brought it on: this last week at the cafe has been a week of turning all the hitherto closely held truths about my work and its relationship with life, upside down on their heads, shredding them to smithereens and creating new ones that evidently quickly shape who I am.

Turns out, I’ve been living under a rock and nothing I have thought to be true about how I feel about work, actually is. And it took just one week, to turn everything I accepted as inalienable truths, all the bits and pieces of events and experiences I have amassed over time, through sweat and tears (there was no blood involved, ever. Thank God.) around and see a new kind of me.

You know every time I thought I felt a sense of satisfaction with my work? Turns out that was not the real deal.

You know how every time I thought the struggle to learn something that would make my work better was a part of the ultimate fulfilling experience? Turns out it only is, if your heart’s in it.

You know how every time I thought I felt exhausted, mentally fried and just saturated, and I thought it was a natural by-product of working hard? Turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Because here’s some things that have never happened to me, ever before.

That pain in my legs at the end of the day? Is sweet. That fatigue in my body? I want some more of it. Hard work? It’s fun. And the pain, the fatigue and the exhaustion are all by-products I have never known to enjoy before.

Sense of satisfaction? It is a pure and unabashed feeling, that is really hard to fight. It’s not something I have to work towards or strive to achieve. It’s something that just happens. It creeps up on me sneakily when I’m busy doing the task on hand, oblivious of its really going to make me happy or not.

Learning on the job? Is fun when your heart craves it like the chocolate muffin you’re going to take home at the end of the day, and it comes naturally and in vast amounts when I am in the zone and soaking it in like a wet sponge.

Being happy with my work? It’s not an elusive shadow, changing shapes every minute. It is right there. And it’s mine for the taking. I just have to let go of fear, go with my gut. And grab it.

This is probably what they meant when they said, find something you love, and you will never work another day. No wonder it only seemed like an unachievable task, until today.

Something about this last week at the cafe brought eM’s post back to mind with a vengeance, and has left me with echoing thoughts of just how much has changed, how soon, and how it feels like nothing will ever be the same again. It’s also left me befuddled about how quickly we shed our old selves, about how when the time is right, we learn to let go and move on.

Where do we pack away the many pieces of our lives? The million experiences and truths that when puzzled together add up to make us who we are?

The Apprentice Diaries #2

It’s safe to say Day 1 was mayhem. It felt like all of Goa was fighting their Monday morning blues, collectively. We were all over the place in the tiny kitchen. Ringing in covers, plating up, making pleasant conversation, upselling things and also making checks. Covers were flying in at the speed of light. When it felt like things could not get any harder, I saw the husbands big fat grinning face walk in. And behind him, 9 other folks form the office. He had dragged them all out to come embarrass on day 1!

I have to confess it worked. Bang on.

Incidentally, as folks at the cafe later told me, it was the busiest day they’ve had since they opened less than a month ago. So it was like diving in the deep end and just about staying afloat.

So after that hyper-energetic start, day 2 and 3 have been easier. The regulars tend to come in together in droves apparently. And they tend to take a break between repeat visits. And a slow day in cafe world means I get to breathe easy, watch and soak in more and maybe even try my hard at a couple of daunting looking tricks.

Because there was less running around, I had the luxury of helping out with things I was too scared to try on a jam-packed day with covers flying in. I gave the coffee machine a shot and learned how to make a cappuccino, Lavazza-style. I figured out the cash register. And in between all that I squeezed in a chat with a really hot journalist (yes, chit-chatting and networking are perks here).

I even got a lesson in Grabbing-A-Bite-When-You-Can.

And because it tears my heart up to see food go into the bin at the end of day, I doggy-bagged a roasted pepper, corn and bean salad for myself and a slice of salted almond chocolate cake for the husband. As a way to say thank you for embarrassing me.

I suspect he’s enjoying my perks, even more than I am.

The Apprentice Diaries #1

Day 1 came to an end at 6.30 p.m. today. And I walked out of the cafe beaming. I only realised an hour later, when my cheeks began to hurt, that I had been grinning madly the whole time since I had left. And it just didn’t make sense to me. Because the honest truth is, I’m beyond exhausted. My feet are killing me. And I haven’t been this overwhelmed in a long long time.

Today, I did things I never imagined I would, in my wildest dreams. Backwards from the craziest: I stuck my hand, elbow-deep into a dustbin of wet waste, I discovered I kind of like chicken liver pate, I was on my feet from 10 a.m. till 4 p.m., I helped serve lunch to nothing less than 80 people in a span of 2 hours, I smashed a cupcake on its face and sent buttercream frosting all across the counter, I spoke to complete strangers, I felt like I had been to the gym by the time lunch service was done. And this isn’t even including the list of things I learned.

So what did I learn today?

– That staying in a dissatisfying job had really pushed me into a dark place
– That choosing to stay in it was nobody’s fault but my own
– That getting out, without knowing what to do next, is not to scary after all
– That if I’m willing to look and learn, there’s opportunities everywhere
– That if I smile, everything becomes that much easier
– That it’s never to late to learn something new
– That washing dishes in a cafe kitchen is not half as fun as it is in my home
– That somewhere not so deep within me is a control freak, that itches to jump out and straighten out processes even for people I’ve only just met
– That I can work an entire day in my favourite cafe and go without ordering a single thing off the menu for myself
– That if I keep this up for a bit, I might not need to join a gym
– That there is such a thing as being happily exhausted — it’s what I am today

Would you believe that? Today, in one sweeping move, I realised that the compulsive baking, the extreme ingestion of sugar and desserts and the like was but a distraction. It was my way of finding something worthwhile to do, in a time when nothing I was doing seemed like my heart was in it. Baking with a frenzy was my way of putting my heart into something, giving myself something to feel happy and satisfied about. At some deep level, it gave me a sense of self worth. And that’s probably why it lead me to where I am today.

Sometimes you have to hit the deepest, darkest spot in life, to discover the light at the end of the tunnel. And when you finally find your way out, the view is splendid. That’s what I learned today.

And oh, and the 3-second rule? Its really a thing.


The Apprentice Diaries, is my attempt to chronicle life at the cafe. The journey began today. I don’t know how long it will be, where it will take me or when. All I know is I’m in it for the ride, and I want to try and remember as much of it as I can. Thoughts, snapshots, conversations, frames in my mind. Maybe everyday, maybe every other day, maybe once a week. Sometimes in a post. Sometimes in a bulleted list. Sometimes in garbled gobbledygook. Bear with me, for I might get cryptic around here. But I just really need a place to put down all that I want to remember this for the rest of my life.