if its not yummy, then we better make it funny.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Wild Wheat Work

Today is a workday. I am home, though, after half a day. I have that throaty warning of impending sickness. Its also a legal holiday today ,The Queen's Birthday. In New Zealand everyone who works on a legal holiday gets time and a half pay and a free day of holiday pay later when they take a holiday or quit the job. It's a shame I didn't finish out the day there, but money isn't everything. Sometimes an ounce of prevention, some salt water gargling, loading liquids and a little leisure in the horizontal mode is worth a pound of cure. For you metric people, that's about 28 grams=450 grams. Its a pretty good deal, huh?

Ill take this opportunity to reflect on work. I work at Wild Wheat and have for about a month. Wild Wheat is an Artisan Bakery. Now that word 'Artisan' is batted around liberally these days. Wild Wheat actually lives up to the definition of the term, though. Andrew Fearnside is the creator of the Wild Wheat empire, which consists of a new factory in Pakuranga, Auckland, retail shops at the factory and in stylish Mt. Eden and a fleet of 4 vans to deliver to the upwards of 200 wholesale customers. It is due to one such van that I am working at Wild Wheat each weekday morning at 5:00 am.

Jordan and I were crawling on the motorway moving a load over to our new neighborhood (which is already our old neighborhood, now) when I saw a Wild Wheat van. I noted the locale of the factory, close to our new home and whipped out my cell phone and dialed the number. I got a call back from Andrew and agreed to come and check out the routine one morning. I printed a resume and got an appointment. I was romancing some other jobs at the time, and (of course) the dormant C.V.s started doing their thing and I had three options to choose from. One was another Artisan Bakery that is much larger and questionably artisan, considering the new automated operations being installed. They spent a lot on the machines, I guess, because they didn't have much at all to pay me. The man who contacted me said he liked my CV but the phrase "pay commensurate with experience" clued him in that I wasn't going to work for the immigrant entry wages he had to offer. He said "We hire lots of immigrants, just not from countries like yours" I guess if I was from eastern Europe or South America I'd be more hungry. Us yanks are really quite spoiled. People, especially New Zealanders who haven't yet roamed the planet can't fathom why I would come to New Zealand from the United States. It is always an interesting meander to tell them of my motivation to get away from the money worship culture and the indecently corrupt leadership in the states. In the US there seems to be more of a drive to make it to the top, while people in New Zealand are happy to be middle class and be content with the vocational role and get on to other things like hobbies and family and such. Some say NZ is just 10-15 years behind the US but I think that's oversimplification of things. It also doesn't give New Zealand credit for its unique resourcefulness and civility... behind- My ass! Hey, that's kind of funny.

Anyway, The last job offer which according to Murphy's law, was just on time, was a Chef position at the Hotel Du Vin. Now the Hotel Du Vin is lovely. it is like stepping into another time and place. Hidden in the Bombay hills, south of Auckland, it was just a little too far away to live where we just painstakingly moved. The position, which paid a lot better, was more managerial than creative, though. I had to revisit my memories of staff management and
those memories had no luster. At all. The head chef also didn't follow through on his time line for communicating, and then finally, there was the confirming of the other chef's departure... OK that helps me make the decision. I told Andrew and Wild Wheat yes after keeping them dangling almost a week while waiting for the news from the Hotel. I think it would be lots more fun to enjoy the Hotel Du Vin as a guest, anyway. It has luxurious spa offerings and a swimming pool and glorious vineyards and heritagy stuff all around like old wine barrels and curvy manicured shrubs.

The staff at Wild Wheat consists of two crews. The daytime crew is a nice cooperative group. there is John, who is a small framed solid guy, a New Zealand born VietNamese
man in his late 20's. John is a pastry chef who is very deliberate and somewhat quiet, especially at first. I remember thinking from a mousy new employee view it felt like he was looking at me thinking "what do we need you for , anyway?" That doesnt seem to be the case,though. One day on about week two he came outside when I was having my break and gave me his impression of the job, asked me how I was doing and offered some pretty helpful insights, like how to handle bitchy or hysterical customers and gave me confidence with remembering the details of one facet of the job at a time, specifically the morning bake, the first job I would be left on my own to do. Morning Bake... a little exercise in chasing puglia dough into cordas and "cigars", rolls and loaves, then doughnuts in and out of the fryer into their sugary suits and restaurant sourdough rolls into the big walkin rack oven put the other pre formed loaves in the proverif they are sluggish- unless they were out already or its really warm or... then out with the tray of little pies, New Zealand's trademark, filled with seasoned meat and vegetable combinations, take out the clumsy old racks and reinstall them on the smaller knobs (careful, they are hotter than ...the dickens) then put in the apple pastries with the piped custard and dainty apple slices and the tart shells to bake blind with parchment lining and rice atop. Now go fill those donuts with that yummy homemade apple filling with nothing but apples and butter and a splash of lemon in it and the black cherry and custard fillings. Answer the phone, try and decipher the name of the trendy (un-namelike) cafe through the heavy accent, placate, record message. Divide the ciabatta, Turkish breads and slabs, buns and focaccia, check the other things, Kingslander likes them big, Queens Ferry takes sesame on them. Now put in the second rack oven goods, be careful with the computer settings! Now go back and carefully remove the rice from the tart shells, bake a little more empty, then pour in the sunny lemon and lime tart filling in them, as full as you can but not over the side, please! Remember to turn down the fan in that convection oven or the sunny lemon will be dotted with oven debris (which is of course naturally occurring and harmless-but ugly) Better glaze those apple thingies while your thinking about it. Oh look,it's just about time to turn on the deck ovens, lets see, there are the temperature settings, the four deck element settings and the vent setting. One combination for the Italian slipper bread, lower but still pretty darned hot, and higher for the Turkish Pides which are about a yard long and raked into shape on the extremely hot oven floor, by hand. Master that peel, convert right handed directions to left handed actions. Scooting the long soft lengths of dough off the boards onto the deck is a real adrenaline pumper. Now, take the dangling carrot of a cup of coffee offered by some kind soul, your doing fine!

I got permission to print this recipe from Andrew, lucky for you! This is one of the many things that John has shown me at work.

Wild Wheat's Citrus Tart.
Two small pre cooked tart shells 20-25 cm diameter or 9 or 10 inches. The crimped shallow tart pans that have a flat removable bottom is what we use at Wild Wheat.
Sweet tart dough is very similar to pie pastry dough, it usually has a little sugar and some vanilla or lemon zest. Sometimes I even put in some finely chopped or even chunky nuts, you choose. Bake the tart shell "blind" which is to say that you fake it out with a faux filling (you can use rice or beans or even rocks from your beach walk) that holds it's shape while it becomes rigid in the oven, thus not sliding down the sides from the heat. Use baking or parchment paper to separate the weight fill so you can remove it easily.


275 grams castor or fine sugar
7 eggs
3 lemons (juice of)
1 lime (juice of)
175 grams cream, heavy

Filling procedure:
beat eggs and sugar, add juices then finally add cream.
Pour in the 2 pre cooked tart shells and bake in a 350 degree oven 140 to the centigrade crowd
until set, doesn't jiggle anymore possibly something like 15-22 minutes depending on your oven's character.
Cool thoroughly and sift a thin layer of powdered sugar or icing sugar on the top and brown aggressively with a torch, yes a torch. If you don't have a torch, its very good without the caramelized sugar, just skip the dusting of sugar altogether.
Let me know if my instructions are handy enough. Enjoy!


  1. DO you remember Kenzie and her dad Ken...from Kim's
    well we both updated our blogs at the same time and got notice from sanjuanislander
    and I came over to take a look
    Hope Dessy is well, and I am going to tell Kenzie that you are all doing fine...
    I was recently looking at the immagrations rating site, where you score, to see if you can work in New Zeland, a frined of mine from the UK wants to do that, and I have sent her a link to your blog, her name is Elaine, she is a nurse, and newborn mother...
    Peace to you all, I felt we were loosing some good people when you left san juan, but also I envy the adventure this must be bringing to you all.....

  2. Kate
    I almost felt I was back in the Katrina's behind Funk N Junk --the pace of your writing keeps pace with work.

    A great post, and great to hear from you. Love from San Juan Island. Beth Helstien

  3. Kate
    I felt I was back in Katrina's behind Funk N Junk--the pace of the writing keeps up with the pace of the work.

    Great to hear from you. Love from San Juan Island. Beth Helstien


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