30 November 2009
“I hate new people…I fuckin’ hate new people.” Miguel screamed at the top of his lungs while I, a very new person, tried to load baguettes into the oven. The oven has four stone decks, each one holds about 50 baguettes. The trick was to fill all the decks before the bread in the first deck is fully baked thus allowing for a quick smoke break. The faster one loads an oven, the longer the smoke break. At the time, I could load one deck and get about half way through the second deck before I had to start pulling baguettes out of the first deck. I was incredibly slow but I insisted on doing this. I was determined.
If Miguel wasn’t yelling about how much he hated new people, again, I was the only new person, he was telling me to move my ass. Miguel stands at a tall five feet and he has a little round Mexican belly. Of all the Latino men who worked at Amy’s Bread, he spoke the best English. He is married to a tall thin American redhead and they have a couple kids so it would make sense that his language skills are a little more developed. I wanted to spend as much time with Miguel as I could as he was the best baker at Amy’s Bread. He started out washing dishes and one day they let him shape the bread. Shaping led to baking which led to mixing and now they refer to Miguel as the “dough whisperer” because he can get the bread dough to do anything he needs it to. I wanted to be that good. But alas, I couldn’t even fill an oven with baguettes.
Once I’d gotten a little faster at loading baguettes, Miguel told me I needed more ‘esteem’. I thought he was being sweet and telling me I needed to have more confidence in my baking abilities. What he really meant, with his thick Latino accent, was that the baguettes needed more ‘eh steam’ in order to get a better crust.
It didn’t take me much longer to get the baguette loading down and to get Miguel to stop screaming at me. Well, he still screamed but it was more light-hearted in nature. Most of the time he was reminiscing about his grandmother in Mexico, “My grandmother can shape baguettes faster than you and she’s in a wheel chair and she only has one hand!”
At the end of my tenure at Amy's Bread, I could load a full oven, leisurely smoke a cigarette and take a bathroom break before my bread was ready to come out. I could also shape baguettes faster than Miguel, or at least at the same speed, though he would never admit it. I only know this because we used to race to fill trays and racks. With 1,500 baguettes to shape each night, we found creative ways to entertain ourselves. Miguel and I used to race (and I used to beat him!).
I have since quit smoking and my new oven is much smaller than the beasts I once knew but how I miss Miguel and his grandmother.