Ella Masters oftentimes wakes up in the middle of night thinking about what kind of French toast she wants to serve in her future dream cafe, or what colors the walls will be painted.
The University of Minnesota junior works as a cook at Butter Bakery Cafe in southwest Minneapolis. As a small neighborhood place, the cafe allows college students who want to work in a professional kitchen environment practice their skills without making them commit to crazy
Masters is a full-time student with two jobs on the side, but she gets by with the help and
inspiration of Butter Bakery Cafe’s owner and operator, Dan Swenson-Klatt.
“I’ve always loved Dan’s commitment to using local ingredients and to generating as little waste as possible. We compost or recycle almost everything, so when I saw there was a kitchen opening a few years back, I jumped at the chance to apply,” Masters said.
Most back-of-house jobs in restaurants are labor intensive with hours that are usually inconvenient for college students.
But Masters said Swenson-Klatt adjusts his staff members’ schedules around their other commitments, like classes. Right now, six members of his staff are taking college courses.
“We set the shop up as a little family shop — my kids have worked here. We are more of a neighborhood cafe, so we have a little bit more flexibility for fitting schedules,” Swenson-Klatt said.
With no previous experience, Masters started out as a general cook in 2013. But because of school commitments, she recently scaled back her duties in the kitchen.
Now, Masters focuses on prepping food. She does everything from roasting turkeys and making batches of quiche to preparing salad dressing for the line.
Masters said since having the cafe job, she cooks at home more often. She said she’s invested in high quality knives and a nice spice set. Right now, she’s been
trying to perfect a quiche.
“It’s easier now that I’ve learned tricks about how to prepare food quickly. It used to take me so long to cook anything, so I never wanted to do it. But I’ve put a lot of hours in cooking, so I’m much faster,” Masters said.
By working at the cafe, she said, she is improving her multitasking and time management skills. The job requires her to be attentive and time-sensitive.
“You can never work on just one recipe at a time. You might have chickens in the oven that need basting and soup simmering on the stove that needs to be stirred, and then you run out of roasted potatoes and guacamole at the same time,” Masters said.
Masters has two jobs, including the cafe, which she said is a bit difficult to balance with her social life. And because she works weekends, she often goes to parties and events right after her shifts. Masters said she sometimes shows up with food stains and, on particularly fast-paced days, her apron still on.
Masters’ second job is also in the food service industry, working the front of the house.
“I’m a waitress at my other job, which is totally different. I definitely prefer cooking — food is hardly ever rude to me,” she said.
Although working in the back of the house in a restaurant is unconventional for a full-time college student, Masters makes it work because she enjoys it. She said one day she hopes to open a cafe of her own.
“It can be pretty hectic and unpredictable, and I’m usually sore or covered in burns by the end of my shift, but I love it,” Masters said. “There’s something really satisfying about it; I wouldn’t trade it in for any other job.”