Kitchenhand M’s last minute entry

You may not know this, but the Navigator was once a bona-fide kitchenhand working in a commercial kitchen. So we present Kitchenhand M’s credentials to Chef G in hopes of earning a Cycle 365 certification in food preparation. We’ll start with previous experience and then present some current resume examples.

Please note that Kitchenhand M did not have a car until she turned 30, so she rode her bike to all of the kitchenhand shifts. She now has a pact with herself to not drive her car to procure food in her current town since all food sources are very close to home.


I fled my crappy hometown as soon as I could at age 18 for university. I needed to quickly find a job to pay for expenses so went to the university library to get a job application. Being a library assistant is the perfect job for nerds. However, the library only hired students who had a work-study grant. I did not have that. So I got a job in one of the dorm kitchens instead.

And so for the next 3.5 years, I worked 3 hours every single weekday morning from 6-9am before class, and 9 hour-weekend shifts most Saturdays and Sundays. I worked in the salads section. This was a great job. I got along with all the permanent staff and other students really well. We had a lot of fun. I learned all about safe food prep and handling. I learned how to cut fruit and veggies really quickly. 25 years later and I’m still a super-fast fruit and veggie chopper.

Kitchenhand M in the dish room. I usually just worked in salads, but could work in any part of the kitchen when needed. In this pic, I am in the kitchen at the university’s mountain campus where I worked one summer instead of the main campus. At the mtn campus, you rotated through all the kitchen sections.

My job in the kitchen was to prep all the food for the massive salad bar and put the fruit, veg and condiments in their appropriate pans, etc. We fed 200-800 students per service. So every weekday morning at 6am, I’d be assembling the following for the lunch and dinner service:

  • mixed lettuce,
  • 12 veggie toppings  (rotated among about 16 types),
  • 6 light and 6 full-fat salad dressings (which rotated also),
  • 2 types of shredded cheese,
  • a tray of halved apples, bananas and oranges,
  • dry toppings (sunflower seeds, croutons, bacon bits and others),
  • tubs of yogurt, applesauce, tinned fruit,
  • four different fresh cut fruit trays (honeydew, cantaloupe, pineapple, watermelon),
  • tray of jello (jelly to Aussies),
  • and a specialty salad.

So I had to think up various salads for the specialty salad tray. We often used leftovers from the dinner service the night before. Leftover baked potatoes became a potato salad. Leftover broccoli became a broccoli salad, etc. I learned how to prepare heaps and heaps of salads and got really creative by the time I graduated!

I also had to prep all the sliced or diced tomatoes and lettuce leaves and shredded lettuce for the sandwich bar and the second “special” serving line.

And when all of that was finished, and on weekend shifts, I had to prep all the fruit and veg for the week that went in those trays. Now, as you can imagine, once you knew how to do all of this, it was a very simple job. So, to challenge myself, I would see how quickly I could prep things, yet still following all safe food prep rules. I got to the point where I could go from a full box of honeydew (about 12 melons) to bite-sized pieces in appropriate salad bar tray in 18 minutes flat.

It was an easy, fun, no-stress job, and if I found something that was that fun and low-stress that also paid the bills, I’d do it for the rest of my life! At university, it covered my day-to-day expenses and a bit of rent, ;but the pay wasn’t something you could live on (i.e. I had big student loans and help from my parents to survive). So that was how I learned to love veg and how to make all sorts of great salads!


I have been cooking mostly vegetarian for the past 15 years. I eat meat (salmon, chicken or kangaroo only) once or twice a week. Since bartonella screwed me over big time, I’ve been cooking gluten-free for 12 months and dairy-free for 9 months.

The feature photo comes from the ingredients shown below and a few left in my fridge from the previous week. The recipe is at the end of this post. This is my $20 haul for the week from the local fruit market a few weeks ago. It fills about 1.5 of my rear Ortlieb panniers (or one large tote bag if I walk).

One of the great things about Oz is that fruit markets like this can be found in most regional towns. The major cities have lots of these. So it is very easy to get quality fresh produce here and not have to go to a supermarket for anything but pantry items. (There are local butchers, too.) This market has been around since 1892, all within the same family. 

Where I go to get my fruit and veg if not getting a CSA box or stuff from the farmer’s market that week.

The road to get there is very busy and full of trucks since it is in an industrial area. So I normally walk the 1.6 kms, though I do ride if I go early in the morning. This pic is a little off-kilter since I took it while riding and getting ready to turn the corner. Sorry there is no bike picture for this post, since I was on the bike! And I didn’t think to take a photo last week when I rode.

See pics from inside here:

 I normally get most of my veg from an organic CSA box and the farmer’s market, but they are both on the other side of a border checkpoint at the moment and I can’t be fussed with all extra time at the border (VIC currently has its border closed to NSW, but residents who live along the river like me, can cross back and forth with a permit within a ‘border bubble’). So everything has come from the fruit market the past six weeks.

Here are the paths I take to get to food sources in town. The blue line is to the fruit market. The purple line is to Coles – one of the supermarkets in Oz’s major supermarket duopoly. The red line goes to ALDI, where I get most pantry stuff. They have the best gluten free products of any of the supermarkets. All of them are within 2 kms of home.

The only thing bad about the fruit market is that conventionally-sourced fruit and veg supports fruit picker exploitation. It is very bad here. I know this, because I have picked blueberries, nectarines and peaches in the past for pay less than half the minimum wage. Anything piece rate is pure exploitation. So we’ve got good veggies here year-round, but people are suffering to provide it. See example here:,-but-wages-abysmal/13023950

Here is what I prepared to eat this week (keeping in mind I’m having a lot of trouble eating right now):

Oranges come from Nigel’s house. Berry season has started. It starts in QLD now and travels south such that we get berries right through February. We have several pick your own places close to town, too.
Cream of cauliflower and broccoli soup. Without any dairy or plant milk products. The secret to making it creamy without those – reduce the amount of water. This is so simple: 1 head broccoli, 1 head cauliflower, 1 med onion, 2 garlic cloves, chicken stock to just cover veg, black pepper and dill tips.
Green salad – red oak leaf lettuce, green onions, shredded carrots, shredded cabbage, red capsicum, celery, cherry tomatoes, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. (Cucumber is not in season or it would be in there). I’ll add half an avocado and half a tin of lentils or some other bean when ready to eat. In order to help my gut, I try to eat 30 different plants each week.

So that’s a week’s worth of food for me. If I want a snack, I’ll make some popcorn. See recipe below for feature photo salad. I hope this is enough to earn a Cycle 365 food prep certificate. Maybe next month I’ll be able to show you our farmer’s market. Word is out that they aren’t checking permits on that road at the moment, so it won’t be such a hassle to get there and back.

Wild rice, cabbage and lentil salad

½ small cabbage, diced
4 green onions, sliced thinly
2 carrots, shredded
¼ cup raw pepitas
¼ cup raw sunflower seeds
1 red capsicum, diced
1 cob fresh corn, kernels cut off
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 small onions, diced
1 tin brown lentils, drained and rinsed
1 cup cooked wild rice

Lime Vinaigrette dressing

2 T fresh lime juice
½ t honey
¼ t cayenne pepper
½ t chili powder
¼ C cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
(Whisk all together)

  1. Saute capsicum, onion, garlic and corn in a little bit of olive oils with cumin, ground coriander and smoked paprika until soft.
  2. While onion mix is cooking, prepare the cabbage, green onions and carrots and put in large bowl with the pepita and sunflower seeds.
  3. Prepare the salad dressing.
  4. Mix the wild rice, lentils and onion mix in a bowl and cool.
  5. Once mix is cool, add to the cabbage mix and combine.
  6. Pour dressing over and mix through.

Nerdy chick in Australia who loves to ride and is accompanied by the crew: 'The Commander' Verne and the 'Mental Health Specialist' Kermit.

6 response to "Kitchenhand M’s last minute entry"

  1. By: Suzanne Posted: August 31, 2021

    An interesting vignette from your past, Em! Maybe your work as a kitchen hand was poorly paid, but the experience seems to have come in handy over the years. Most anyone can cook following a recipe but creating your own is the sign of a true cook. Those are very tasty looking salads!

  2. By: gregblood Posted: August 31, 2021

    I really enjoyed hearing about your past life as a kitchenhand. I’d hire you on the spot to be the Salad Specialist for “The Chef G. Cooking Channel” but I’m afraid you’d have to settle for a salary much less than what you made at the university. I will definitely be trying one or two of your recipes when I get back to my home kitchen.

  3. By: NancyG Posted: August 31, 2021

    You win the award whether our Chief Chef gives it or not — you win. Food looks delightful and so very healthy. Loved reading a little about you history as well. Nicely done Em.

  4. By: BobinVT Posted: August 31, 2021

    Those salads all look amazing. I’m jealous that you have so many food sources within biking or walking distance. Our closest supermarket is about five miles away with some challenging terrain to get there by bike.

  5. By: Rich-Illinois Posted: September 1, 2021

    Delicious looking for sure!
    The cream of cauliflower and broccoli especially.

  6. By: Lednar De Nalloh Posted: September 2, 2021

    Cooking’s one of the most important life skills you can have I reckon, That food looked so healthy

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