Anecdotes from the Kitchen
If the first week of work in a kitchen was mentally exhausting, the second week was physically exhausting. Part of that—no most of that—was my fault, because I got it into my head that I was capable of jumping in head first after like two days. Oops. Was it wise to walk miles around Antibes on both of my days off, then spend all morning my first day back to work with a friend and stay out until 2:30am that same night after work? Nope. Was it worth it? Yes.
My friend Babette (an intern over at Chateau de la Begude) is helping me get used to life here—in and out of the kitchen—and she warned me that in the beginning I will have to drag myself out to social things—that I will be conscious of the time and needing to get home and have alone time and rest. I think we might secretly be the same person, so sometimes looking at her life is looking at what my life will be like in three months.
All throughout college everyone from professors to tutors lecture you on the importance of making connections. I’ve always agreed, and I have even taken steps to make connections—making business cards and handing them out rather frequently. But it wasn’t until now that I realized how important and meaningful connections can be—and how cuisine and pastry in France is basically a spider web, and the thicker the web the more successful your restaurant or boutique. When Babette and I went to the restaurant of a chef she had met, we stopped in the kitchen to say hi after our meal, and that night we all ended up hanging out after work until the wee hours of the morning. It may seem like a small thing, but there is power in weak connections, and for an intern like me there is a lot to be learned from anyone and everyone who has a connection to the kitchen.
Speaking of people and making connections in the kitchen, some people found out about my blog and got their undies in a bunch because they weren’t mentioned in my first blog about La Passagere. 😛 So here is to them—to the people who have so far been a huge encouragement to me and to making me feel at home in this new chapter in my life.
To all my people in cuisine, but especially to Steve, who will hopefully stop pretending to be mad at me now that I have talked about how awesome he is in my blog, Jeremy who always goes out of his way to help me, Nans who delighted in asking me what a “string” was the first day I started working and then showed me pictures to help my understanding, and Max for always checking in and listening to me. And of course to the entire pastry team, including Clarisse who has so much patience with me, Diego who always seems calm and has already mastered explaining things in French to me in a way I will understand, Capucine for begin so nice and switching in and out of English and French for both her sake and mine, Floriene for remaining patient even as she pushes me to do better, and of course to Chef Steve for putting up with me in his kitchen. Also to Paul for being a great neighbor and for speaking English with me when I’m too tired to think in French, and to Lea my roommate for being my lunch buddy and for always pointing her new fan so that it can reach me on the top bunk. Also for everyone else whose names I don’t know or remember—I’m sorry for that and I’ll get better.
Thursday was like a thunderstorm of semi-organized chaos. I say semi-organized because it seemed like things were always going slightly or incredibly not as planned, and on top of that there was a TV crew following the chefs around for an hour or two working on some sort of documentary on the hotel. Why was it so crazy? Well, Thursday was July 14th—Bastille Day, or France’s National Day. For the special occasion, the chefs had prepared a set menu for all 130—yes 130—clients we would be having that night. In order for everything to go well, everyone spent the day preparing the pre dessert, the mignardise, and the main dessert dish—completely plated and ready to be served.
Of course, the plates needed to have a circle of raspberry gel on them, and after being stacked in the refrigerator many of the plates had moved in awkward ways and needed to be redone at the last minute before they could be completed. And then during the service itself there may have been a counting mishap or two, and there was a bit more running around the kitchen then there probably should have been. By the end of the night my brain was so frazzled, when I couldn’t get the top off of a container I turned to my coworker and without thinking said “I can’t open this!” in English. I quickly realized my mistake and managed to say something similar in French, and since I was clearly trying to open the container I think she got what I meant anyway…but still. I wanted to speak English SO BADLY.
Speaking of English, after 10-12 hours of French and pastry, even though I am so tired and want to go to sleep, I am so high off of adrenalin and so desperate to comfortably speak and express myself that I spend at least an hour talking to friends online. I’ve managed to turn my 1/3 of the room into a space that actually feels like my own (even though its on the top bunk and I feel a little like I’m away at summer camp). If you feel like writing me, there is plenty of space left on my wall for more letters 😉
Chef Steve asked me to take home the framed picture of him that is still in the kitchen. So I remember him over the weekend when I have my days off. Of course, I jokingly said that I would take it home with me… but when Chef left he left the picture on the window sill 😛 I neglected to take it, and I completely expect that I will get a talking to when I return to work on Monday. Sorry in advance Chef! Chef also seems obsessed with me going to the beach. The first week he asked me every day when I showed up for work whether or not I went to the beach that morning, and then before my day off he told me to go to the beach and be careful to use enough sun screen. Then after the weekend, he said, “you didn’t go to the beach, did you?” And then the next day he didn’t ask me if I had gone—by now he knows the answer is no—he just flat out told me: Maddie, you need to go to the beach. Even if I manage to earn some respect in the kitchen, I think I am doomed to be a perpetual disappointment being the non-beach-going-American that I am 😛
Every day it seems that at some point in my shift my chef will ask me “ça t'il plâit?” about the dish I prepared, about the kitchen, or about my life in France. Sometimes it seems like he and my coworkers are being honest and that they actually want to know, but at the same time I feel like it is a trick question--that if I answer “no” or “mostly” that I will get a talking to. Of course, I am satisfied, but it is hard to express myself in French while being in the kitchen while trying to continue my work and while trying to adapt to new people.
So I generally go for the avoidance tactic of making really good eye contact while smiling a lot, which generally induces the person I'm talking to into smiling and then we move on. But that said, I should probably work on my French so that I can use words like an adult at some point.
Is it possible to smile too much? One day last week, one of the boys in cuisine discovered that I was American and not French (and while he found it out after I said something in French to him in a more one-on-one situation, since it still took him a week I’m putting this in the 'win' pile—apparently its not overly obvious that I am a foreigner). And then later that day, the same boy said something about the amount of the time that I spend smiling. Lets be honest, I’m not really sure I understood everything he said, but I asked him if it was a problem or if I had to have a reason for smiling, and he said no and just smiled back at me. But I’m sure he found it bizarre anyhow. Ah well.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the new format--I'm trying to figure out how best to share everything that is happening in my life in an interesting way. Readers, if there is anything about my life in France or in the kitchen you want to know more about, leave me a comment below!
**Originally published to my personal blog, Unmasked Adventures