Bisous, Wild Lavender and Air Vents: Week Four in the Kitchen
This week my blog is dedicated Diego. For his soufflés, which have been magnificent this week. For his being comfortable enough to joke with me while we work together. For being patient enough to try to have conversations with me even though I know my French sucks. For mocking my French by repeating what I said in an American accent, even while respecting me for trying to speak French all day. For loudly telling my coworkers while I am around that it is hard to work with me because I don't do anything and never improve--which I know is his way of giving me his stamp of approval. For hinting about all the things I should mention in my blog, even though I’m sure he doesn’t read it since I write entirely in English. Merci, Diego. (And merci to Clarisse, who I'm sure will be the one to translate this for him :P).
I don’t know why (though if I had to put my finger on it I would say its probably due to my
raging trust issues) but when the staff at Gastronomicom assured all the students that the first two weeks of the internship would be the hardest, the first month would be a transition period and then after that if we had made it through it would probably be smooth sailing, I didn’t believe it. I thought, the first two weeks will be hard? No, I’m sure the entire four months will be a struggle!
Now, safely situated in my fourth (can you believe it?!) week at La Passagére, I see the wisdom in what my teachers said. Something seemed to change over the course of the third week to transition me from the initial everything-is-new-and-a-struggle period and into the I-mostly-know-whats-going-on-and-don’t-need-explanations-for-everything stage. Its a great feeling. (Obviously, if you have met me or read any of my past posts, you probably know that I am still operating with a high level of anxiety and constant desire to do better and more than what I am currently doing, but still, there has been improvement).
Why is greeting people in France so hard?
Sometimes you shake hands. Sometimes you shake hands and then move on to “bisous” after you get closer to the person. Sometimes you jump right in and do “bisous” the moment you meet someone. (For the non-French speakers, bisous = cheek kisses).
When I walk into work, the American in me thinks that waltzing in with a blanket “Hi” to everyone, some eye contact, and a few smiles is sufficient. However, the French are not in agreement with me. A few of the boys have insisted that I do bisous with them, and they get pouty if I don’t. (Literally, they either stand in my path and point at their cheek or they corner me and ask why I didn’t greet them that morning T_T). But now that I know more and more people in the kitchen, its becoming strange that I pause to personally greet two people and then vaguely say hi to the rest….but if I take time to greet everyone, it will probably take like 10 minutes. Our kitchen is big—there are a lot of people…and that would be a lot of bisous!
So the question of the day is, do I shove aside my American discomfort of walking around a room full of my coworkers and kissing them all on the cheek before I start work, or do I continue to embrace my awkward American-in-a-French-kitchen-ness and sporadically change between giving bisous and not? I think the question is mostly rhetorical, because I know I should be doing the former. (-_-;;)
In case you were wondering, and in a quick follow-up to last week’s post, the American Chocolate Chip Cookies have been a grand success. My roommates somehow got their hands on some cookies, and told me they were amazing. The sous-chef over at Hotel Juana said hello to me, then said he heard the cookies were good and pestered me about why I hadn’t brought him any yet. Then best of all, my Chef told me that the clients were really enjoying the cookies.
This week, I made one of the desserts for "perso" or the staff meal. I scoured all of my recipes looking for something simple that would suit the French pallet, would be easy to make for many people, and that I could manage to make with the ingredients and time at hand. I managed to find a recipe for berry crumble bars--very American--and somehow managed to pull it off. It wasn't as great as I wanted it to be, mostly because I was so paranoid about doing everything right and not being able to use the exact ingredients I had hoped to be able to use. But all in all, it was a success, and a handful of people came over to tell me that they really liked the dessert.
Which brings me to my next point: my abilities in the kitchen are starting to mimic my French level. I know enough and have proved myself enough that I am capable of doing
more…but then I try to do more and I get all in my head and out of sorts and make mistakes. I hate how inconsistent it is, even while I know that it is normal for the learning process. Some days I seem to understand the French I overhear and am capable enough to respond. Then the next day I can't understand the simplest of phrases, and I end up saying things like "I'm not plastic wrap" instead of saying "I don't have any plastic wrap." Sigh. And its the same with pastry--one day I'm providing my own recipes to contribute to the restaurant and staff, and the next day it takes me twice as long as it should to cut up some fruit. The struggle is so real.
Wednesday I was sent on an errand. I was 100% sure my coworkers were pulling a prank on me, or trying to get me to do needless things as a punishment. One time when I asked what more there was for me to do, my worker said “you know that park around the corner? Go there and pick some lavender.”
I was positive the first time I misunderstood her, and that she meant another room or place in the building, but after asking again and then confirming with Clarisse in English, it turns out that was actually what they were asking. So off I went, in my chef jacket holding a pair of scissors, walking down the street in search of a bush of lavender. Because that is totally normal, right?
Unfortunately the only lavender in the area was in the private garden of an apartment complex, and when I walked up I was spotted by the woman at the front desk. This led to an awkward conversation with me asking in broken French as to whether or not I could take thirty stalks of lavender. The woman apologized and said that she wished she could say yes but it was private property and she wasn’t in charge. She also asked me if I was the same chef who had asked for lavender the day before—which leads me to believe that the chefs in the area should plant some lavender in the public garden just around the corner just in case they ever need it.
Florian is attempting to teach me, well, everything. But this week one of her goals was to teach me how to make nice quennelles out of ice cream, since we use them all the time. Our pre dessert has mini quennelles, so that was what we were practicing with. We began Wednesday before our dinner break, and then after the pause we started again. However when we restarted, we were joined by Capucine, and then of course Diego came over to demonstrate his skills…which were then critiqued, and then he became a student with me. And of course while this all was happening, one or two of the boys from cuisine were hanging around to use the oven and to chat, and one of the servers was popping in and out to bring the dishes for dinner service. At one point, there was a whole herd of people around the counter, and Jeremy from cuisine was practicing his own sorbet quenelle—which of course was the moment when Chef walked in, baffled, and demanded what was going on. My improvement was slight, though it did happen. I wish more than anything that I had a kitchen to go home to so that I could continue to practice after work T_T
Chef has jumped on the lets-find-Maddie-a-boyfriend bandwagon and has started announcing to people that I am single.
I feel like we have already had the conversation of me not having a significant other many times--and it was one of the first questions asked by basically all my other coworkers--
but on Friday somehow it came up again. And Chef, using all the English he had, said "No boyfriend?" and of course then when I said no, he said "Oh.....No girlfriend?" LOL.
So after that every time a server came to the window, instead of just asking me what I thought of them, as other coworkers had done, Chef started just flat out telling the servers that I was single and that they should pay me compliments. And of course, the day this all started happening, a new server started working who has a striking resemblance to a Ken doll. Which then prompted the question, "Maddie, do Americans like Ken?" I had no idea where Chef was going with that question, so I hesitantly said yes. Turns out he just wanted to tell me that the French liked Ken too. >_<
On Friday, Florian and I did a major clean in the kitchen. In an epic demonstration of girl power, we emptied, cleaned out, turned over,
then re-situated the ice cream freezer, in addition to pulling out the counters to properly clean the floor and doing a deep clean of the air vents. That last one was my job. And it was a real pleasure. For a solid 20 minutes, I stood on a crate and used a damp cloth and the back of a fork to remove all the dust and disgustingness from the two vents on the ceiling--prompting me to exclaim "c'est dégueulasse Florian!" Which led her to proclaim that I spoke like a real French person and that my French was really good.
It was so hot in the kitchen, and from the hot water we were using to clean everything and the small space of the kitchen it got super humid and gross. So of course I was sweating like a crazy person, and I'm sure I was quite the site, standing on my crate in my kitchen uniform, covered in grime, red-faced, sweating all over everything. Super cute, right?
Thanks for reading about some of my adventures from the kitchen this week! Stay tuned for more stories in and out of the kitchen--and if there is anything in particular you would like to hear more about, leave me a message in the comments section below!
**Originally published to my personal blog, Unmasked Adventures