Coupe de Feu & Meilleur que Hier: Week Eight in the Kitchen
I got a text message from Nans on Saturday night, telling me that he had a message for me from my Chef. He told me to come in at 9am on Monday morning—and while I thanked him and I know that he is serious about his job, he is also a complete goof and I had no small amount of doubt that he was joking and was trying to trick me into waking up way earlier than I had to. That said, I prepared myself—bracing myself for Chef having permanently changed my hours and I was quite disappointed all of Sunday thinking that I was going to have to start working Coupe de Feu (9am-2pm + 6pm-11:30pm) instead of my beautiful schedule of starting at 2:00pm every day. It didn’t help that when I showed up Monday morning, Diego and Clarisse were already there and working. Oh God, I thought, What is going on?!
Turns out there was a buffet for 120 people at the beach for lunch that day, and the three of us and Stan were there to prepare everything for the buffet in addition to the regular preparations for the day. Though I had no real idea what the goals or end results were (and every time I tried to ask something about the purpose of the event Stan told me to not ask questions—that it was better that I not know) everything seemed to go over smoothly in the end.
Despite working Coupe for the first time since my first week at Belles Rives, I actually passed quite an enjoyable day—especially with working with Stan one on one during the day (in which he entertained himself by shouting out random words he knew in english and throwing bread dough at me from across the room) and having a fairly calm service in the evening (where we had so little to do that two of our team members worked on recipes for the following day for most of the time). I’m still thankful for my current schedule (even though I know it will soon change because our team and the season is going to change) because even with a three hour break in the afternoon, when you work Coupe you really can’t do anything else productive with your day. I woke up at 7:30, left for work at 8:30, returned at 2:30, left again at 4:30 and then got home at 11:30. And because I had already been awake since earlier than I normally am and knew I would be working late, I spent the two hours that I was home laying in bed, reading and drinking coffee. Which is by no means a bad thing, but I also wasn’t doing anything actually productive like exploring the area or spending time with friends or something.
Is this what lawyers feel like? Journalists? “Now Maddie, don’t put this in your blog, but…” Well obviously now that you have told me not to mention something, all I want to do it talk about it! Also I think the one year working as a writing TA and tutor is coming to the surface in me because every time someone talks about my blog and tells me what I should or shouldn't write, I am so tempted to hand them a notebook and a pencil and encourage them to start writing themselves. Can you imagine? All thirty or so chefs from one restaurant each with their own online journal and perspective on what happens each week? I would so read that.
One of the many things that vacillates between being urged to go in the blog and be firmly kept out of the blog is the debate over who I'm dating. Chef it 100% positive that I have a boyfriend. It has gotten so bad that every time someone from cuisine comes into the room, he leans over and asks “Is he your boyfriend?” and when I say “no” he starts pestering me about who it is. I have decided there is no point being annoyed or embarrassed by the situation and have attempted to move on to a higher plane of acceptance and amusement--and since in all reality I am dating nobody, it has been working quite well so far. 😛
On Tuesday, Floriane and I rushed around the kitchen to finish everything an hour earlier than usual so that we could clean out the economat and the freezer storage. It was a good thing we did, because it so needed it, but it was a hot and disgusting task. Do the others not clean out things, or does the kitchen just get this dirty all the time? Because I swear to god it is always up to Floriane and I to do the deep cleaning. We also took on the huge freezer storage in the pastry kitchen on Friday--which we have done at least two other times in the past month, but it still managed to be filled with lost boxes of fruits and materials for old desserts we don't use any more. And stalactites of ice that we decided to scrape off. At one point, when all of the things we keep in the freezer were piled on the counters, our storage racks were haphazardly positioned in the middle of the room, there was a mound of melting cherry juice in the sink that was dripping what looked like blood onto the floor and the area around the freezer was covered in slush from the ice we were chipping out, several of the boys from cuisine decided they needed several things from our kitchen at the same time...and when they entered they all did a double take--eyes widening, mouth slightly agape, a hesitant step back--before deciding it was safe to enter the pastry lair of us two crazy girls.
Chef told us after nearly completing our service on Wednesday that it was the best service we had done all summer. We had worked as a team, we had kept everything organized, and even when all the desserts came pouring in at the same time we kept our cool. Of course,
thats exactly when Chef left the last table to us and left the kitchen…and then I dropped one of the soufflés…and since we didn’t have enough backup the team had to scramble to make five more. I felt absolutely terrible about it, but I guess when it comes down to it, I am just in my second month as an intern and things like this happen to everyone.
Of course, it also helped that after that happened I talked to my mom for a half hour and then went down the street with a friend for a glass of wine and decompressing about service and life. I never thought I would be the person to go have a drink after work—much less the person to head out at 12:30am to do so. But there is something so comforting about going to a quiet neighborhood wine bar with a friend and talking with the owners, who are now also friends, in a mixture of French and English. The most important thing about relocating is finding a community in which you feel comfortable and where you can be yourself—wherever and whatever that might be. So even though my night was a roller-coaster of emotions from the thrill of an amazing service to the depression of having possibly messed everything up, I went to sleep content and satisfied with my life in France.
I’ve gotten a little territorial about my dessert organization and process. I keep my own lists. Several of them. At one point on Thursday, despite the tickets on the wall and my physical and mental lists, I wrote myself a note on the back of my hand. Chef leaned over and poked me, then tapped the back of my hand with the back of his knife and when I looked up he made a questioning face at me. “Oh,” I told him, “Its so I remember the two raspberry dishes.” And thus commenced the most extreme eye roll I have ever seen Chef do. Ah well. At one point, when I had missed dressing a strawberry plate, Floriane actually laughed maliciously and mocked me for having missed it in a joking manner—though serves her right because I was on top of all the plates including two she missed the rest of the night! I also ordered Nathan not to prepare the granité for a dish one day because it was too soon (and thus going against my process) and my coworkers laughed at me--and Chef warned Nathan to be careful or I would attack. It seems as if I have gotten over the majority of my timidity in the kitchen. 😛
Thursday Chef checked in with me--asked me how I was doing and wanted to make sure the internship was going well. "Ca t'il plait, Maddie? Ton stage?" Chef asked.
"Oui..." I hesitated, and Chef could tell.
He looked over, "Mais...?"
"Mais..." I sighed, "C'est trop compliqué d'expliquer en français!"
"Vas-y, explique en anglais"
"I'm a perfectionist! And I just want to do better! I know I can do better!"
Chef looked at me, a little stunned, and laughed. "Ah..." He obviously understood none of what I just said. "Calme toi" he sagely advised. So I responded in French. "Mais j'espare de faire mieux. Je peux faire mieux."
"Calme-toi, Maddie" he said.
But despite telling me to calm down and go slowly, after that he demonstrated some of his techniques for the blown sugar he uses for the peach dessert and had me try some of it, and then during service he advised me to pick up the pace and perform "meilleur que hier" or better than yesterday, which I took as a sign that he appreciates that I am trying my hardest but that he recognizes both my desire and potential to do better.
During Friday's service, Chef told me I was doing a really good job. I felt proud and successful until he followed that up by saying, “So when are we eating one of your desserts?” Caught off guard I chuckled a little and just stared at Chef. He can’t be serious. I'm an intern. At a Michelin starred restaurant. And I told him as much. "And...?" He just starred me down, as I am coming to realize is Chef's technique to assert power and dominance without saying a word. It worked, because I fumbled to find the words in French to say that I wasn't capable and it was too soon and I've barely been in a kitchen for two months. "I want a new mignardise by next Saturday." Conversation over. We had a service to focus on. There goes my calm weekend of doing nothing. Hello stress, my old friend. Welcome back.
There are several people and things that my coworkers keep telling me to look up. But the problem is that they always ask me in the middle of service, and since I have no idea what they are talking about it is super hard to remember what the things are in order to ask someone else or look them up online. Thursdays are hard because nobody in the kitchen speaks English—though Chef has started saying random English words he knows to the boys in cuisine when they come to use things in our kitchen—and then he looks at me, thrilled and proud of himself, asking me how his pronunciation was and if his English was correct. Next week it is my goal to get people to write down the things I don't understand so that at the very least I can go to someone who is bilingual later and try to understand what is going on--better late than never right?
As always, thank you to all of you who are following my adventures as an intern at La Passagére and thank you for reading and supporting my blog. This weeks pictures are all from a walk I took along the beach starting at Hôtel Belles Rives and walking along the road towards the end of Cap d'Antibes--hopefully you enjoyed them as much as I enjoyed taking them! Be on the lookout for more stories from in and out of the kitchen. ^_^
**Originally posted on my personal blog, Unmasked Adventures