Ecosystems and Mise en Place: Week Six in the Kitchen
Clarisse has taken it upon herself to be my in-kitchen-language-tutor. Sometimes it freaks me out because I will say something and she will either respond with "no" or by repeating what I just said, leading me to think that my intentions were wrong. Most of the time it is just her beginning to correct my grammar. On Tuesday after a particularly intensive correction of something I said, she told me that it was her goal to help me be fluent in French by the time I left. And I am so thankful! The other day I was just moping to myself about how even though I speak French all the time I can't really tell if I am improving or not--and I don't have the time to reflect reflect on grammar when I am using French in the kitchen or the motivation to intensively study when I do have a spare moment.
Wednesday was such a strange day in the kitchen. The morning was a storm of organized chaos as everyone used every ounce of space available to do epic mise en place for our current desserts as well as working on the two new desserts for the change of menu coming this weekend. I was ready for an epically big service full of large tables with many people. We were all there and ready to go. And then we did the calmest 65 covers I have yet to do—about 1/2 soufflés, a handful of cherry desserts, and all the rest apricot desserts. All of which have relatively little last minute details and can be largely prepared when they are ordered. So the 5 of us basically cleaned and organized everything there was to clean and organize. And at the end of the night, we all calmly left the kitchen together—which was super strange because usually by the end of the night there are just two of us left doing all the final cleanings and rushing around so we can go home.
It amazes me how complex the restoration ecosystem is. On Wednesday we didn’t have a plunger (dishwasher) for most of the day. And the whole system went down the toilet. Any time anyone wanted to start a new recipe or arrange anything, we needed to first go searching through the piles of dirty dishes, then wash everything we needed, dry it, and then commence. This makes me sound like a whiny child not wanting do do her chores, but I don't think you understand how huge the mountain was, how disgusting it is when the sticky pastry dishes are mixed in with the fish and meat dishes, and how much time we save when we don't need to go through this struggle every other day. But it really made me realize that every single part of the system and hierarchy within a restaurant--or a hotel or anywhere else for that matter--really makes a difference.
I started writing the date on one of the things I needed to put in the refrigerator, and when my coworker told me to put a DLC of three months, I wrote the date and realized that it would expire after I was finished with my internship! I know I am still a couple weeks from the half way point, but still—it is insane that I’m already getting to a point where I am thinking as much about the beginning of my internship as I am about the end.
Similarly (I don't know why I am feeling so philosophical this week) I was preparing the cherry dessert—multitasking as I simultaneously talked to a coworker and thought about preparations to do next—and realized that I was finally comfortable enough in the kitchen to be on autopilot. I didn't need to stop what I was doing in order to hold a conversation--and even a conversation in French!
Friday was the last day of the cherry dessert, much to my disappointment. It is probably my favorite dessert to put together and in my opinion is probably the prettiest one we have had since I’ve been at the restaurant. Also sorry Chef and Stan, but I am totally stealing the method of filled-chocolate-dipped-cherries for future recipes.... 😛
While I was preparing one of the desserts—well, actually five desserts at the same time—one of my coworkers came over without me asking and just simply started helping and working next to me. I thanked him, and he said “We are a team, we work together.” And I realized how much truth was in that statement, and how lucky I am to be in the kitchen I am in. I probably spend more time discussing the high points and the successes on my blog than any negative factors--and that is not to say that there aren't struggles and days when I wonder why I ever made the decision to come to France and study pastry in the first place. But all in all, this has already been the most incredible experience, and a very large part of that is thanks to how amazing my team is. I never imagined to work in a kitchen like this, and now I can't imagine working in one without such a group of people who are constantly pushing each other and expecting more and better, but still who are able to laugh and joke and talk about life and important things with each other.
Speaking of being lucky to be placed where I am, I am so thrilled that I have people surrounding me who push me to be better. When Floriane told me on Thursday as we ate dinner together that I had improved and she was happy with the fact that I was able to accomplish more tasks than usual, I was so thrilled. Because I know she isn’t just saying that—I know its true. And a lot of the credit goes to her and my other coworkers who constantly tell me when I’m going too slow, when I’m not doing a good enough job, and when I need to think more or be more autonomic. Other interns don’t have similar people to help them improve and evolve to the same level, and while they may have more relaxing shifts, they may also not be ready for a harder restaurant later on.
Lets talk about chefs and their relationship with food. It is actually hilarious. We spend so much of our days, of our lives, in the kitchen, preparing food for other people. And while doing that, we sometimes neglect to prepare food for ourselves. We also tend to eat while standing in the kitchen, still in uniform. During our 20-30 minute break at 6:30pm each day, the cuisiners prepare food and we hand over some pastries or desserts for the common meal. Then after filling our plates, the rest of the hotel staff goes and eats in a room filled with tables and chairs like civilized people....and we take our plates to the counters of our kitchens--some of us hopping up to sit on the counters to give our legs a rest--and then we shove everything in within about 10 minutes so that we also have time to go to the bathroom and what have you during the pause before the service starts--and we slave over dishes that will be given to people spending 2-4 hours in our dining room!
Friday things went a little differently than usual. Thursday night, Chef asked me to come in to work an hour early—and then at the end of the night, Stan greeted Floriane and I goodbye by saying “See you ladies tomorrow at 12!” which is two hours earlier than I usually start. Too worried to arrive only one hour early, but not wanting to show up at earlier than I really had to, I ended up arriving at about 12:15. And it was a good thing that we were both early, because there was a lot to do--Saturday would be the premiere of the two new desserts, so they had to be prepared for while still maintaining the preparations for all of the desserts that needed to be served Friday night!
At one point on Friday, Nans came in and stole a plastic box off the work space in front of me, so I ran to the door of pastry and told him that he was mean and to bring my box back. I had some spares, so I was mostly joking. Floriane didn’t take it as a joke, and went and gave him a talking to—and told him to bring back the box immediately. Poor Nans 😛 Luckily for me, there are a couple plungers who bring me washed boxes as soon as they are clean, and I also happen to know where the new boxes are hidden in the storage room. That said, there is sort of a war between cuisine and pastry—sometimes teams against each other and sometimes each individual on their own—to capture the clean and proper boxes, since we use them for absolutely everything and they are somehow always in short supply. (And I’m pretty sure they are in short supply because pastry has about 75% of the boxes filled with things not only on the shelves but in two refrigerators and in our freezer….so we are to blame…. oops…)
This week's post is particularly filled with pictures I took while touring Cap D'Antibes--while they have nothing to do with my kitchen in particular, they do reflect the environment I am spending all my time in, and the atmosphere that helps to bring in clients to our restaurant. Hopefully you enjoyed looking at my pictures while reading about my kitchen stories this week! Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more stories in and out of the kitchen.