La Passagére: And So It Begins
“Tu as l’oeil du tigre, Maddie?”
What the hell is my chef talking about? I turned to my coworker who speaks English, and she thought for a moment before asking me, “Do you have the eye of the tiger?” and then she rephrased it and said, “Are you always hungry?”
Equally confused, I said sure and laughed it off. But day two, when Chef asked me the question for the second and then third time, and then started singing the song Eye of the Tiger, I finally got it.
Chef wanted to know if I was in it to win it. He wanted to know if I was dedicated enough to come out the champion on the other side.
I’m still not sure if the battle at hand is the dinner service (during which time Chef seemed to take great pleasure in saying “Welcome to Belles Rives” and then laughing just as things started to heat up) or if it is more generally describing entire time at La Passagere, or even my path down the road of pastry. Maybe all three.
This week has been my first week as an intern at La Passagére—a one michelin starred restaurant at l’Hôtel Belles Rives, located in Juan les Pins, just down the road from Cannes in the south of France. Its safe to say that I have been psyching myself out for weeks, ever since my Chef at Gastronomicom told me where I would be doing my internship. I have no experience in a professional kitchen, and have only been serious about pursuing pastry as a potential career for the past three months…and even then, this is only a trial for me.
On Friday, I had my last day of school and said one too many goodbyes, then bright and early Saturday morning I gathered all my possessions (which seem to have doubled in the past two months) and set off on my day long travel adventure. After taking a taxi to the train station, a train to Marseille, another train to Cannes and then a final train to Juan les Pins, I walked to Hotel Juana to find my lodging with another student doing his internship in the same location as me.
Sweating, exhausted physically and mentally (I’m sure I made quite the first impression to the sweet woman at the reception desk) I lugged everything to my new home…which is not only a million degrees with no air conditioning, it is a single room about the size of my bedroom back home with two bunk beds, three small closets, one dresser, one sink and one window. That is all. For me and my two roommates—who are both lovely girls from Paris doing internships in the concierge and management at the hotel.
And it is with exasperation and a bit of disgust that I write that I share a bathroom and shower with the entire floor of interns—all of whom are boys except for my roommates and me. Yay.
Saturday night was a bit of a whirlwind, as I went out to dinner, to the beach and then for drinks with my roommates after having already been traveling all day. But it was a good distraction because the only detail I had for starting my internship was to show up at the reception for the hotel at 9:00am the following morning.
I showed up around 8:45am because I wanted to make a good impression, and moments later I was whisked downstairs and brought to the female changing room and was told by Diego (who works in pastry) to change and then go to the pastry area at the end of the hall.
So of course I got changed and then got completely lost because the “hall” branches off in like 5 directions. I asked someone to point me in the direction of pastry, and thankfully made it there.
The entire first morning I worked with Diego preparing the desserts for the beach restaurant at the hotel. Although I’m sure I was moving as slow as molasses, he was incredibly nice and patient with me, and showed me where everything was and how to do everything—giving me only the simplest tasks. I had absolutely no semblance of the time (I hadn’t yet discovered that there is a clock on the wall) and I also had no idea how long I was supposed to be working.
As the day went on, two other girls who work in pastry showed up along with the Chef, Steve Moracchini. Again, they were incredibly nice to me and gave me simple things to do—before suddenly kicking me out of the kitchen. But don’t worry, it was just because it was my “break” which lasted four hours between the morning prep and the dinner service. It wasn’t until I was told to go on break that I was shown a schedule with all the times and days I would be working—and thank god, I am so relieved just to have more details and a concrete schedule!
The schedule says I work until 10:00pm every day this week. Ha.
I saw that and thought, Why did everyone at school tell me I would be working 10-12 hours per day? I’m scheduled for only 8 and they seem relatively strict with the timing…
Then I went back for the dinner service at 6:00pm….and didn’t leave the kitchen until 12:30am.
The first day was nothing short of overwhelming. Everything was new. Everyone was new. Kitchens are crazy. Absolutely crazy.
I spent about half of the dinner service observing or helping to fetch things, which was amazing because I knew so little of the menu and I was able to watch what the other people were doing and how they were doing it. By the end of the night I already had a much better handle on how a kitchen runs and the process of everything.
Day two, Monday, I didn’t start until 2:00pm. And while my schedule said very clearly 2:00pm-10:00pm, I knew this meant 2:00pm-12:30am.
And now I understand why everyone was eating so much during our dinner break the first day—it is completely necessary to carbo-load when you spend 10 hours on your feet and 5 of those hours in the midst of the stress of dinner service.
I’m beginning to understand why my Chef at school continuously described the three hours of pastry class per day at school as “vacation.” It was a vacation.
Anyway. My second shift went mostly better than I expected.
Though….there was a bit of an incident. And of course it was just after my coworker told me that I was a great worker and just before my Chef walked into the kitchen.
I was preparing some siphon creme, and when I put on the cap of one container….it exploded cream ALL OVER the kitchen. Yep. And I had just cleaned the floor too.
So of course I apologized like a million times, rushed to clean up everything, and attempted to just move on. My Chef has the patience of a god, because when he walked into his kitchen that was half covered in cream droplets, he simply looked at me, raised his eyebrows a little, and walked out of the kitchen. I was sure he was going to at least yell a little.
During the dinner service I was in charge of the preparation for one of the desserts. As to not completely overwhelm me, Chef said that during the dinner service I would tackle one plate at a time. Monday it was an apricot dessert with fresh apricots, pistachio biscuits, almond cream, apricot sorbet, fresh flowers, and all covered with a circle of melted sugar so that when the dish is served you can’t see what is inside.
Of course, out of the 65 covers we had, 25 ordered the apricot dish. It was good practice, and at least that way I was keeping busy. When I didn’t have things to do, I did my best to aid Chef or the other two chefs in pastry. Everything got served, everything went fairly smoothly, I’m learning a lot, and even though I’m told “Allez Maddie!” several times an hour in order to make me go faster, I think I’m improving already.
My coworkers and my Chef have all asked me how I like the kitchen. Have all asked me how long my internship is, and what I will do next. If I want to continue working in a kitchen when I return to America.
And my answer is ITS ONLY DAY TWO PEOPLE! So far so good. Honestly, I really enjoy what I am doing. Its stressful and I want to improve myself and my work, but I do enjoy it. But that said, I haven't even finished one week. I still have four shifts until my two days off this week. (Though lets be honest, we speak French 95% of the time in the kitchen and I am a shy person with people I have just met, so between my personality and my discomfort with expressing myself in French, I mostly just respond by saying "I like it here" and "I'm not sure what I will do next."
Wish me luck. I shall continue onward. And I will write with more adventures in and out of the kitchen as soon as possible. (Did I mention that my housing doesn't have internet?) Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!