Pep Talks and Adjustments: Week Nine in the Kitchen
“Salut Bébé!” cries Stan. “Bienvenue!” Chef looks me in the eye before staring me up and down as he shakes my hand, as if he will be able to see into my thoughts and know what I’ve been doing since he saw me last just by looking at me. And then the rounds of “Salut, ça va?” and bisous with Floriane and all the boys over in cuisine. I’m getting better at saying hello. It only took two months, and I know you were all on the edges of your seats wondering how I was fairing over here in a French kitchen—that you were more curious about my social skills than my pastry skills. So there you have it. I can almost-normally greet everyone in the kitchen, and I don’t get flustered by all the cheek kissing and pet names.
“Chef! The Blog!” Seems to be the most frequent thing I hear out of Diego’s mouth. Sometimes I want to slap on a piece of duck tape so I have more juicy, uncensored stories to share with you all. But between Diego’s near-constant warnings and Chef remembering my blog more often than not, it is almost on a daily basis that amusing things happen that I am ‘not allowed’ to talk about here. So sorry in advance if you are missing out on some of the happenings in the kitchen.
"I’m eating at La Passagere with Babette this Sunday!” I happily announced to Chef.
“Tu ne peux pas” he responded “Tu ne peux pas manger ou tu travail”
Perplexed and only 70% sure he was joking, I questioned, “Meme si que c’est mon anniversarie?”
“Oh putain!” Chef grinned. “C’est ton anniversaire?! On sort samedi soir, eh? À minuit. Minuit et un minute.”
Even though I only managed to go from the frying pan and into the fire, attempting to turn Chef’s attention away from proclaiming his admiration for Babette and demanding whether or not she would come to work for him, and ending up getting him to pester me about how much I would drink and where we should go drinking, I was so thrilled. Within two months I am so much a part of the team that Chef wants all of us to go out together—he basically demanded to everyone on the team that they would come out with us on Saturday after the service to celebrate. And its not even just the pastry team—as the days passed Chef continued to spread the word and invite the boys over in cuisine.
Tuesday Chef gave us a pep talk before our service. Even though we only had 46 covers we were to do them perfectly—we were to put all the attention we usually put into 80 covers into the 46 covers, and we were to think about preparing for tomorrow. we were to think about how to do and be the best today while being better than yesterday. We were to improve ourselves and our abilities whether we were a commis, chef de partie, or an intern. We were to evolve. It was the first time chef had talked to us as a group like this—this seriously and as a team. For most of the ten minutes I was vacillating between crying internally with joy ‘yes I am part of the team!’ and then out of fear ‘oh god I’m part of the team…I have to get on their level…'
“Tu desines bien, Maddie” Great. But now to get the ideas off the paper and into the kitchen. Last Saturday I spent a solid two hours at a new cafe I found, stress drinking a bubble tea as I forced my brain into coming up with ideas for the new mignardise. After finally getting the creative juices flowing, I thought of twelve different ideas, and sketched them out in my notebook—ready to show them to Chef on Tuesday. Well. As much as everyone enjoyed looking at my sketches, besides liking my drawings I got no real feedback about the desserts themselves (perhaps because all the descriptions were in my sloppily written English) and I went on through the week not knowing where to start narrowing down my ideas. Every time I would specifically talk to someone about it too, they would give me a different answer! Jean Marc liked my reinvented strawberry shortcake idea, Floriane like the idea of using rooibos, and Paul liked the idea of using kumquat or something similarly acidic while recommending I do a duo or trio of mignardise for the clients sake and that they tend to like things with chocolate to end the meal. So that leaves me with what, a trio of strawberry, rooibos, kumquat chocolate surprise? Oh dear. I wish more than anything I had my own kitchen to mess around with recipes in!
Thursday I don’t think I have ever laughed so much or so hard in one 12 hour period. I don’t know if I was just a bit high off of the combination of lack of sleep, caffeine and adrenaline or if everyone was just in a supremely good mood, but there was a lot of laughter going around. A big part of that was due to the fact that Chef has decided to try really hard to learn to speak English so that he can work abroad. He has asked me to speak only in English during the service—and when I say a single sentence in English he will reply with “YES” or “NO” or maybe a random number or the name of a fruit. I appreciate it on so many levels, but especially because it reminds me how far I have come with my language skills in the past two months.
And I have firmly arrived to the level in the kitchen where I know what I’m doing well enough to teach it to someone else. Thursday we had a new apprenti (apprentice) start, and everyone was a little on edge because all we knew about her was that she was 17 and it was her first time in the kitchen—much like me when I started—so she would need help with and explanations for everything. Turns out Leà is not only super adorable but she is very willing to learn…and timid enough that she asks me for what to do next instead of approaching Stan, the Chef or Floriane, which to be honest I understand. But as we prepared for service on Thursday it without prior confirmation landed on my shoulders to organize what both she and I would do to get ready and keep busy. Of course it was no chore because I love teaching nearly as much as I love pastry, so helping her to understand bit by bit the pieces that go into the preparations for a service was quite fun for me.
Thank goodness I am a relatively patient and understanding person and am relatively assured with myself and my place in the kitchen. Thursday the murmurs of gossip exploded all over me, and what had been some light joking around within the pastry team turned into a wildfire of surprise and drama spreading out into the boys in cuisine. (And yes, Nans I’m talking particularly about you—and I know you are reading this!)
“WHY, Maddie? WHY HIM AND NOT ME?” Nans swept dramatically into pastry with his trays of potatoes, and started proclaiming on high his love for me.
Of course, he was mostly joking, but after the 20th time of him rushing in humming J.Lo songs then demanding why I had chosen one of the other boys in cuisine to by my boyfriend (not true, for the record) over him, I a little bit wanted to rip out my hair.
Luckily I scared him off for a few hours when he discovered that I was the same age as his older sister.
Julian came down to the pastry window to announce that there was a table with a couple on their honeymoon—and to ask if it would be possible to write “Happy Honeymoon” on a plaque of chocolate on the desserts for their table. After explaining and translating ‘honeymoon’ into English and giving the task to Clarisse who is a native French speaker and a fluent English speaker, we got to talking about the pronunciation differences between "Joyous Anniversaire” and “Happy Anniversary”—and Chef singled me out to tell me that it was necessary that I write and speak in French, and what was it with all these Americans and foreigners expecting English in France. This led to the others pointing out that I could just say or write the same message in Korean or Japanese, and then Chef asking me to say it in Korean. I did. And Chef just stared at me. I repeated the phrase. And he just continued to stare at me. “Wow thats so long…” Chef said. I did my best to refrain my eye roll and pounce on him to explain that it was actually the same number of syllables in French and in Korean—it was just that his ear was not attuned to the Korean language so it sounded more foreign and unfamiliar to his ear. Ah well. 😛
I am growing accustomed to perso at Belles Rives. I doubt there are many other places where employees are this well fed—and I am going to miss people preparing me three to six options of meats and seafoods in addition to salads and starches and vegetables along with whatever desserts we prepare in pastry, and then sitting on the counters in pastry with my coworkers as I shovel all the food in my mouth within 10 minutes so that I have time to go to the bathroom, drink something caffeinated, and answer all the texts I’ve gotten since I started work. Especially now that the people in pastry are really getting along as a team, it is natural and comfortable to eat while sitting on a counter in my work clothes--sometimes with desserts stashed on our cutting boards or above the microwave that we saved when we provided a particularly good dessert that day. I miss my own kitchen and I miss cooking for myself, but this really does feel like a family-style, comfortable meal time.
Wandering home after having been sitting in the park across from my lodging and writing my blog, I popped over to reception to talk with the night guard and ended up running into Paul who was heading out to the neighborhood wine bar. He invited me to join him and after dumping my computer in my room I followed him over to La Suite—only to find not only him but basically half of the staff of Belles Rives sitting inside. Okay half is an exaggeration, but there legitimately were eight of us from Belles Rives sitting at the bar and drinking wine and beer, chatting with the couple who owns the bar. 1am on a Thursday, glass of rosé in hand, I got to know the other employees a bit better as we spoke a melange of French and English (and surprisingly a wee bit of Chinese) and gossiped a bit with the woman who works there about mutual acquaintances and the goings on in my kitchen. Even a year ago if you had told me that this was how I would be spending my time, I probably would have laughed in your face. Me, going out in the wee hours of the morning after nearly 12 hours of work, knowing I have to work another 12 hours the next day, with a small herd of French boys to a wine bar I go to often enough to know the owners?
I was so worried going into work on Friday. Chef didn’t ask me or Floriane to come in early. There were going to be close to 80 covers. There was a lot to do for the weekend. It was only the second day for the apprenti and Floriane and I would be alone in the afternoon. As I walked into the kitchen I was kicking myself—why didn’t I decide to show up earlier so we could get more done? I should have! I looked at the to-do list on the wall, expecting the worst. Okay…it wasn’t bad….but unexpectedly we had to remake the creme patisserie citron—and that was added to my list. I jumped to it and one by one ticked things off my list. And sooner than we knew it, it was only 5:30 and Floriane and I were completely done with our lists except for some final touches for mise en place before the service. So what did we do? Obviously do a major cleaning of the kitchen. It isn’t even a surprise anymore that our hard work is rewarded by us being covered in water and making lists of everything in the freezers and scrubbing out random things that have gotten stuck together from sugar and spilled sweets. Luckily for us though we did get a nice 35 minute break—which was almost too hard for me to handle, and after eating and having some coffee and answering all my texts I like seriously didn’t know what to do with myself—especially when basically everyone else uses the time as a smoke break and departs the kitchen.
Thank you as always for reading my blog! It has been a crazy whirlwind these past few weeks, so stay tuned for many more blog posts to come about my dinner adventures in Nice and eating at La Passàgere with my brother!
Also as you may have noticed, the pictures this week were a bit random--I didn't have the time to take many pictures here in France so for the most part they are pictures from my travels in Japan, Korea and Portland, OR and Hawaii! Even though they had little to do with my stories I hope you enjoyed them.
**Originally published on my personal blog, Unmasked Adventures