Trials, Jokes and Translations: Week Ten in the Kitchen
I think my team has finally figured out how weird I am. I’m finally comfortable enough to be myself. It has not been easy to find my personality while speaking French and while simultaneously beginning a new job and career in the kitchen. It has been hard to balance being myself with being a student and a worker and a foreigner and a new language. But I think the two/two-and-a-half month point has marked the change in me going from that-timid-American-girl-who-for-some-reason-smiles-a-lot to being simply Maddie. Just Maddie. And I like it. Sure, I’m a weird person—I make random noises and sometimes talk to myself in languages that the people around me don’t understand. I’m sarcastic and I roll my eyes and sometimes I swear a lot. I sing Korean ballads and English show tunes to myself while I work. But in the end, that is me and I am happy that even if my coworkers find me strange and unique, it is my actual self that they are getting to know and not the facade of my French level and awkwardness in the kitchen that is getting in the way.
Chef asked me if a friend of mine wasn’t accepting a job proposition because I wanted to keep him all to myself. “That's Maddie,” he joked, “Just wanting to keep me and all the boys to herself and push all the other girls away from me” he says, even as he has a team with three other girls in it. “Don’t worry Maddie, you are still my princess” He winked at me. For someone as calm and reserved as Chef is, when he calls me his 'princess' and started using Stan’s nickname “bébé” for me, in addition to telling me that if the mignardise worked out that it might just melt his heart, I feel so proud. He is proud of me. He has accepted me. (Despite my aforementioned weirdness 😉 ).
“So we can use your mignardise tomorrow?” Chef asked me.
I looked at him. I turned and looked at Floriane. I looked back at Chef.
“Instead of the chocolate tartlets we can use your idea?” He asked again.
“Floriane?!” I asked. I really had no idea. I thought we were preparing a test to see if the chef would approve or not—he apparently had enough confidence to think we were going to be ready to just serve up what we had created.
“Is it not your dessert Maddie? Is it Floriane’s?” Chef asked, persisting.
“No….It’s mine….But….” I was clearly terrified.
“Okay, so tomorrow will be a trial and if it works we will use it for tomorrow night and if not we won’t” Chef calmly responded.
**sigh** Why wasn’t that the response the first time?! WHY DO YOU HAVE TO STRESS ME OUT LIKE THIS CHEF?! I can’t handle the pressure T_T
(Chef also said some very sweet things about the mignardise and me, but he specifically told me it was not to go in the blog, so you will just have to take my word on it 😉 )
On Thursday, after getting all of our work done, Floriane and I had a solid hour to work on the trials for the mignardise. We ended up making eight little desserts—four in raspberry, four in passion fruit/mango, with two of each using a creme brûlée cream and the others using a whipped white chocolate ganache. The main feature of the creations was that they were infused with rooibos, and I knew it was a bit of a stretch because it is not a common flavor in France. I was not sure at all that it would be a success—the little creations were not exactly what I was expecting or hoping for, though I didn’t really have any ideas of how to make them better. Nonetheless when Chef arrived, he called me over to the counter and made me explain them one by one as he sampled them next to me. And needless to say I was abjectly terrified and wanted to run away or maybe just curl up in a ball on the floor.
“They are good. We will use this one” Chef pointed to the raspberry creme brûlée option. “But I don’t taste the rooibos, we will choose another tea. Maddie, viens!” Chef said and then led me upstairs to choose from the teas the restaurant had on hand already.
Chef tasted half of the trials and the other half was left for after the service, so Floriane and I could taste them and make sure that the texture held up. They were more or less good through ’til the end of the night, but they will still need a bit of tinkering before we send them out as the mignardise in the restaurant. And because I was off work on Friday, that meant waiting until next week to do more trials. Good. Because I wasn’t stressed enough.
And speaking of stress, just as service was starting Chef started talking about new desserts and pre desserts and mignardise and all the trials that have been happening…and then he was like “So you will have two new trials next week, yeah Maddie?” And then had the gall to wink at me. So the question is—was Chef being serious and is expecting two entirely new ideas next week or was that just to mess with me?
For as serious as Chef is, he is actually the biggest jokester. Thursday I am fairly certain he was trying to give me a heart attack. Stan was out of the room working on the new desserts, Floriane was in charge of the soufflés, Leà the apricot desserts, and me everything else. I had it under control. I had my lists and I was ready. Chef announced that he was sending out the pre dessert before two soufflés, and I occupied myself with preparations for the next day, as I had nothing to do with the soufflés besides moving two plates off the shelves to the counter so they would be ready. As Chef picked up the ticket to send out the dessert, he announced the two soufflés…along with a strawberry dessert and a fig dessert. I looked at him, puzzled, and said, “But Chef, it is just two soufflés, there isn’t anything else.”
He stared me down, “Deux soufflés, un fraise, un figue”
I’m shocked. This happened once before, as you may remember, where the entire team somehow missed a strawberry dessert and then we were completely scrambling at the last minute to be ready on time. Oh my god…what do I do?! I had been so chill, acting like I was all in control and capable. Eyes wide as saucers I step closer to look at the ticket in front of Chef. C’est pas possible! I say over and over to myself and out loud to Chef.
Of course, I should have trusted myself. As I leaned over I read on the ticket that there were, in fact, just two soufflés. Nothing else.
I look up into Chef and Stan’s smiling faces, then promptly bang my head against the counter. Maybe this is a warning sign to take life a little less seriously.
Remember back when I first came to France, and when I said “Chef” I meant Chef Vincent Catala instead of Chef Steve Moracchini? Well. I have been working with Chef Catala over the past couple of months to translate his website and some of his recipes from French into English—and now I am a celebrity 😉 So if you would like to check out some of his amazing talents—now available in English!!—you can head over to his website here: vincentcatala.fr
Even though it was a bit exhausting, it was amazing to wake up Monday morning and have breakfast with Alex and Caitlin before going to work, and then meeting them after work for a glass of wine on the beach as we wiggled our toes in the sand and looked out across the Mediterranean sea and the stars. All I wanted to do was follow my routine and sleep in, write my blog, and go to sleep early. But at the same time it was so incredibly nice
to have family around and catch up on happenings back home and mutual friends and experiences. For as good of friends as I have made here, I have known them for a maximum of five months—and most of the people I’m spending time with I have known for two to three months. Also the fact that they came to see me—came to see my world and work around my schedule and talk about my life—was so amazing. Over the past few years it has been me who has been going to visit them, who has been envious about their adventurous and successful adult lives. And now we are in a place where we go to visit each other. It makes me feel like I’m doing something right.
Since Alex left I seem to be having a life crisis moment though—what am I doing with my life, where will I go next, how will I get through if my friends leave and I no longer have visits to look forward to? For a long time, basically since I came to France, I had major visits to look ahead to. But now the next major event is me leaving and going back home! And while part of me wants nothing more than a real bed (not a top bunk) and a personal kitchen, it seems strange that after nearly six months in France I am in the home stretch and that it is all more or less coming to an end!
Chef and I had a “Cake Making Master Class” which he attempted to charge me for—I told him I’d pay after the class was finished. It started out by Floriane telling me to make the marble loaf cakes that were scheduled on our list—so I went and found the recipe in our recipe folder and started in on it. Neither of us had used the recipe before and neither of us had seen anybody else make the cakes before, so it was a bit of a guessing game as far as how things would work out. Chef had been in the kitchen working on the bread for the cuisine, and Floriane went back to making the opaline and other such things to prepare for the mise en place for the evening. After things got started (and since Floriane and I were in a good and organized place for the day and didn’t have an overwhelming amount of things left to do) Chef came over and started giving me advice on what to prepare when and how to organize myself. As it got time to put the batter into my prepared cake pans, Chef completely abandoned any pretense of doing other tasks and just came over and piped the batter with me. We passed the time in harmony, sharing jokes about Floriane (in a kind and loving way 😉 ) while we worked. Apparently whatever I did while making the cake batter was a huge success, because Chef was quite happy with the result and kept telling me that it was super moist and that he was going to take one home to share with his family. It wasn’t my recipe or my technique, so I’m not quite sure why he was so happy with me, but I’ll take it. Maybe the last person to make the cakes messed something up? Anyway. It was a success.
On Thursday I showed up about an hour early to work—thinking that the morning team would be a bit behind with the large list that Floriane had left the night before and also thinking about finishing the mignardise that I had started working on the day before. So when Stan questioned why I was there so early and I vaguely hinted that there was a lot to be done but that I was happily surprised to find how far in advance they were, Stan just turned and stared me down. “Do you think I’m not capable of doing my job?” He asked. Oops, maybe shouldn’t have told the sous chef that I was surprised he was not late with his work! I’m mostly sure he was teasing and I think I was fairly successful in muttering excuses about mignardise trials and knowing how long the to-do list had been for the morning, but you never know. Some days my French skills are better than others.
Thank you as always for stopping by and reading about my adventures--particularly if you have made it all the way through this long post and to the end 😉 I have heard from several of my French readers that they like my blog but it is so long that they get overwhelmed by all the English. So to all of you as well, if you have managed to skim this post and check out all the highlights, congratulations. Stay tuned for more adventures in and out of the kitchen!
**Originally published on my personal blog, Unmasked Adventures