Writing in Chocolate, Midnight Adventures and French Skills: Week Eleven in the Kitchen
“So…You do the opaline and the mignardise and everything else…And I’ll just be over here. Okay?”
Sunday, I once again needlessly showed up 45 minutes in advance of my shift starting, and Stan and I had so little to do that he literally made the largest tiramisu I have ever seen while I slowly and calmly finished everything for the evening and then started on tasks for the next day. It was a win-win-win situation, as it allowed us to pass a calm day, me to learn more and become more independent in the kitchen, and everyone who works at Belles Rives to have an incredibly enjoyable staff meal that evening.
So. The apprentice is scared of bananas. Like, not only does she not like eating them, but she doesn’t like touching them or looking at them. So naturally when Stan found out, he promptly left pastry and went and grabbed a banana from the cold storage room to put on the counter beside her. As the night went on, the banana remained in the kitchen—and Stan continued to spread the story around cuisine. Near the end of the night Stan stood on the other side of the pastry window and said “Lea, Lea!” and after getting her attention very slowly peeled and then ate the banana. (Also fair warning, I told her nothing was a secret at La Passagére--soon she will find out that it is 75% due to gossipy coworkers and 25% me and my blog :P).
Sunday was Max’s last day so we went out after work for a drink. “A drink.” Or three. I felt so much a part of the team as one by one Max, Nans, Melisande and Stan each asked me to come out with them. Despite the sense of belonging though, as our group sat at a bar in town, the rapid French conversations surrounding me were numerous, and it took all my energy just to follow what was happening. Luckily and happily, I was able to follow the gist of most of what I heard. Unfortunately, by the time my brain comprehended what was going on, the conversation had moved forward and I wasn’t really able to participate in any of it—so I mostly just sat there silently nodding and occasionally smiling (or making weird faces at Nans across the table and exchanging stupid inside jokes via text message because we are both very mature like that).
It is crazy how you can be so close to such interesting people and not even know it. There is a runner who has been here for awhile now, Thomas, who it turns out is basically fluent in English and studied for six months in California. And then there is Julian up at the bar who basically blew my mind when he started speaking COMPLETELY fluent English with a 100% Scottish accent due to having moved to Scotland as a child. So many times I have seen them around and passed them in the halls, never knowing their bilingual abilities or experiences abroad. And even though I am finding more and more people who speak English, I seem to be speaking more and more French. Clarisse popped over for a few minutes today—and after only a week of not seeing her she commented on the advancement of my French level. Monday, without thinking about it, I spoke to her only in French. Before I usually used a mix of French and English—and when it was just the two of us I almost always just used English. But now I am comfortable enough using French that even when given the opportunity to speak in English, it is not necessary. I am finally capable (at lease a little capable) of saying not only what I need to say but what I want to express.
Apparently there was a wedding, and with the wedding some bachelorette activities. I’m going to go ahead and guess the wedding party was American, and do you want to know why? Because today one of the housekeeping staff members came by with a gift for Chef—and the pastry kitchen in general. Something that had been leftover by the guests. A penis straw. Literally it is a pink straw with a penis at the end you drink out of. And what did Stan do upon receiving it? Taped it to the wall next to where all the important cake and service orders are. Chef, upon seeing it the next day when he returned, noticed the straw and calmly turned to demand what it was and why it was on the wall. I don't know if it was a matter of class or if Chef was worried that the higher-ups would come through and notice our new decoration, but within a day, it had mysteriously disappeared.
Just another Tuesday in the kitchen, scribbling all over the counter in white chocolate practicing writing in French. Floriane decided it was time for me to learn, and set me up with a cornet of white chocolate at my work space. Time and time again, I attempted to write 'joyeux anniversaire' in chocolate on the counter--first so that it would be legible and then so it would be legible and small enough to be written on the chocolate plaques we make for special occasions.
As time went by, I became more and more antsy to get on with the service and stop practicing my writing skills, which were clearly not improving very drastically.
"Close your eyes Maddie, trust me. Close your eyes and keep writing."
I just stared at Chef.
No way was I going to close my eyes! "DO IT!" He said. After about 5 minutes of him attempting to convince me to close my eyes while writing, I finally did. I looked at my results. Looked at Chef. Looked back down at the counter. Chef came over and looked down at the counter with me.
“Yep, you’re right. Keep your eyes open” He cackled with laughter. Great. In the end, I did improve a bit, but I will most certainly need to practice again soon.
Sometimes things go wrong in the kitchen. People grab things out of the oven and burn themselves. People trip and break a stack of plates for the dinner service. Timers aren't set and compotes burn on the stove. There aren't many days when everything goes flawlessly. And that is just human nature, right?
But then there are the days like this one, where without any human intervention things go strangely wrong. Diego was once again in charge of the soufflés, and they were all--as usual--finished and ready in their glasses as we went on with the dinner service. We sent out the pre-dessert to one of the tables which had ordered a soufflé and he put a soufflé in the oven. Three minutes later the timer dinged with the 'ten minutes left' reminder, and we looked to check the status of the soufflé. And then we all did a double take, because it did not look at all how it should. The soufflé had more or less exploded. Somehow the glass had cracked and shattered on the inner layer, leaving a heap of glass shards and dripping, half cooked soufflé batter on the tray in the oven. Luckily we all noticed early on in the cooking process, so we were able to stick in a new glass and didn't have to send out the table's desserts much later than they should have. But it was incredibly strange, and probably not something I will ever see again!
“Maddie,” Chef said seriously, “T’es mon stagiaire preféré”
I couldn’t contain myself, I grinned outright.
“But your problem is that you stress too much, you need to calm down. We are just making pastries--no stress!”
Okay, so I already knew that, and I told Chef as much, but still. If stress is my biggest obstacle, that bodes fairly well for me continuing in this field, right?
Obviously I went out and told other friends and coworkers at Belles Rives that night what chef had said, and maybe the best part was that absolutely nobody was surprised. Every time I proudly told someone about being the “preferred intern” I got a response of “well of course you are, you are an amazing worker.” So thank you to everyone who believes in my abilities, and I promise to do my part and attempt to stress less in the kitchen (and lets be honest, out of the kitchen lol) so that I can fully live up to my pastry chef potential.
Wednesday after work I went home just long enough to grab my computer before heading out again to La Suite, the adorable wine bar on the corner of my street. With plans of work in mind, I wandered over to the counter only to find an acquaintance who is a server at my restaurant. We have never really talked much, so I sat down and assumed that we would exchange some pleasantries before I settles into my blogging, but a couple minutes later it became obvious that I wouldn't be getting anything done for awhile, and soon after a call came from a mutual friend of ours inviting us both back to the hotel to celebrate Julien’s birthday. And I quickly learned that a staff birthday celebration called for sneaking in through the restaurant after hours, in through the regular staff entry for the servers (not the below stairs kitchen staff entry) and then up into the staff office where people squeezed in chairs and slouched against counters amidst stacks of papers and bottles of wine. I felt so accomplished having made my way into the staff group, particularly since I was the only kitchen staff present--everybody else was front staff: the servers, the barmen, the managers and the sommeliers. As the night went on I ignored my phone and the clock that I knew was ticking away into the wee hours of the morning, and embraced my new community as the laughter and jokes flowed as freely as the wine. (Though don't worry, everyone who has known me from my previous life--I have still never consumed more than two glasses of wine in one day and have never been drunk--much to the surprise of every French person ever).
“Who is your new boyfriend Maddie?” WHAT. Again, we are in the middle of service. Chef seems to have temporarily moved on from the two previous victims, and has come up with the idea that I have started dating a second person since being at Belles Rives. He assured me that everyone knew about it already, so I should just admit to it. So if anyone reading this happens to know who my 'new boyfriend' is, please enlighten me--I am as eager to know as anyone.
Thursday I caught a cold, and while it was difficult to get through the day, it was also amusing because Chef asked me if I had caught a cold from sleeping naked. Of course, the first time he asked me, I didn’t understand and since I thought he asked me if I had slept well the night before, I enthusiastically said “Yes!” Which made everyone in the kitchen laugh...and then mock me mercilessly for 'admitting' to sleeping naked, even though they all knew that it was a language misunderstanding.
In case you were wondering, I am now capable of answering the phone. Of course, that means I am now expected to be able to deal with phone calls...which is usually fine since 75% of the time it is the bar or Hotel Juana staff calling to talk to someone in cuisine, and about 50% of the time now the people on the other end recognize my voice and accent and know that its me speaking to them.
“Let Lea talk for herself!” Floriane demanded, as I returned from going with the apprentice to ask something from the boys over in cuisine. Get that. I, me--MADDIE-- am the chatty and socially comfortable one (at least as compared to the new 17-year-old apprentice). I was the one in pastry tonight who was the most comfortable with the greatest number of staff members—and between the extra runner, the guard manger and the other cuisiners and people in pastry, I was constantly exchanging pleasantries with coworkers. I know it has been almost three months since I’ve been at La Passagére, so its normal that I know people and that I am comfortable, but also the other people with me are French/have been here longer than me. So I'm putting this moment into the "Maddie is successfully living and working as a foreigner abroad" column.
Thank you for reading about this week's adventures! Come back soon for more stories in and out of the kitchen, or read up on my past adventures here.
**Originally published on my personal blog, Unmasked Adventures