Sometimes life throws you opportunities in ways you are not expecting. Last week I was invited by a friend to come watch the preparation of a wedding cake in her kitchen. Her chef was willing to have me, I had the day off—it seemed like all the stars were in alignment.
A few days later, after a long week of working and returning home around midnight the night before, I woke up at 7:00am (after a maximum of 5 hours of sleep) in order to get myself together and be ready to spend another day in the kitchen. I woke up early enough to shower, and more importantly go find coffee, before Babette kindly picked me up—and soon we were pulling up at her hotel–Château de la Bégude.
9:30am and we are in the kitchen. I’m ready to get going, thinking that there will be a lot of mise en place and calculated running around as soon as we walk in the door.
To my surprise, after getting a tour of the kitchen and meeting a few people, Babette, her Chef and I took the espressos another chef prepared for us and we went outside to drink our coffee and chat. And no, we weren’t even chatting about the day or the cake—we were just small talking about life.
After finally getting around to looking at the order for the wedding and the number of guests and everything else, Chef Linda told Babette to “Look in the fridge and see what we have” to use to complete the mignardise, or after-dessert dessert to be served with coffee.
They were both so calm I almost passed out from the shock. (At one point in the morning Chef Linda even told me “Don’t worry, I will give you work to do. There is no stress in this kitchen–its all tranquil” because I kept offering to help her or do more–after two weeks at Belles Rives and La Passagére I am not accustomed to this. I’ve forgotten that the concept of “tranquility” can exist in a kitchen!)
After the fruit and mignardise were in order, Babette and I started weighing out the ingredients to make a ginormous batch of genoise sponge cake to use as the base of the naked wedding cake.
I forgot how much I love making cake. And I reveled in speaking fluent and rapid English while being in a French kitchen.
As the day went on, our cakes went in and out of the oven and blast freezer in order to get everything done and ready to stack by the evening, and in between layers of cake and batches of buttercream, we somehow found time for not only lunch but two additional coffee breaks. What is this kitchen life where friends speak English, Chefs give the interns control, and Italian sous-chefs in cuisine pop by to bring espresso between rounds of using the pastry kitchenaid to make fresh basil pesto?!
Of course, with any project of this size, there is always a moment when everything seems to go wrong. The cake was still too warm, the buttercream wasn’t the texture we were hoping for, and cuisine was steaming up the kitchen so much we had to move everything into the walk in refrigerator.
I think Chef Gabriel—the cuisine Chef and also Linda’s husband—was of the same mind as I was, and as he calmly walked in and out of the walk in fridge, you could tell that even though he didn’t say a word he had some doubts about our progress.
But Chef Linda….oh my god was she CALM. Honestly I don’t know how she managed it. But in the end, everything went well, and the cake finished beautifully—perfectly matching the ambiance of the Chateau and the Provence inspired wedding. And that is why she is the Chef. Maybe she can teach me some of her ways and rub off some of her chill on me.
And though I had just spent 9 hours in a row in a kitchen that was not my own, on my day off, that was not where the day ended!
Chef invited both Babette and I for drinks on the terrace, and then even after that out to a bar/restaurant with her family and friends (where we ended up eating second dinner…though we all by far deserved the calories and it was so delicious anyway that it doesn’t matter).
My French is unfortunately weak enough that I mostly just listened instead of participating to conversations near the end of the night, but I came away from the day having learned so much about pastry and the kitchen, as well as coming away with a few more friends, a few more experiences, and a few more memories.
Was it a day of rest? No. Will my body regret it come Monday when I return to my actual job? Probably. But thats okay.
Thank you Babette, Chef Linda, and everyone at Chateau de Begude for not only inviting me and letting me wander about the kitchen all day, but also for treating me as one of the family.