“And for you Maddie, the menu is in French” Jerome says as he hands me a menu, smirking, after already having handed English menus to the rest of the table.
Were they running out of English menus? Was this a test for my French reading level? A joke between coworkers?!
I sit on the terrace of La Passàgere—the one michelin starred restaurant where I am doing my internship—next to my brother, sister-in-law and an amazing friend, and I couldn’t have been happier. It was the eve of my 24th birthday (which is only terrifying when you think about how I still am not sure what I’m doing with my life) and the stars had aligned to bring together some of my favorite people to share an amazing meal together.
Let me go back to the beginning of the story, so you can understand exactly what state of mind I was in by the time I was sitting at this lovely table bordering the Mediterranean Sea on my birthday with my brother.
So Alex and Caitlin had arrived in France the day before, and I went to Nice to meet them for their first day of adventuring. However, if you have read my most recent post about my life in the kitchen, you know that Chef insisted that the team went out for my birthday at midnight. After a lovely (if incredibly hot and sweaty) day in Nice and an amazing dinner at Franchin, I took the train back to Juan les Pins and made it just in time to meet my coworkers in the street as they walked from Belles Rives down to one of the corner bar/restaurant/cafes. I was expecting a relatively small group—and crossing my fingers for just going to have a glass of wine and not go to a night club as my chef initially insisted—though when we got to the bar it ended up being a group of 16 people!
Anyway. Very long story short, the large group of us stayed through two or three rounds of drinks, and then about half of us continued on at one of cuisiner’s apartments…until 6am. I left at 6am, anyway, the others continued straight on until 8 or 9am when they started work the next morning—WITHOUT SLEEPING.
I slept off my night (a solid 4 hours woo!), spent the day wandering around Antibes with my family, and then went back to my room to shower and change before going to dinner.
So a little sleep deprived, very excited and strangely nervous, I met Caitlin and Alex outside my lodging so we could walk to the restaurant together.
We showed up early so that I could bring Alex and Caitlin down into the dungeon that is the kitchen, but after a quick tour and introducing them to Stan, we headed back upstairs since we were going to eat dinner and all my coworkers were hard at work preparing for the service. We were about 20 minutes early and Babette had yet to arrive, so I was loath to go inside. However, between being attentive and knowing me, Martin and other front staff people ushered us inside and counseled us to sit at the bar and have a drink before dinner. Just as we were about to sit down at Bar Fitzgerald though, other staff from La Passàgere came and told us that if we came to the restaurant now we would be able to sit in the “first tier” or at a table that boarders the edge of the terrace directly and thus has a better view of the water unobstructed by other tables.
And our magical night commenced.
We were graced with Jerome and Marc as our servers for the night, and I think in the beginning of the night they were torn between being incredibly amused and a bit exasperated because I was talking too much and taking too many photos to allow for my family and friends to either look at the menu or make any decisions about our meal for the night. Twice Jerome came over to the table and asked if I was talking too much still for the others to make any decisions…Well at least he was being observant enough to realize that it was entirely my fault!
As you may or may not know, the lovely Caitlin (my sister-in-law) is a fairly hard core vegetarian. As soon as I knew that Alex and Caitlin were coming to France while I would be doing my internship, I knew that I would have them to whatever restaurant where I was working so that they could experience whatever I was doing for my job and see first hand what I spent my days working on. Then when I came to La Passagere and I realized that the entire menu was centered around sea food, I panicked a little but continued with my plan and made reservations.
Luckily for the incredible staff and everyone in cuisine, the staff was ready and had special dishes prepared uniquely for her.
We each ordered off of the menu—deciding not to choose the set menus for the evening. That meant that we each ordered a starter and a main entree, along with the dessert course.
Jerome came over to take our order (successfully on the third attempt) and when I got around to ordering the dessert I looked up at him, eyes wide, attempting to speak French as cutely and fluently as I speak Korean, and asked if it would be possible for the four of us to share all six desserts on the menu.
“The desserts are already taken care of Maddie,” he said, “Don’t worry about it.”
I realized the Friday before when Chef called up to the restaurant during service to make sure that everyone was fully aware that his intern would be eating there on Sunday that we were going to be treated well, but it was in this moment that I realized that it wasn’t just Chef that was looking out for us—the entire staff really going out of their way to make sure that the night went well.
This entire time that we had been making decisions about the menu, we had been munching on canapés—also while the sun was setting around us.
It was maybe one of the most beautiful starts to a meal I have ever had.
The meal progressed with an unforeseen dish that I knew was a creation of the guard manger. Since I am always on the kitchen side of the preparations—and in the pastry—I never get to see the finished products from the cuisine or taste any of the things they are working on, so this was an incredible pleasure to enjoy all the hard work that I know goes in to each dish.
The next course was the scheduled starter that we had each ordered—which for me was a trio of sea foods on a plate of crushed ice. I couldn’t help but laugh because now I know why pastry and guard manger are always at war over the mini white bowls and the large lipped plates!
Babette got the grilled tuna starter—again which made my smile because I know it was Nans and Melisande who had prepared it and I knew how much love had gone into the dish.
The next (again, unexpected) course was probably my favorite of the savory courses, but they were all so good it is hard to definitively say that. Anyhow, it was two small raviolis topped with seaweed—and while it had a strong smell of ocean and seaweed, it tasted like happiness and was not overwhelmingly ocean-like when you bit into it.
You can tell from all the stalker pictures I took of Babette that it was amazing. 😉
By the time our main courses arrived, darkness had fully covered the skies and the waters. Lights twinkled on distant shores, stars peaked out from behind the clouds, and the moon shone far above.
We were already four courses and one bottle of wine into our evening, but it felt like we had just arrived.
I managed to stop taking pictures long enough to eat my meal, but between the beauty of the dish, my incredible happiness of being with my loved ones, and knowing how much work had gone into what I was eating the entire day by my friends hard at work one story below us, I wanted to remember everything.
Okay, enough of the savory dishes—on to the real reason anyone eats anything: the dessert!
When Marc brought the pre-dessert out he took a deep breath, just about to give his speech to explain everything. Then he stopped short, chuckled a little, and said “Well I’ll let Maddie explain this to you. I’m scared I’ll get something wrong! Enjoy!” And then made his exit.
Dying to explain my team’s hard work, I told them all about the dish and the effort that Clarisse had put into creating the recipes and the work that we all did each day to prepare the dish for all the guests.
The dish is constructed starting with a base of white chocolate shavings, then points of blackberry compote alternating with piped toasted sesame whipped ganache, topped with squares of white chocolate, silver leaf and flower petals.
For our main course of desserts, we were given five of the dishes on the menu: the fig dessert, peach dessert, strawberry dessert, raspberry dessert and apricot dessert. Even while I was basically out of my seat with excitement over finally sharing the desserts with my family and friends and even though I have already eaten all of the desserts before, all I could think about was how stressful it must be for my team down in pastry—because I know what a struggle it is to prepare all the desserts for the same table at the exact same time.
In order for all of us to eat all of the dishes, we had a pass-the-plate-after-having-a-bite method to sharing the dishes. Some people were relatively reluctant to give up the dishes in front of them, so at one point or another we had a plate traffic jam situation going on.
For this course, despite having me at the table, Marc actually did describe all of the desserts and give his little schpeal for each of them—which I loved since I never knew how the desserts were presented before, being always hidden away in the kitchen.
We got a second main course of desserts—each of us getting a soufflé this time—mainly because someone *cough* Michael*cough* tipped over the soufflé that had originally been scheduled to be served with our other desserts.
Don’t worry. We completely finished all of them.
At one point during our many desserts (which everyone around us was incredibly jealous of) the table next to us also received their desserts for the evening. The man at the table—who had definitely had one glass of wine more than he probably should have—was given the peach dessert. Which for the record is incredibly delicate and complex—with a lot of hard work and flavor going into it.
“Well! It looks like a phallus!” the man exclaimed to his wife.
Jerome, who had been lingering nearby, caught my eye and snickered. He gently sidled up to the table, and in English gently said, “Sir, excuse me, but the table just behind you has one of the staff from our pastry team.”
The man turned around, “Oh! I’m sorry. Well done, really.” He said, directed 100% at Babette, who waved off the comment and made some gestures at me, trying to explain that it wasn’t her but me who worked in the kitchen.
Along with our soufflés, someone—I’m guessing Chef but honestly it could have been the restaurant in general—gave us free glasses of champaign.
Second to last table left sitting on the terrace, Marc brought over our box of mignardise to end the night.
I couldn’t believe how beautifully the night had gone. Nearly four hours of stuffing our faces with amazing food and non-stop talking, and the time passed by as if we were in a dream. Fourth country in the past four years to celebrate my birthday—and while all have been memorable this night was truly unforgettable.
Thank you of Babette, Alex and Caitlin for celebrating with me, and to all of the staff at La Passàgere and Belles Rives for making it happen!