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Chaos and Strength: Week 15 in the Kitchen

I don’t know if someone wrote ‘lets all make fun of Maddie this week’ on my forehead while I wasn’t paying attention, or if we all just snapped a little at being overwhelmed by the new schedule and the lack of our chef in the kitchen…but lets just say that it is a good thing that I am relatively speaking an easy going and patient person. My American accent, my many lists, my desire to do everything and control everything possible, my lack of ability to correctly conjugate verbs in French, my laugh, my knowledge of French music…I basically couldn’t do or say anything without it coming back to me as the butt of a joke–in the friendliest way, of course.

“How are you Maddie?” Stan asks me in English.

15d5513769e1fe260f1567dbb12fe451“I’m fine and you?” I respond, speaking English as well.

“WHAT DID I TELL YOU ABOUT SPEAKING ENGLISH HERE? YOU ARE IN FRANCE!” T_T There is just no winning.

Another winner of a conversation was when my coworkers said after one of the many times I burst into laughter in the kitchen that day, “Well Maddie, you know what they say: a woman laughing is a woman half in bed *wink*” WHAT?! Apparently it is a real proverb here in France, and since I laugh about 50-80% of my time in the kitchen laughing, I had to defend myself. I guess what it comes down to is how we get ourselves through the day. For me, I need to laugh when I can and take every moment to smile that I can or I won’t make it through my 10-12 hour days–and for some of the others in the kitchen, they need to turn everything into a joke (particularly a sexual joke) or a piece of gossip.

After working only one day after my normal days off and getting another two days off on Monday and Tuesday, I returned to work Wednesday (sadly) at the ungodly hour of 9 am to find everyone over in cuisine already present. I thought I was ready. I thought that after img_8425
basically four days in a row off I would be rested and prepared for the new routine. HA. Looking back on that little dreamworld I was living in, I think about how naive I was and how much has changed in the past week.

So I showed up at 9am right? Okay, well you know me, it was more like 8:40 when I entered the kitchen. I walked in to find Floriane just getting there, and I asked her what was on the schedule for the morning. I had only worked a handful of mornings, and the few things I knew we did in the mornings revolved around the beach restaurant which was now closed for the season. But as it turned out, Floriane was as confused as I was, and we basically just stood there for 20 minutes chatting as we waited for our sous chef to come in and give us guidance. By this point, I was still relatively awake and excited for the day—I had some coffee and I was ready to img_8433learn about our new system.

Then Stan and Diego rolled in and what happened over the next three hours can really only be described as the most loosely organized chaos that has ever existed in a kitchen. Turns out basically none of the mise en place was in place for the TWO new desserts AND pre dessert that would be starting during our lunch service, so in addition to all the regular preparations that we usually have an entire afternoon to complete for the dinner service, we had to fit everything into the three hours we had in the morning—in addition to all the new additions to the menu that only Stan understood. Floriane ended up leaving at 12 in order to take a break and come back at 3, and I left around 2 in order to come back at 5. It was hell. I barely stumbled back to my room before tumbling into my bed for a nap. Did I mention that we only had the four of us to rely on for the day? And the rest of the week? AND TWO WEEKS AFTER THAT?! Yeah, my chef is on vacation…. The lucky bastard.

Happily for me, Stan said that we had advanced enough to go back to our regular schedule of him and Diego on coupure and me and Floriane starting at 14h. I was so relieved!

Well, starting at 2:00 was not the blessing I thought it was going to be T_T As it turns out img_8442every minute of the days when we work lunch and dinner is like realizing you don’t know how to swim after having already jumped in the deep end of a pool. Next to four other people who, while they might be next to you, also don’t know how to swim and are in the process of drowning too.

I showed up at 1:15 on Thursday and was not surprised to find Diego and Stan in the midst of service. I was, however, surprised that the service continued…and continued….and didn’t completely finish until nearly 4:00pm! Floriane and I ended up having only three hours to attack all of the preparations for the night service at the same time that we did mise en place for the next several days—including some large groups and events. It did all manage to get done in the end, but we also only managed to take 15 minutes to eat dinner and take a break before getting back to it.

Someone—I am not sure who exactly—decided it would be a good idea to serve the fig dessert to a group of 15 people. Its not impossible to do—and in fact I think we pulled it off quite nicely—but it took some serious planning and forethought to make sure we had it all

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Diego kindly painted on me as well as the plates as I cleaned the edges >_<

ready to go, whereas there are other desserts like the pineapple dessert which we are used to (and capable of) sending out 20-30 in one night. You see, the olive oil cream has to be cut into its portions and left in the freezer until about 20 minutes before it is served—and it can’t be out too much longer than that or it will be too soft. But after about 10 minutes it is soft enough that you can’t really move it around so the timing is very important. And then there are the plates painted with a reduction of sangria that have to be prepared in advance, the fig leaves that have to be collected outside of work, the cromeski (fried balls of brioche with dried and fresh figs) that need to be deep fried and served while still warm, and the poached fig that needs to be reheated and served hot…along with the normal amount of other ingredients that need to be prepared and placed on the plate. So to pull off 15 for the same group at the same time while still managing to prepare the rest of the service as usual took some coordination!

Friday was Benjamin’s last day working at La Passagére, so the evening wrapped up the way any special event ends in the kitchen—with a cocktail party and all the random scraps img_8449that are left over from the dinner service. It also happened to be the last day for the man who was responsible for all the restaurants at Hotel Belles Rives and Hotel Juana, so just before the service began everyone in pastry and cuisine was suddenly beckoned upstairs by Chef Yoric, where we then stood in an incredibly awkward circle and listened to a few of the staff give speeches to thank him for his service and to wish him good luck in the future. None of us were warned that this would be happening, and for the most part it took about half way through the speech to realize why we were even in the restaurant in the first place! Gladys and I took advantage of the moment and took a selfie… which then prompted Chef Yoric into telling me it was a good idea and that we should take a picture of the whole team. So there in the restaurant, with only about 1/4 of the team present, seconds before service would start, hiding our glasses of champaign, we took a team photo.

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The weekend brought even more newness–the beginning of Tea Time. Now, in addition to the lunch service from about 12-3 and dinner service img_8457from 7-11:30 on Saturdays and Sundays, we have Tea Time from 3:00-7:00. And since Floriane was on break for the weekend and the higher ups don’t really like the idea of an intern and an apprentice being left completely alone in the kitchen while there is a service like tea time going on, Clarisse came back from working over at Hotel Juana to help us out. Despite Clarisse being the person with responsibility in the kitchen that for the weekend though, I was in charge of organizing the afternoon—and did it well enough that when Stan arrived at quarter past six and asked what there was left to do on Saturday, I could confidently tell him that there was nothing left to do! Clarisse noted to him that I had everything under control and was not only organizing myself but the others in the kitchen as well. He told me—in English no less—that I was doing really good work. Its not like I was stressed out or anything by being responsible for everything being in place for an evening service for 50+ people… But it was honestly a huge relief to hear him say that.

After that though, we had a service from hell, as all the desserts came in two huge rushes, and we failed big time with the second. It was really just the perfect storm for us to mess up–and in the end we managed to get everything out and all the clients ended up with their desserts on a relatively timely basis. However, I was paying attention to the desserts I knew how to prepare and was expecting my coworkers to handle other things. Our new predessert is dressed ‘à la minute’ and while it is simple it takes time and space on the counter to prepare one by one when we get the order. The servers also placed all the orders at exactly the same time, and we had a few larger tables that ordered a handful of very different desserts that required organization and timeliness. Add in a few things that a few people forgot to do and some things that went un-mentioned, and within the space of one minute we went from a perfectly carried out evening to, as the French are so fond of saying, ‘dans la merde.’ Luckily for all of us, our sous chef continued right on with the evening and at the end he talked to us and told us all to take the night as a learning experience–as a moment to realize what could be done for tomorrow and for the day after that. And it was so true–no matter how difficult and stressful the moment was, there are days that are like that, and I learned a lot from it–we all did.

Thank you so much for continuing to read about my life here in the kitchen! Can you believe that I am only a few weeks from finishing my internship?! Don’t worry though, I have two weeks of vacation when I finish here, and it is going to be an epic food tour of Italy, Germany and Paris, so you will not be lacking in delicious pictures of food :3

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