Monday, February 18, 2008

Working at a 2 Michelin Star restaurant - Part I

For the month of February, everyone has been setup for stages (or internships in the culinary world). My chef set me up at at a two Michelin star restaurant in the 6th. Initially, he suggested I work regular days and then gradually add in one or two days of double shifts. Well, I ended up jumping straight into 15+ hour days, 5 days a week. My days started at 830am and ended as "early" as 1130pm and as late as 1 am. We typically got a break from 230 - 530, but most of the time I didn't get out until 3 or 330pm. BUT we did have staff meals which often times included extra desserts from Pastry service! But anyway, let me just say that I have never worked so hard in my entire life. My previous stage before school started was at a two Michelin star restaurant in California - since I had a full-time office job, French class, and physical therapy, I was only able to work very Part-time helping the garde manger. This stage in France was super intense and cool because I was given the opportunity to jump straight into working in a French kitchen full-time.


I was put onto the sautée station for the first 3 - 4 days. They had me turn a couple buckets of artichokes, turn beets, cut up a bunch of cauliflower, prep other miscellaneous vegetables, some brunoise, and hachering BLACK TRUFFLES (they have this great truffle menu here which I wish I could afford !). It's funny because I often find the tedious and sometimes mundane things in the kitchen such as turning, cutting brunoise, and hachering (mincing I guess is the translation?)quite enjoyable. Usually when I am doing my mise en place, I "get in the zone" and in my own little world where I just really try to focus on what I am doing. I remember one time when I was told to monder a bunch of tomatoes (boiling the tomatoes for a few seconds in order to remove the skin). I did exactly what I had been doing at school - made an ice-bath and boiled the tomatoes for a maximum of 20 seconds. As I was taking them out, one of the sautée guys told me to leave them in for a long time and dumped some of my tomatoes back in the boiling water. He ended up leaving them in there for like five minutes and had to throw a bunch of them away because they were so mushy that they fell apart in your hands. Luckily, the tomatoes that I did were still intact and usable. Little things like that make me feel not so bad being the rookie in the kitchen.

Anyway, the mise en place part was okay, however, during service, the two sautée guys (one French guy - the chef de partie, and a new Japanese guy who had been working there for two weeks already) would not let me do anything. They made me wash spoons and pans and change the water in the containers holding the spoons. The first day I was like okay, I am just the stagiaire, the bottom or the totem pole, the rookie in the kitchen... but after four days I was like, this can't be right ? Am I the plongeure (dishwasher) or the stagiaire ? I mean, I would rather be doing more mise en place and at least practice prepping or something than "learning" to wash dishes faster. I was sooo ridiculously bored out of my mind. I was also just there to wrap boxes and things like that. Also, I had some trouble understanding the Japanese guy's French sometimes which resulted in him waving his hands at me whenever I asked him a question. I mean that was his answer.

Où est-ce que je peut mettre ça ?
*waves hands vigorously through the air.

Poubelle ça ?
*waves hands vigorously through the air

Qu'est-ce que je fait avec ça ?
*waves hands vigorously through the air

Seriously, what the fuck is that supposed to mean? I am not in Italy, I don't understand these hand waving signals! ahhahahaha


On the fourth day, I texted my chef to ask him if it was normal for a stagiaire to be assistant dishwasher during service at this particular restaurant. He said absolutely not, talked to the chef, and I was immediately thrown on the fish station. It was crazy because I went from washing dishes to working the line at the fish station ! They started me on cooking the chipirons or squid dish. It was absolutely delicious - sauteed squid with chorizo and confit de tomate on a bed of squid ink risotto, jus of squid and citron, olive oil, and parmesan espume. I was able to help the commi (line cook) of the fish station with everything. She turned out to be super awesome x 1000. We got along very well and communication between us was quite good considering it was all in French. For the rest of the day, she explained all the dishes to me and the way it was cooked. She was extremely patient and even repeated things many times without being irritated. The mise en place at this restaurant is enormous - they have a million different ingredients, sauces, jus, foams, etc for each dish. It was a lot to take in for me but it was really exciting. I was happy that both chefs made changes.

Now let me address being in school for "only" 50+ hours, and then jumping into a 70+ hour week working in a French Michelin restaurant. I have never felt like death until now (and most of you know how shitty my immune system is). I thought school could be tough sometimes because we have our 12 - 15 hour days, three days in a row... but no, I really did feel like death this week. All the running up and down stairs carrying heavy items. Sweating in front of the hot stove, not drinking water, etc. etc. During my "breaks" I would take a nap but I always ended up feeling worse when I got up. I mean I would walk back to work and be thinking "is this really happening? Oh my body hates me right now!" The break felt pretty useless for me, but I did survive my first week and started on a new poste where I will learn a lot.

1 comment:

Rafael Donnay said...

I'm proud of you! I only work 30 hours a week at my job haha