Saturday, March 08, 2008

Working at a 2 Michelin Star restaurant - Part II

So I survived my month-long stage in a French kitchen. In my last post, I mentioned that I felt like death the first week. Well that continued you for two weeks after. I finally physically got used to the schedule during the last week of my stage (figures).

I stayed on the fish station for about 1.5 weeks afterwards. I pretty much learned all the seafood dishes. I was able to rip the tails off live blue lobsters, cut them in half, and cook them during service time for a consommé dish. I was also able to prep a lot of the fish, langoustines, and other miscellaneous shellfish. I learned all sorts of dishes including a "shellfish ragout" which included at least five different types of shellfish. I can say that I was pretty comfortable knowing all the recipes. Of course I need to work on speed, but we had many a good service working together.

There was one day when the chef gave the fish commi half a day off. I was to take over during service for the fish station !!!!! That is INSANE!!! A stagiaire taking over a station after a week+? That is unheard of! The beginning of the service went fine, however, there were a couple tables of 12 and then 8, I believe, that day. Oh man, when those orders hit, the Japanese meat commi had to take over. It was crazy. He worked so fast but it didn't even look like he was even breaking sweat.

Later that day, when the fish commi came back, I was quite relieved that we would be working together during service. I definitely wasn't ready for that but am glad that the chef had enough faith in me to let me "try." Another great thing about working as a team with this fish commi was how patient and efficient she was in teaching me the poste. There was one day I had to leave before a lunch service to deal with Parisian apartment stuff (ugghh). She told me that she would miss my help during service. Now that was such a rewarding compliment and really made my day.

Prepping daurade. Deboning these muther fuckers are a bitch.

One thing about this French kitchen is that it's so unlike a typical French kitchen. The owner and previous executive chef has a no yelling policy during service. It can get frustrating at times because when she is here during service, we have to practically whisper, "Combien de temps ?" (How much time?). But at the same time, it's nice that the chefs are not condescending or demeaning. There is a high level of respect given to commis, stagiaires, everyone. It was shocking and refreshing at the same time. If you did something wrong, the chefs and most commis, and even apprentis would simply tell you to not do that and show you how to do it correctly. This is proof that you can still have a 2 Michelin star restaurant and not have to treat people like crap.

The only "interesting" experience I had was when the garde manger quit in the downstairs restaurant. I was moved there during service time since there was no one else. Being the garde manger during service was a lot easier to handle because there were only a handful of recipes that I had to learn where the mise en place was quite simple compared to the rest of the menu. But, newly promoted commi made it his goal to make me feel miserable and stupid.

It actually started back when I was working at the fish poste. The chef asked me to cook 20 filets of fish ahead of time. I messed up the color on a few of them (chef told me and I knew I messed up), but the majority of the fish were totally fine. The new commi - let's call him Dents, made his way to my station to tell me I sucked. He made a point to belittle me a couple times about the fish. I was thinking "who are you? where did you come from?" I wasn't quite sure if my fish was really that bad so I double checked with chef and he said they were fine.

Ever since then, Dents' goal was to belittle me any chance he got. Apparently, he was irritated that they let a bottom of the totem pole stagiaire help prep other items besides salad. I know this because him and the sous-chef were talking about me in French as to why as a stagiaire, I was put on all these stations, because typically for a stagiaire I shouldn't be doing those things right away. The thing was I had already discussed working meat and fish with the executive chef who was more than happy to give me (and anyone else that works in his kitchen) the opportunity. So why were they talking about me in French when I was in the same room? Well, because the sous-chef has the thickest Japanese accent. SO thick that when he speaks French, it SOUNDS JAPANESE so I barely understand him. He thinks I don't know much French at all. One time he asked me to get "creme fouetter." I had no idea what that was because he said "Kuremu fu-ette-teh-ru." ahhahaha ! Anyway, moving on...

Outside looking in. Photo courtesy of Ulla's blog.

When I moved to the garde manger poste, Dents tried to get me to start with salads but there were already two apprentis doing that. Instead I got to do other things like make the amuse bouche as well as foie creme brulée. Even when I was making the amuse bouche, he told me I sucked - too slow, they were ugly, too big, too small, blah blah blah. The ones I ended up making looked better and fried better than the previous ones that were made. hah!

Anyway, this continued for a week. I was so miserable working with this guy. And it wasn't like he was belittling me because he wanted me to be better. He was spiteful about it. He would belittle me about plastic wrap, foil, sponges, whatever he could talk down to me about. I tried my best to be thorough, count how many items we had, etc. The speed part I could understand, but I was trying my best to do things quickly but with good quality as well. One time I wanted to make sure I was understanding his requests correctly (after all, he repeatedly said if I didn't understand, to ask him) - he got annoyed and told me not to think about it and to just do it. There were other times where he would time me. Like give me a time and look at the clock. 5 minutes, Joan. I was always running up and down the stairs here - and one of the waiters was like "why are you always running?" LOL.

It wasn't until one busy Saturday night where we were past our 30 cover limit up to something like 42, I believe. It was just three of us (me doing the garde manger and another girl who I also really got along with - she cooked the meat and seafood, Dents doing the plating, a couple sauces, and calling orders). Super mise en place + superbooked Saturday night. He gave me a little pep talk telling me that I need to do well tonight. I just said I would try. Well that night was the coolest night for me. Because I can honestly say that I kicked ass. (I never say that !) I got all the orders right and on time. We had large parties - and I was finally able to cannelle apple sorbet à la minute by myself. Previously, he asked one of the guys from pastry to do that during service when we were super busy. I was happy that I was able to make 11 cannelles of apple sorbet, cover it with hot peanut foam, cut strips of apple à la minute, and have them sent out without the sorbet melting. I even had time to help him and the other commi with plating. At the end of service, both of the commis told me that it was a bien bien service pour moi. =)

Photo courtesy of Ulla's blog

Ever since that service, Dents was nice to me and even told me that I did a good job. The day after when I was doing the mise en place, he would compliment me on my work (funny thing is the quality of my work did not really change compared to the day before. hah!).

Originally, I was supposed to move on to the meat station after fish, but since they did not have a replacement yet, I was put on the garde for awhile. I continued to work that poste and the environment got better for me after that successful service. When it was finally time for me to move to meat, I actually volunteered to continue doing service in the garde manger. I think the sous-chef and Dents were surprised that I did that. I felt bad because they didn't have anyone working there and I didn't want them to be dans la merde when things got hectic. Plus, I knew that I wouldn't be able to do anything during service at the meat station so being in the garde would benefit both of us.

Meat station was great because 1) I love working with meat, and 2) I got to do some cool things. The meat commi was a very quiet Japanese guy. He didn't really talk to anyone at all. He usually came in 5-10 minutes late but was fast at everything he did. Also a very nice and humble guy. He let me prep all the farce, kidneys, for a selle d'agneau dish. He also let me wrap all of them in crépine. He showed me this super awesome new technique about how to take apart a chicken which was 10x faster than the traditional way we learned at school. Mise en place for the meat station was really fun for me. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to work with the pigeon. (I still haven't worked with pigeon at school yet either)


The last two days of my stage, I decided to work in pastry. The mise en place for pastry was pretty enormous as well (surprise surprise). I got along super well with the chef de partie of the pastry kitchen. She is Brazilian Japanese but lived in Canada for a bit, and has been in France for the past 9 years. She was really nice and helpful, and guided me through a ton of recipes ranging from flourless chocolate biscuits, chocolate sabayon, passion fruit gelée, shortbread, pear egg rolls, pecan candies, caramels (like wrapping 1000000 of them!), etc.

Pastry was a relaxing environment for me compared to cuisine. Of course because you cannot rush pastry. I was able to take time doing things and only worked 10-12 hours. It was nice to work with another girl whom I got along with really well. When I hit my last day, the sous-chef didn't realize that my stage was over soon. He was expecting me to work more, and the other pastry chef requested that I work a double pastry shift. Surprisingly (those of you who know me in cuisine, know that I can never say "no"), I actually said "no" to working the extra pastry service mainly because the chef de partie told me it would be a waste of my time because I would probably be standing there doing nothing for hours. I did end up staying an extra 2.5 hours though just to help finish things up.

Welps, my one month stage is over. My stage was probably one of the more unconventional stages in a French kitchen because of the non-yelling rule and the opportunities given to me working the line. Of course there were a couple teenage bitches there but they will be anywhere and everywhere you work, no matter what industry you are in. I gotta say I am very thankful for having this experience. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that I worked with black truffles every day. And every time I opened that small box of truffles during service was like a piece of aromatic heaven.

I wish I took more photos !

1 comment:

Rafael Donnay said...

You kicked ASS !!!!