- May 26, 2008
Pheww!!! 1st day in my new job, at a famous French caterer…..started at 6h45 and finished at 19h45, with 35m for lunch. It’s work, work, work…..lots of repetitive work, but lots of creativity as well. Everyone seems to have a very good “team ethic”, where we all stay until all work is finished…..it’s odd, but working 12h30 does not really pose a problem since we all want to get the work done – from the head chef down to the trainees.
Given that the French Open has just started we have loads of work and everyone is on a 7 day week for the next 2 weeks. So, even though we talk about it all of the day, I don’t think that I’ll be seeing much of Roland Garros !
Anyway, I simply wanted to record the start of my 5/6 weeks at my first caterer in France.
Stay tuned to hear more about my experiences in one of the most respected caterers in France.
- May 16, 2008
So there we have it, 8 months of studying in a French school of cookery for the entry level cookery diploma…..and today at 19h50 french time I finished cleaning M. Baucheron’s (one of our teachers) kitchen for the last time.
Today we had our practical exam where we had to prepare 2 dishes in 4 hours –
It was certainly a much more stressfull exam that the one that we had in February, and at the end we were all rushing trying to get the different items ready and dressed in time. Anyway, in the end the different chefs (because we have 4 chefs from Parisian restaurants who come to evaluate us) congratulated us on what we had done.
So, without knowing the final mark yet, I feel pretty confident that I’ve at least passed – I’ll find out by mid-July for the official mark.
In any case, that’s the end of the 1st step. I now move into my 11 months sabbatical during which time I will be doing temp work in Paris until July, working in Newcastle upon Tyne (England) for 3 months and then back in Paris for who knows what.
Just before closing the door on this 1st exceptional chapter, I’d like to show you a brief film of my fellow students, where they explain what they plan to do during the next 12 months. Unfortunately it’s in French, but tant pis….va falloir apprendre un peu de Français, alors !!!!
- May 12, 2008
So there we have it for another year, the end of the 22 days of birthdays in our house (me the 20th April, Noé 28th April and today my wife)…..and quite frankly, we kept the best for last !!
Yesterday at 18hrs I was a worried man – just coming to the end of Noé’s birthday party (delayed by 2 weeks) and I still had nothing planned for my wife’s birthday the following day. However, it has to be said that on the present-front I am a lucky man (not just on the present-front either I hasten to add !!!) because my wife genuinely loves flowers…..and so it was that 1 hour (and a visit to the florist) later, I had a magnificent present waiting to be sneaked up from the basement and into the flat at 5 in the morning when the said birthday girl is fast asleep !
(apologies for the quality of the next 2 photos, even if I actually rather like the effect on the 1st one 😉 )
All that was required was a home-made birthday card to prepare and a couple of post-it notes (for each of the 2 small flowers that I had bought as separate “presents” to be discovered) to write.
The end result today was a delighted wife, me relieved and Paris bathed in glorious sun….and so a good excuse for a birthday picnic at the parc des Buttes Chaumont in the 19th in Paris, with friends Géraldine, Christophe (and their 2 kids, Emile and Anouk) and Estelle.
- May 6, 2008
This weekend, with its fine warm Parisian weather (though as far as I’m aware, it was the same in the UK), was the chance to invite friends to spend an evening eating a salad and drinking wine on our balcony.
Monique and Peter were the friends that we managed to tempt out of their parisian flat in the 6th arrondissement, which also gave us a good chance to catch up on Monique’s restaurant project (last year she did the same CAP Cuisine as me) and also gave me the chance to speak a bit of English (Pete being Australian, though he speaks French too).
So, given that Monique worked in La Fontaine Gaillon (see my posts with category Fontaine Gaillon) for her professional training, I decided to concentrate on fish (anyway, I love working with fish), whilst keeping a salad theme given that I knew that we were in for a warm evening.
As per usual when preparing fish for dinner, I went to my fishmonger to see what was in / on offer / looking good, before deciding what to make. As it turned out, it was the red mullet that looked best and was on offer (13€ the kilo). Given that I work regularly with Mullet at the Fontaine, I knew straight away how I wanted to prepare the fish – cut off head, take out spine, take out bones, leave skin on (out of interest, in general, you lose between 40-45% of the weight of the fish when prepared this way, but it means that you have very little work to do once you start to eat the mullet….and I hate having to work even more on something once I’m sitting down to eat….mussels and oysters being one of the rare exceptions)
As well as using fish, I wanted to reuse a salad recipie that I had concocted a few days earlier – courgettes cut into a julienne / fine spaghetti, mixed with coriander (stem and leaves) and mint leaves (finely sliced), bound together with a warm walnut and shallot dressing (straight out of the Tom Aikens “Cooking” book – thoroughly recommended, by the way).
The final touch to the fish, by the way, was a couple of batons of rhubarb, pan-fried in a calvados syrup…..I wanted to add a bit of sweetness with the mullet, and it worked pretty well (this idea came from a visit to a restaurant – thoroughly recommended, by the way – in Paris, “La Carte Blanche” where they mixed macarons with mullet and chocolate)
- April 28, 2008
28th April 2008…my son’s 5th birthday, and of course, an opportunity to do some more cooking, though this time more like good ole’ home baking. So, the birthday cake this year was a chocolate version of the classic “fraisier”.
All the usual stuff – sponge cake (square), crème patissière with butter added, butter softened (en pommade), strawberries, syrup (for soaking into the sponge cake – I did orange flower syrup, but whatever you like I guess…couldn’t really taste it anyway !!!).
The different stuff – raspberries (for in between the 2 sponge layers), dark chocolate (70% – grated into chips and sprinkled liberally on top of the raspberries), cocoa powder (for putting in the crème patissière and for mixing with icing sugar and then dusting on top of the finished fraisier).
So…..the end product ??!?
…..any problems ?? Well, since I dusted the cake with so much cocoa powder and icing sugar, the writing (it’s meant to say “Noé, Happy Birthday 5”) simply didn’t stay put, and thus had a tendancy to “slip”……but what the hell, I think that the end result is almost “arty”….anyway, my client was happy, which the important thing (and there’s none left as I write – 1 day later !!).
- March 31, 2008
Our trip to London this weekend (I’ll write about it in another post) started with a visit to the Chelsea restaurant “Tom Aikens” to talk with the man himself,….well, erm….Tom Aikens of course !!
Without going into the details (coming soon in another post), this prompted us all (3 of us bought one in the end) to buy the Tom Aikens “Cooking” cook book….a lovely book, an interesting intro from Tom, nicely organised with a few pertinent comments on certain products all the way through.
Anyway, being back in Paris, being back at school and given that it was Monday I had the morning to myself….so what to do ??? Prepare for my exam on Wednesday, prepare for my cookery class later in the day, go to the gym….or spend a short while in the kitchen trying out some of Tom’s recipies for veg ?
As it happened, there were some artichokes, a butternut squash and 2 parsnips loitering in the fridge which needed to be used up before they started “turning”.
So, after a quick nose around Tom’s book I came up with the following combination….
3 veg and 3 different ways of preparing them….roasted (squash), mash / purée (parsnip) and sautéed / braised (artichoke).
Overall result ?
Squash was good, artichoke would have been good (but for the “chemical” stock), parsnip….well, it was curiously “bitter”…even before adding in the cumin, lemon and thyme. I guess that this was an example of good idea, bad product.
- March 23, 2008
Quite some time since my last post, and since there’s been a few difficult moments, burns, cuts and even managed to stab myself (purely by accident, I might add) ! So, in today’s post I will cover
So, organic food and sustainable fish first of all. For a few months now, I’ve known that what is important to me is the produce, the producer and the quality of the product. Whether it’s because I have some catching up to do, or simply because, like Terry Laybourne, in my opinion it all starts with quality products regardless of the final dish being prepared. As I’ve already said elsewhere on this blog, it’s not only quality, but also the link with “local” produce is important to me….creating the link with the people and identity of a particular region.
I’ve been reading about the seasonality of fruit and veg in France, as well as checking up on what is available in my home region of Northumberland. In addition, at school we’ve been looking at fish, beef, veal (strangely not very available in England, at least not in Northumberland), lamb, offal, veg & fruit. This reading has been backed up by being able to work with good quality fruit, veg, meat and fish at La Fontaine – seeing how the quality is measured by the chefs. There’s a hell of a lot to learn and discover, a journey which is just beginning and should never end – especially when you consider only one particular food source, fish for example, and you touch upon the huge depth of information / variety that exists just in the UK and France….even in France Sea Bass has several different names (Bar or Loup de Mer) depending upon where it is fished, with different breeding periods between Channel / Atlantic / Mediterranean bass.
On the topic of fish, and particularly sustainable fish, I’ve been reading a fair bit these last few weeks (partly in preparation for our meeting with the London chef Tom Aikens who champions this topic). It’s such an enormous topic that it’s all a bit much at times – I’m trying, at the same time, to get to know fish, their names in English & French, seasonality, their availability / vulnerability, adult size (and thus the minimum size they should be when buying them), their cost, the different techniques for catching them and so on….so loads to take in. But fascinating.
With regards to organic food, I’ve been checking out the different shops in Paris which deal with organic fruit and veg – Naturalia, CanalBio (specific to the 19ème arrondissement), Nouveaux Robinsons, La Vie Claire. They’re all more expensive than our local greengrocer and Monoprix, though Nouveaux Robinson seems to be by far the best value – generally not being much more expensive than what we currently buy (unlike La Vie Claire which is outrageously expensive). I still don’t know why BIO is more expensive – maybe because the crops are less “controlled” and thus yield is not always optimal and thus the producer charges more to compensate ? Anyway, as with many things at the moment, I am at the beginning of understanding what BIO is about.
At the end of next week is our trip to London. Really looking forward to getting my French collegues’ reactions to what’s going on in London. I’ll be taking photos and film of the visit so you’ll be able to see what we got up to in a week or so’s time.
I’ll sign off with a short note about my sagging confidence at the moment. I’m not feeling creative, I want to be tested in a kitchen working a service at the hot plate (to prove to myself that I can do it – I know that I can do “cold starters” for 100, but cooking the main courses ain’t the same thing !). Went out to eat last night with my wife at the Ziggothèque in the 13ème in Paris – an opportunity to talk with the chef who is someone that I would like to work for. It was a really good evening – good food prepared by a chef who tries to get good products, who goes to Rungis (Paris’ main market) 2 or 3 times per week, who makes his own stocks and who was available to chat for quite some time. We’ll see what comes of it. I also boosted my confidence by spending today preparing the meal for tomorrow lunchtime when a friend comes to eat. I’ll post the photos in a few days when the final meal is available.
OK, I’ll sign off. I’m meant to be writing more, but shorter, posts…..so this isn’t a very good start….sorry !….and Happy Easter to you all.
- February 18, 2008
They say that a picture is worth a 1000 words….well, the picture below should tell you one thing – whatever it was, it certainly seems to have been enjoyed given that less than one quarter remains.
Anyway, the above picture is infact the remains of a steamed sticky treacle pudding (albeit a slightly “brutalised” one !), and it was lovely…no, gorgeous.
My wife made it today, taking a recipie from the book “The Great British Menu”. We had never made one before, and so we didn’t have a clue if it was going to work…..especially with all of the chat about greaseproof paper, silver paper, putting a fold into both sheets of paper, tying with a string…..deary me, what a “perlarva”, as one could say !!
As it turned out, my French wife managed to produce a marvellous example of traditional British cuisine, and our French guests even seemed to like it.
The trick was…..well, there is no mystery…..it’s dead simple. Just prepare the mix (ingrediants listed below, as per recipie in our book), prepare the orange juice and rind, pour this orange mix into the pyrex / glass dish (pre-buttered), add in the cake mix, place a circle of greaseproof paper on top of the pudding (touching and covering the cake mix), wrap the whole of the bowl / mix / everything in the silver foil and then place this into a steamer (we used our pressure cooker, without using the pressure cook options), and steam for 2 hours.
When ready, take it out of the silver foil, get it onto a plate and onto the table….and into your mouth….hmmmmm 😉
for the mascarpone and vanilla cream….
- February 17, 2008
Reading Aidan Brooks‘ (newly qualified chef) latest article in the Observer Food Monthly blog, I got to thinking about what I have experienced these last few months – notably when eating with either the team from the Zephyr or the Fontaine Gaillon.
Surely, when eating with 15 other “foodies” the food should be pretty decent – and certainly when those foodies are French chefs, non ?
Well, it is not always the case.
Generally speaking, at La Fontaine we eat better than at Le Zephyr, or atleast we eat a bigger variety of things. We eat what is left over from the previous couple of days of work, which in the case of La Fontaine means usually a mixture of line caught sea bass, cod as well as, quite often, either mussels or squid. There’s also a fair bit of lamb (the top end of the ribs) which is left over from preparing the rack of lamb main course for the restaurant menu – this usually goes into a ragout, such as a curry. All of this is served with the ubiquitous pasta / rice / cous-cous / chips.
At Le Zephyr, the staff meal is simpler, and prepared in much less time – usually 15 minutes maximum, consisting of 1 meat / fish with pasta / chips or sometimes rice, accompanied by a salad.
The preparation of the staff lunch at La Fontaine is always left to the saucier / rotisseur, but I often help with the prep, and sometimes I do the whole thing from start to finish (a lamb curry that I did once went down particularly well, much to my relief !). Given that we eat at 11am, this prep starts usually around 10 in the morning and consists of
Whatever is concocted, one must not forget that feeding the staff and keeping them happy is absolutely vital – so, if you are responsable for a meal that has not been well received, you will know about it straight away, believe me !
The challenge of the staff meal is to be able to transform the leftovers into a decent, tasty meal for 15, in 1 hour – pretty intimidating for anyone, but certainly for a trainee English chef !!!
Before starting my training I always imagined that professional chefs would be chatting about food, restaurants, products and food experiences from travelling……well, not at all !!! I very rarely hear my colleagues talking about any of these things. I’ve not been in the business long enough to be able to say why food is almost totally absent from all discussions at the table, but it’s certainly the case.
- February 14, 2008
My Mum died at the end of January this year, quite suddenly, with pneumonia after a period in hospital for a broken hip operation.
Nothing to do with cookery, I know, but I wanted to pay my respects to my Mum by writing down the speech that I made during her requiem mass on Monday of this week.
Thank you for coming today – to start with, and to get a flavour of what my Mum was about, I would simply like to list the things that she liked and disliked.
Her Dislikes :
Her Likes :
When my Mum died 2 weeks ago I was in Paris, as I have been for the last 6 years or so. I got the phone call from my brother Nick, a pretty brief call, him sounding exhausted emotionally and me not knowing quite what I felt. I think that we wanted to be alone with our thoughts.
I was suddenly confronted with the reality of the distance that I’d created between my Mum and I – telephone communication with Mum had been, for a number of years, frustrating and unsatisfactory, lacking in any real contact / content. Instead of getting upset about the lack of real contact with my Mum, I took the option of creating an emotional distance between us. My trips to Newcastle to see my parents were always double-edged – delighted to be home and with my Mum and Dad again, but also very concerned about how my Mum would be and never really at ease.
My first question for my Dad whenever ringing my parents would always be “How’s Mum ?”.
So, when my Mum died, there were a whole mix of emotions – deep sadness with a certain amount of relief. But I certainly didn’t want to leave it at that – despite creating a distance between Mum and I, I knew that she deserved to be remembered in a much more positive way.
As a result, these last 2 weeks I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Mum with my Dad, mainly, and with my brothers Nick and Adam, Sonia (Nick’s wife) and my wife – trying to create a contact with my Mum again, to rebuild the positive images of this incredible woman. I have also read the many deeply felt wishes of sympathy from the numerous people who were touched by Mum during her relatively short life.
Out of all of these exchanges, are a multitude of stories and anecdotes, but more importantly, a number of characteristics that shine through time and again.
Over and above these key characteristics, whenever I think of my Mum, I invariably think of Dad as well. The “couple“. I think that it’s pretty fair to say that over the last 10 years or so, Mum and Dad have been almost a single entity, in “fusion”, inseparable. However, often people can make the mistake of thinking that Dad has been a great chap putting up with and looking after Mum. What a great support he has been and how wearing that must have been on Dad.
Well, even if recently Dad has been giving most of the physical support, Mum has for many, many years played a pivotal role in this family, giving support to all of us, none more so than to my Dad.
To close this brief hommage to my Mum, I would like to say to Mum that you live on in us, even if physically you will no longer accompany us in our many adventures over the next 10, 20, 30….years. As far as I am concerned, she has passed on her loyalty and her unconditional love to me, as well as the capacity to “feel” emotions and sense things very quickly – even if I don’t always know how to interpret the feelings straight-away or at all, sometimes.
So, as my Mum and Dad would say to one another every night before turing to go to sleep, regardless of the events of that day…..
“Good night, God bless and sleep tight”.
Je t’aime Maman.