Day in the life of an English trainee chef in a french kitchen…..
So, I’m at the end of my 2 week period at La Fontaine Gaillon and wow, what a rollercoaster of emotion !
I’ve been buzzing with excitement, exhausted, aching hands (my right hand is still tingling, quite literally), slightly demoralised, and now quitely confident and content.
In my last post I talked about the need to find my place in the team. Well, this coincided with the departure on 1 weeks’ sick leave of one of the young lads with whom I work. The next day (Wednesday) when we were 1 person less in our little team of 4 who work on all starters / entrées. So, all of a sudden, I had a role in the team – not much of a role, but my own things to do during the service….génial ! So what exactly did I have to do….?
* put on the toast for the warm artichoke and fois gras salad (4 slices), or for the salmon carpaccio (2 slices)
* cook and dress the plate for the langoustine spring rolls / nems aux langoutines
* put the langoustine raviolli in the boiling water (and sometimes take it out and put it in a bowl)
* prepare, cook (plunge them in the deep fat fryer) and dress the plate for the calamaris / petites fritures
* pipe the mayonnaise, sometimes tartare sauce or another sauce into small serving dishes for either soup, merlan / whiting
* constantly clean-up after ourselves (like everyone else)
So, as you can see, it ain’t really Escoffier or Gordon Ramsay….but it’s MY job for the 2 hour rush, and believe me, if the toast isn’t ready when there are over 100 people to serve during the midday service….well, you’re dead !!! I wasn’t great yesterday, but today I felt “on the ball” from the word “go” at 08hrs this morning.
So all in all, what is the usual day for me ?
1) my working day (10 hours, 8-18hrs, en continue rather than en coupure which means 7h30-14h30 and then 17h30-midnight-ish) goes very, very quickly and is split into 5 phases
Part 1 : 08hrs – 11hrs we are all preparing the fish which arrives between 7-9am (merlan, rouget, langoustine, moules, couquilles st. jacques, cabillaud, merlu, thon, bar – bearing in mind that only the experienced chefs can prepare the st jacques, cabillaud, thon and particularly the bar which is expensive and thus inexperienced hands which tend to leave too much flesh on bones and don’t cut the flesh cleanly are only allowed merlan and rouget), the side dishes (veg peeled, sliced, cut into disks and cooked in steam oven) are prepared, mayo and guacamole is made, bread cut, langoustines shelled, raviolli and spring rolls put together, cooked new potatoes peeled, onions chopped finely, estragon and parsley chopped into ribbons, deliveries stored in the cold storage, baguettes rubbed with garlic and cut into small slices and grilled (for the soup), artichokes are peeled and reduced to the heart of the artichoke, and so on and so on……
Part 2 : 11hrs – 11h30 time for all the team – from dishwasher to chef to waiter staff – to sit down and eat “lunch”, prepared by Guillaume. This is the only pause during the day, and even though it officially lasts 30 minutes, for almost everyone it lasts around 20 minutes.
Part 3 : 11h30 – 12h30 is the time where the energy picks up, the team starts to move quicker, final preparations are completed, the waiter staff meet with the senior chefs to discuss the menu for the day…..we’re ready
Part 4 : 12h30 – 14h30 is what it’s all for…..or atleast, all of the prep in the morning. Usually during this time 100+ people will be served starter / main course, the 2 different teams (cold and hot – or those preparing the starters and those preparing the main meals) run whilst at the same time controling the culinary production. Frankly, it’s exhilirating….as long as you know what you’re doing !! The Chef calls out the orders which arrive, the different members of each team click into action. We are lucky to have a lovely kitchen in which to work, stainless steel / inox everywhere and thus easy to clean, lots of small fridges for storage (in draws or cupboards), everyone knows what they are there to do and which dishes concern them…..we run quite literally sometimes, but when it comes to the plate, it’s calm personnified. The last few days I’ve had a role to play in this controlled mayhem, and it’s been great – I’ve not been perfect, far from it…but I know that I can do this job. I need to do it for a prolonged period of time and it will come. I look at the chefs working the gas rings and hot plates and I want to be there……the creation….., well, between 12H30 and 14h30 it’s not the time for creation, it’s time to act with efficiency (ideally, though of course, occasionnally, toast gets tipped into pans accidently, starters get dropped on the floor – and not put back in the plate, I hasten to add !)
Part 5 : 14h30 – 18h is time for those who are not working during the evening (ie. me and someone else, usually Cédric and Tran, though sometimes Akio or Manu) to do the prep for the evening session. During this period there is a 3 minute pause (really, not as long as 5 minutes) for a coffee, the rhythm is “cooler” (though not today since we had loads to do) and thus it’s the time to get to know the people who are left in the kitchen during the afternoon.
I leave whilst the rest of the team are sitting down to eat their dinner (18h – 18h30).
It’s a good kitchen where good habits are learnt…I’ve got, however, a lot to learn on the morphology / phyisionnomy of the different fish that we buy in.
I’ve got to have a good day tomorrow at Le Zephyr to cap what’s been a good, though testing, week.