This week I started my 2nd period of training in La Fontaine Gaillon kitchen – Wednesday to today (Friday) to be more exact. I was a bit apprehensive on Wednesday morning whilst going to work, but in the end, I picked up pretty much where I left off over 6 weeks ago. The team hasn’t changed, the menu has (with essentially the fish changing – no merlan / whiting, for instance) and the number of customers has dropped off dramatically – all restaurants in Paris (maybe all of France for all I know) seem to have a long quiet time during the festive period – something which is not the case in the UK…..at least not when I was a waiter 20 years ago !!

The big change for me since my return is that I am finally “au chaud”, as they say over here. That means that I am finally working on the hot plates / gas rings. My job is essentially to serve the mashed potatoes, heat the vegetables in the poêle, cook the ravioli and dress the plates (heating the leek julienne and the beurre fondu and truffle sauce in the process). Since I’ve been back we’ve had between 11 and 50 customers each midday service…in other words, very few !! However, given that I have just started au chaud, the lack of customers has been a bit of a blessing for me, at least. Just to list the things that I’ve been doing this week (I haven’t done this for a while !),

  • serving mashed potato – not too much, make sure the “mash” has been stirred regularly, clean the plate before serving
  • preparing and serving the langoustine ravilois with truffle sauce – be very careful not to burn the julienne of leek, 2 minutes for the raviolis, “napper” / coat the sauce onto the ravilois
  • get the serving of winter vegetables (that we prepare during the morning “prep” session – 8 different veg, by the way, some “turned”, some peeled lightly, some cut into disks, some cut into losanges, all cooked in the steamer)
  • preparing (unpacking, cutting off head / wings and feet, taking out insides and their fat) the famous “Chapons de Bresse” which are magnificent – and really, they are quite exceptional creatures – (castrated) chickens from the area of Bresse – 8 months old, 3 kilos+, free-range, fed on cereals and milk products from within the Bresse area.Bresse info (in French)
  • cleaning – one of the problems of not having customers is that we spend our time doing things that normally we wouldn’t have time to do….namely cleaning the kitchen from top to bottom
  • preparing off-cuts of cod for the staff – each morning we receive magnificent whole cod (about 4 of them – each 500cm long, without their heads), Akio (our Japenese sous-chef) fillets them, and I cut up the remains into cubes for the staff.
  • preparing off-cuts of the loin of lamb (carré d’agneau) for the staff
  • One of the complications of running a kitchen during the festive period is the lack of customers (at least, during the midday service), lack of fresh supplies (we had no fish delivery on Wednesday, our first day back after Christmas) and, thus, managing the stock – pretty obvious, I know, but for a restaurant like La Fontaine which is so reliant on fresh produce which arrives daily, this festive period is a bit tricky to say the least.

    I’d like to say that it was great to be – finally – at the hot stove / plate / rings, but to be honest, it was a bit of an overload….even with very few customers, my head wasn’t prepared for the different things that I was meant to remember

    ……phew, way, way out of the comfort zone…however, strangely, I most certainly don’t want to stop being with the guys “au chaud”. Anyway, I’ve never been one for liking the comfort zone.

    On that note, I’ll say goodnight and here’s to a rousing finale to my culinary 2007 tomorrow at Le Zephyr….I want it to be a good end to my 2007…a big 2008 awaits !

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