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

  • look in the fridge to see what’s left over
  • start to imagine what decent dish could be knocked together using the ingrediants that are there
  • plan your production, and fit it into your other morning prep tasks which are for the midday service
  • make sure that any special dietary requirements have been accounted for – for example, a lot of kitchens here in Paris have Muslim dishwashers and thus pork is not a good proposition for them !
  • 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.

    2 réponses

    1. Your description of staff meals at La Fontaine sounds very similar to how it works at Comerc. We’ll also sometimes plan a vague schedule for the coming week to which we may make changes as we go along. At Comerc the chefs des parties of the plancha and entremettier sections generally split the duties and the cuarto frio (guarde manger) section makes a cold salad to accompany the hot food.

      I find it weird that no one at your work talks about food outside of the kitchen walls, as that’s literally all we talk about!!

    2. yep, I too find it weird that my colleagues don’t talk about food in general. I wonder if it’s because many of the other chefs have been together in the same team for a number of years, and have been in the business for quite some time too ? I’m going to be working back in the UK for 2 months during the summer, so I’ll see how it is where I’m going.

      Thanks for the comment – and by the way, you can read about my visit to Comerç24 on my blog (category Barcelona).

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