Tuesday, July 27, 2010

can I get used to this?

The 3 week mark. What to say... some highlights since I've been there:

- since ADPA (Alain Ducasse à Plaza Athénée) and Relais Plaza are closed for about 5 weeks in August - along with the rest of Paris - we have less work, so we've gotten out around 18h or before each day! Out the door at 17h on Sunday and Monday... yes!

- the lab is a little under stress whenever Chef walks into the room and plays around with new recipes or designs... everyone is rushing around, trying to accomplish their respective tasks along with those that Chef has thrown at them on the spot. I guess it's kind of like a 'rushed' order that jumps the line, when you already have a long line of orders to fulfill. This is the time when I have to be really on guard and make sure to NOT mess up nor ask too many questions nor get in Chef's way...

- I've been able to make the appareil (batter) for the financiers multiple times now... yes that's a good thing in that I am getting more comfortable with the recipe, however making 5600 grams of beurre noisette while also weighing all the other ingredients is a little stressful, especially when the chef-de-partie is rushing me and I still have to sift over 10kg of powdered sugar...

- If I'm not too tired, walking home takes about 40 min, it beats waiting for the bus, and I get to walk by the Eiffel Tower (and all the American tourists on bike tours)!

- listening to the chefs-de-partie try and speak English... teaching them that steel doesn't mean "metal tray"

- running up and down 3 flights of stairs during our 30 min. lunch break to change our laundry

- walking into lab and knowing exactly what to do. Definitely a better feeling than the first couple of days...

- cleaning the lab at least 2x a day

- the anticipation of what tasks are given to me after lunch... make cremeux caramel, l'appareil financier, fold boxes and package hundreds of chocolate bars, clean the corners of mini-loaf pans with a toothpick (thank goodness Chef saw that and said it was a waste of time), or dip marshmallow gummy bears in pâte à glacer (like chocolate used for glazing)

- trying to sleep by around 22h30 so I can get up in time to catch the 2nd bus of the morning...

- speaking and hearing French all day long

- looking forward to Monday afternoon, when it's only Friday morning...

3 of the 6 stagiaires who are currently there are going to be leaving within 2 weeks... it'll be different without them, however, maybe that means no more weekends Tues-Thurs?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

it has begun!

(photo from Michalak's site)

I've finally started. 2 weeks in, I already feel much more comfortable than I did that horrible first day at Plaza.

Quick notes below:

- work 4 days/week (my current weekend is Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday)
- 12 hrs/day
- started with another anglo-Ferrandi pastry student at the same time... and am fortunately overlapping with a former anglo-Ferrandi student this first month before she leaves
- they provide us with uniforms, which we get to change everyday (no need to do our own laundry!)
- don't have to bring our own tools, except for a pen and a corne de pâtisserie (plastic scraper)
- since I'm working more than 3 months (6 months, actually), they provide me with a minor stipend, from which my daily lunch is taken out of... luckily lunch is only 2-3€, but only about 30 minutes long :(
- currently there are 5 stagiaires, 3 apprentis, and a bunch of different chef-de-parties or commis... makes for a busy lab in a tight space. We definitely have to make sure to keep our respective stations clean at all times!
- in the mornings, we prepare 6 different petits choux/mignardises (little puffs filled with cream) and petits gateaux.
- after lunch the chef-de-partie will assign each of us 1-3 different tasks which we get to do by ourselves! That's when it can get really ugly though, especially if we mess up and it's busy and crowded...
- while we get to wear a toque (tall chef hat), it can get quite in the way with the plastic drapes hanging in the doorway of the walk-in frigo... and somehow I don't think my head is suited to wear one - I keep having to readjust it!
- I've been able to make and churn ice cream moi-même... but then again, I've spent countless minutes (yes, only minutes, but they're looong minutes) in the walk-in freezer. I think I had frostnipped fingers for a few days. ouch!
- don't work much with Christophe Michalak, the main chef and 2005 Champion of the World Pastry Cup but get to work alongside the 2009 champion
- take the 1st or 2nd bus of the morning at 6.50am... at least it's direct and only takes about 20 minutes!
- "vas-y, vas-y, vas-y" ("go go go!") and "dépêche-toi" ("hurry up") are two of the main phrases I hear all day long... yup, definitely not a place for those who need to take their time...
- haven't dared to bring in my camera to take photos of the creations in lab... maybe one day?
- for some reason last Monday afternoon, we got to try some leftover petits gateaux, including a salted butter caramel religieuse to die for!

Although these are just a few tidbits of my stage, I hope to enlighten you all more in the details once I get into a rhythm! It'll be a long 6 months but well worth it. I hear what other people have been able/not been able to do in their stages, and I'm glad to know I am at a place that allows their stagiaires to do things themselves. More importantly however, I'm just so thankful that I came early last November to freshen up on my high school French... bon courage à tous!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

próxima parada: Palma de Mallorca

the beach that awaited our arrival

This post is long overdue, but I thought, hey it's better late than never, right? The week between graduation and the next long chapter of my life, I decided to stock up on some of that ocean sun that I've been lacking. After unfortunately seeing sold-out/overpriced tickets to Dubrovnik and Corsica, my dear Turkish delight, Ece, and I finally decided upon the Spanish island of Mallorca as our summer destination.

We soaked up some rays, tried to blend in with the Germans that dominated our hotel, celebrated as Espagne won 1-0 over Portugal in the World Cup, took long daily bus rides into the capital Palma, slept on the buses on our day-trips to Alcúdia and Soller, gorged ourselves on more than enough tapas, and had as much fun as we could before an intense 6 months ahead of us.

the beach just steps from our hotel

along with the ocean, sun, and casual attire, this stop served as a little reminder of where I want to take the bus next.

a little further down the coast...

Plaça de la Reina (the end of the bus line, i.e. our most frequented stop)

open pedestrian path in the middle of the road

multiple florists lined the way

another popular hangout spot,

where we indulged in a little local specialty, Ensaïmada

the cathedral

view of the "water show fountain" from the cathedral

romantic courtyard, swans included

just a taste of one of the many delicious tapas during the week

someone's got some pride during the World Cup... España vs. Portugal 1-0

day-trip to Alcúdia, surrounded by fine white sand and shallow blue waters

We thought it was only proper to have a cappuccino at the Grand Cafe CAPPUCCINO... Despite my lack of coffee intake, I think I can get used to these :)

day-trip to Soller, more of a port than a beach... still charming, however

one of the many green shutters we saw decorating the buildings

last night on the island - decided a little change from tapas to paella was in order...

Sunday, July 4, 2010

here we go...

Quick post before my first day of my stage at Plaza Athénée tomorrow. Monday and Tuesday are all orientation, so I don't have to be in until 9am, and will hopefully get out with some time to profite from the soldes (major sales.... 50-70% off) happening this month.

The HR woman during my interview recommended that I wear a suit, skirt or pants, for the two days of orientation... that meant that I had to go out and buy one. Fortunately, you can find them everywhere. Unfortunately though, my extra long arms and broad shoulders made finding a jacket that fit me difficult. I ended up going to 5 different branches of the same store, only to find that none of them carried the jacket that had fit me so well the weekend before (and didn't buy). Apparently it was "last season" (February) and out of style now. I bought another style anyway and will have to make do for these next couple of days.

I'm nervous yet I'm more filled with anticipation for the start of this next phase in my life. What's it going to be like? Am I really going to hate it? Are they going to be nice to me? Will they repeat anything if I don't understand it the first time? What if my bus goes on strike and I'm late? Will the first week, or even month, just totally suck? Will I stay with it the whole 6 months? Am I going to be friends with the other stagiaires? Will I do more than just wash dishes? How long is our lunch break? Will I even have a lunch break? I wonder how many stagiaires the pastry lab has? Will I miss seeing my friends everyday (answer: yes)? What if they yell at me everyday? I hope I don't cry or stress out. So many questions running through my head, yet only time will give me the answers. I just have to remember, it's all how I make of it. If they make me wash dishes for an unreasonable amount of time, I'll make myself be the best dishwasher they've ever seen. I'll learn to develop a thick skin, and my French better have improved by the time I leave.

Just take deep breaths, and I'll be fine. I mean, I came here to do this.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Basque-ing in the sun!

The week after our final exam, all 40 of us in the anglo program (20 pastry, 20 cuisine) took the night train to Pays Basque (border of France and Spain) for a 3-day break away from the hustle and bustle of Parisian life. I have too many pictures to post, but here's a peek into the life of a pastry student not in lab!

Day 1:

arrived in Irun and breakfast along the coast

on the navette from Hendaye to Hondarribia

the view from Hondarribia, Spain

wandering the streets of Hondarribia

back in France and lunching at a luxurious resort on the beach... spent the afternoon soaking up some sun

town of Espelette - known for their peppers

after a full afternoon of the beach and exploring different towns, we drove to our B&B in the mountains... the other pastry class stayed at a blueberry farm where we had fresh blueberry sangria!

the view from their backyard

a first day's hoorah - see Chef on the far left??

Day 2:

started the morning out with a wine tasting at Irouleguy

then we made our way over to a pig farm

cute babies!

after lunch, some of us hiked up a mountain...

Chef Thierry (our chef!) and Chef Didier ... looks like father and son, non?

the most exciting part of the trip, by far: a visit to Truite de Banka (trout farm)...

quick stop into St. Jean Pied de Port

Day 3:

Chocolaterie Puyodebat (chocolate museum) - the little shelves on the lips of the cups are meant to prevent hot chocolate mustaches!

time for lunch at a 1* Michelin resto: Table et Hostellerie des Freres Ibarboure

enjoying some champagne before lunch

first course: a ravioli filled with pork, I think...

a game-y terrine with slices of foie gras in the spiral

fish with some sort of octopus or something like that... delicious!

pina colada ice cream on top of a pecan biscuit cookie... wish we could've made this at school!

After our spontaneous 20-min. detour to the beach so we could dip our toes in the water one last time, we made our way to the train station and took the 6-hr ride back to Paris, arriving back around midnight... graduation the next day!