Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Halfway Point, and the Most Beautiful Forest I've Seen


The work atmosphere is great.  Of course it is stressful at times, but that was to be expected!  I am also in love with the way Four Seasons treats their employees.  Every month, there will be a day at lunch in the cafeteria where they celebrate either a region of France, or a holiday, or, for example, when we were listed as a Palace again.  They put out white table cloths, spread out rose petals and serve champagne.  It feels so special.  Also, you just feel the sense that everyone cares about you.  I'm just an intern but I feel extremely supported and like part of the team.

Now that I've been working there for 3 months (half of my internship), I have much more responsibility and I feel much more comfortable in my abilities and in what I have learned.  There are 2 new apprentices now, who are a step higher than interns in the stringent French kitchen hierarchy.  I'm serious, the cuisine hierarchy here is insane.  I will be happy to return to the states where it is more straightforward and simple.  Anyway, apprentices are still not finished with school and are doing their apprenticeship for 2 years alongside with their schooling--they work 2 weeks, and then have classes for 2 weeks.  And, even the kid who is 16 years old and has no kitchen experience and almost no work ethic, is slightly my superior.  Anyway, for the 2 weeks when the apprentices are not at work, I get to help prepare for restaurant service.  I love this the most.  For the 2 weeks when the apprentices are at work, I make the petit fours, and then prepare everything for assembling the petit fours the next day.  

Here is a plate of petit fours for a cocktail (there were 100 plates like this that we had to assemble).  I really like making things in large numbers like this, maybe catering is in my future?

Petit fours for a cocktail
This is the cart that goes out to the bar/gallerie area every day.  I think it's funny how dramatic the French language is at times.  They don't use a boring word like "cart." To them, this is a chariot.  Even the ugly little metal carts we use to collect dairy products and fruits in the morning from the fridge downstairs are called chariots.  Sometimes I imagine that we are all dressed in Roman garb riding around the kitchen arena with our chariots.  It amuses me.

The desserts on the chariot change seasonally, this was the summer-time chariot.

Right now though, the chariot is so pretty and autumny:

Happily, I work from 8am to 4pm, so I still have a good amount of daytime to explore after work, that is if I'm not completely exhausted and on the verge of death, which happens frequently.  But, here are some stories and pictures of some of my adventurous afternoons:

A friend of my grandmother's has a great-nephew, Joey, who came to Paris from Arizona on his way to a culinary program in Italy.  So, we met  up and I showed him around the city a bit.  Unfortunately, we were surprised by a freak intense rainstorm.  We made lots of new friends under this archway while waiting for a lull.  I felt a little bit like we all had our shields up against arrow-fire.  I don't know how so many people happened to have umbrellas with them.  I didn't.

Luckily, it calmed down enough for us to see the chateau de vincennes.  I LOVE this place.  

There is a botanical-garden type place nearby that we went to after the chateau.  It is so pretty there.

But then it started pouring again--luckily there were a handful of greenhouses to hideout in and watch the storm:

In early October there was a city-wide event called Nuit-Blanche, with free artsy exhibitions all over the city.  Most of them were light-based, or projected onto buildings.  It was really interesting.  The streets were SO full of people, even in the wee hours of the morning, just out celebrating art.    Here are some pictures of what I saw:

I make crepes fairly often at work, and when you have to make hundreds of crepes at a time, I find it is easy to fall into a kind of crepe-trance.  I love looking at each crepe and noticing how the perfect ones look so much like the moon with its craters.  Also, as a result of making so many, I can make crepes in my sleep now and have started making them for breakfast on the weekends!

I've really enjoyed seeing the city transform at night, it's a new culture that comes out at night.

One of my fellow classmates from Ferrandi recently had a going-away party, and it was kind of like a little reunion.  It was so good to see everyone again and to compare our internships.  It sounds like everyone is experiencing heavy responsibilities and learning tons.  That is, everyone who has continued with their internships.  Many people have left France already, or have quit their internships and are looking for a new one.  I feel like maybe only half of everyone has continued on with an internship--and it's only been 3 months.

A couple of weekends ago, after having enough of the paved and people-filled city-life and sincerely craving raw, wild nature and a bit of solitude, I had a self-date and went to the Foret Domaniale de Meudon, which is only a 30 minute bus-ride out of town from me.  It was incredibly beautiful.  I was so excited about exploring it that I made myself an adventure-pack the night before with an apple and some snack food, my journal, some charcoals in case I felt like sketching, and my camera.  Look at this place, it's gorgeous!

Here, I pulled out my journal and wrote for a while.  It was so amazing to feel cold, natural earth beneath my feet again--not cement or earth that probably has a layer of cement underneath it, or a metro line even.  No, just soft, virgin Earth.  To see moss growing on decomposing logs and to observe a fine mist clinging to the bottoms of trees like subtitles.  I stumbled upon a pond and a small little cafe in the middle of the woods.  I wish you could hear the sound of the ducks giggling or the leaves rustling under the sticks of the mushroom-hunters, or even smell the stagnant side of the pond.

So that was a wonderful adventure, then I headed to the Sunday market that's near my apartment and bought this roasted chicken and potatoes.  It was insanely delicious and furthered the happiness of my Sunday afternoon!

Happy with my chicken and 'taters

Also, only the French would have Roasted-Chicken and Thyme flavored potato chips.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, August 15, 2011

A June Graduation & First 2 Weeks at my Internship

I graduated from the Ecole Superieure de Cuisine Francaise--Ferrandi on June 24th.  This was after our 6 hour final exam earlier that week.

Everyone exhausted after the exam
Here's what I made for the exam:

And then we had such a nice graduation ceremony!

Chef and me!

At the reception:
Chef opening presents

I went back to Texas for a few weeks after graduation, and started my internship at the Four Seasons Hotel George V two weeks ago!

I walked in the employee entrance in my dress and blazer, filled out all sorts of forms, got my photo taken for my employee cards, and was led down to an incredible room where we began orientation.  The walls were paneled with intricately carved dark-stained wood.  The tables in the corners had gilded lions' feet.  The carpet was hypnotizing with a rich blue and gold regal patterning.  The lighting was nicely done.  And, of course, there was a magnificent chandelier in the middle.  We were all given a little workbook to take notes in, and a very pretty Four Seasons pen.

We had 2 days of training.  The second training day involved a tour of the hotel, which was amazing.  I had only seen pictures before this tour.  Being out in the marble courtyard under the "purple rain" of 300 vanda orchids seemingly hanging from the sky was incredible.  I could have stayed out there for much longer.  The restaurant is also stunning.  Here are some pictures (I did not take them!):

Restaurant entrance

Inside restaurant
The "purple rain" in the courtyard

You can look at more pictures here if you're curious! http://www.fourseasons.com/paris/  

The first week in the kitchen was mostly about learning the ropes.  I learned where everything is located, where, in the enormous kitchen area, to look for items if they aren't in the pastry section.  I did lots of small things and learned procedures.  Cutting strawberries, painting sparkles on chocolate pieces used to decorate plated desserts, measuring ingredients for recipes that the chefs would make later, and painting eggwash on scones are among the little tasks that I was asked to complete during my first week.  

The second week, I was already much more involved.  Monday, I made hundreds of crepes, and I'm not exaggerating!  I'm putting together and decorating plates of petit fours for afternoon tea.  Every day is different, and I'm learning so much already.  I know that by the end of the 6 months I will be at a new level of skill.

It's so strange because everyone at Four Seasons is required to say hello to everyone.  Everyone.  And, in walking around in a gigantic kitchen area, this can get a little tiring.  I mean, I'm not at all an unfriendly or unhappy person, but people really get a little offended if I don't say bonjour every day.  Plus, with people I've ever had a single conversation with, even in passing, it's normal to do the cheek-kissing thing.  And, again, it can offend people if you don't do it.  They just take it so seriously--one time I walked into the kitchen, and Benoit, one of the chefs, was busy talking to someone, so I started making the grocery list and then he came up as soon as he was done talking and kissed my cheeks and apologized for not doing it immediately upon my walking in.  It's just getting used to a different culture.  I guess it would be similar to a situation such as me offering to shake hands with someone in Texas and the other person not responding.  But come on, kissing cheeks with perfect strangers is such a personal thing, so it's really weird for me to initiate it!  Anyway, I'm learning.

So, I went out for my birthday this weekend and got to see some friends that I hadn't seen since graduation.  It was so great to see everyone.  But while we were there someone mentioned that they have Monday off this week because it's a national holiday.  I guess I would have thought that people at work would have reminded me about this if I actually had it off.  But I went in today, woke up before 6, got my uniform, and walked upstairs to the kitchen and immediately looked at the schedule and saw erasure marks--none of the interns are working today.  Everyone laughed at me a little bit and it was kind of embarrassing, but it was a nice treat to be able to go right back home.  And of course, even though I was told to leave immediately, I had to go in and kiss everyone.  But it's nice because I've actually had a little bit of time to sit down and write!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Journey to the south of France

Well, I have had quite the past three days, with delicious food, incredible scenery, lovely company, and the sea!  The entire English-speaking pastry program from my school went to the south of France--a trip that is included in our program.

This is the view right out of the train station in Marseille.  So beautiful!

Our first major stop in Marseille was a soap factory!  Savon de Marseille is well-known throughout the world and it was really neat to see one of the original existing factories.  The factory we visited has been making savon de marseille in the same manner for something like 3 centuries--maybe more, I don't quite remember.  Soap under the name of savon de marseille can be found in all sorts of lovely scents and colors, but we learned that the only colors made by the true artisanal savon de Marseille soap makers are beige and green.  The beige is made from palm oil, and the green is from olive oil uniquely from the Provence region.  This soap is biodegradable, there are absolutely no animal fats, no scents, no colorants, no detergents, no chemical additives, NOTHING besides the local olive oil (for green) or palm oil (for white/beige), soda ash (sodium carbonate from plant ashes), lye, and water are used.  I found it interesting that at this factory, and perhaps at others as well, there is only one "soapmaster" who knows the secret recipe and exact methods of mixing and heating.  The whole thing reminded me of how the "secret recipe" for KFC is locked up in a high security vault somewhere.  Our tour guide told us that the soapmaster goes in there and works alone so that no one can steal his secret.  Of course, this had us wondering--what happens if something happens to the soapmaster?, but apparently he has some sort of apprentice.

Big pile of soap! (a picture from Britten's camera--thanks!)

Since this soap is so simple, it is very good for sensitive skin--but can also be used for almost everything else--the lady at the factory said she uses it to clean her car, her lawn chairs, her laundry, and it can even be used to brush teeth, wash hair, body, etc.  Pretty amazing!

We walked around the city for a while--our tour guide was a little prideful of her city.  Everything we saw had something like "...better than Paris," or "...best in the world" tacked on at the end.  The city is undergoing a massive amount of construction right now--it was almost impossible to capture a glimpse of the city without a crane somewhere, so there was also a bunch of "that hole right there is about to be the most beautiful ____ in France."

At one point we got on a boat and we all got super excited--

But it was only a ferry boat and just took us across a small body of water... how disappointing!

This is the oldest standing building in Marseille--from the 1500s!  At this point, the tour guide was really oozing with city-pride and we were all just really tired and wanted to eat, and were spacing out a little bit and she got really angry that people weren't engaged in what she was saying.  Angry tour guides aren't very fun, especially when they think there culture is superior to yours!

Oh my gosh--as we were driving past some of the ports in Marseille, I couldn't help but remember the novel "The Count of Monte Cristo" by Alexandre Dumas (whose tomb I got to see in the Pantheon).  AND, it was really cool that I had that thought, because the tour guide made the bus stop later so that we could get out and see the Chateau d'If, where Edmond Dantès was imprisoned in "The Count of Monte Cristo."  How cool!!

It's a little hard to see, but here it is, the Chateau d'If:

Then we went to the Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica.  It was beautiful.  I've never seen a church quite like it.  It's on the top of one of the 7 hills of Marseille.  Consequently, it has an incredible view from all sides.  You can see the sea, and you can see mountains.  Absolutely exquisite!

The little sliver of moon was so pretty in the background!
 Both the outside and the inside of the basilica have this cool striped architecture.


The view walking out of the sanctuary.

Views from the top:

Again, you can see the Chateau d'If (it's the small island in the middle)
 From there we headed to our hotel in the city of Ciotat!  I got to swim in the Mediterranean for the first time since Sicily :)  I forgot how refreshing the cold water is.

The seaside by our hotel

 The next morning, we went to a confectionary factory in Aix-en-Provence, called Confiserie du Roy René (http://www.calisson.com/).  We got to see the entire process of production of calissons, a traditional confection from this region.

After that, we had a huge lunch at the cutest little place.  We sat outside under some trees, the weather was perfect.

After that, we went into downtown Aix-en-Provence.  I think it could have been cool if we had been told something at all about the city, but we were really just dumped off and told to return to the bus in an hour and a half.  So we just wandered around and didn't really do much.  But it was nice to walk around and explore.

But I was very happy after that because we went back to the hotel and I got to go swimming again!  This time Britten let me use her goggles and I swam down deep and looked at the fish and seaweed.  It was so cool!  The water was so clear, and I felt so much more safer going farther out because I could verify that there was nothing scary coming towards us! haha

We had a very traditional dinner from this region at the local yacht club.

Dinner at the yacht club

Showing off the restaurant--(thanks to Rachael Darigan's camera!)

Towards the end of our dinner, we heard roaring thunder and saw lightening, and it was pouring SO hard.  Which was really exciting for us since we had walked 30 minutes to get there!  But it let up enough after dessert so we just walked back in the drizzle.  I had a nice limoncello at the hotel bar with some friends before heading to bed, it really made for a nice ending to a great day.

The final day was packed with exciting things!  We had to be down with our luggage at the bus at 8:30am, and we drove to the sea-city of Cassis.  First, we stopped at La Ferme Blanche, a vineyard/winery.  It was gorgeous.  

My pastry class at La Ferme Blanche vineyards/winery in Cassis

It is best to taste wine in the morning, because your palate is more accurate.  NEVER do a tasting in the afternoon, we were told.  So it was good for us that we had our tasting at 9:30am!
Displaying the color of the wine in the sunlight before we began tasting

The 4 wines we tasted
 After the wine tasting, we went into the city of Cassis.  We got to walk around a fairly large open-air market before we went to lunch.

 Then we all walked to the restaurant

The beautiful walk to the restaurant
 Even the walkway up to the restaurant itself was gorgeous--look at all the lavender and jasmine lining the street!
Lavender and Jasmine 

This our view from the restaurant, where we enjoyed the best meal of the trip!

My view from where I was sitting at the restaurant.  Absolutely glorious.

We started with some toasted bread and sea-bass eggs--they were so smokey and delicious! I almost wanted to eat them out of the community-bowl with a spoon once we ran out of bread.  But I didn't.  We had 2 courses after that and a traditional regional dessert with fresh cherries!

After lunch, we went for an hour and a half boat tour of the surrounding coast, with its caves and high rocky cliffs.  It was probably one of my favorite parts of this trip.  The Mediterranean is so beautiful!

Pulling out of the dock

I've realized that I have an extremely disproportionate amount of pictures from the boat trip compared to all other aspects of the trip as a whole, but it was just SO amazing!  I definitely need more boat adventures in my life :)

Rachael, Cecilia, Britten, and me

The city of Cassis

Anglophone Pastry 2011!  A great trip.