This has been an exciting week for me with my new position with the Chef de Viande at the Parisian 3-star restaurant I cook at. I managed to hang on to my coveted position for the whole week so hopefully that’s an positive indication. I know it’s causing some controversy amongst other stagiers, but I’m just trying to learn and do the best I can and take advantage of opportunity. I still have trouble understanding some of the orders (they are called out in French by the Chef de Cuisine) but so far no major mess-ups.
My biggest problem is the heat. I know that sounds totally wussy, but we don’t have ventilation like I’m used to, and according to my latest laser thermometer reading it’s 50˚C / 122˚F next to the burners and 40˚C / 102˚F about two feet away. There is no fresh air and no where to escape to at my little station. My personal skin temperature yesterday was 37.5˚C / 99.5˚F. It doesn’t help that Paris has been the same temperature outside all week.
There was nowhere to escape the heat the other day except the walk-in fridge- ahhhhhhhhh – j’adore the grande frigo!!! I think my boss felt sorry for me because he kept allowing me refrigerator breaks and finding reasons for me to leave the kitchen (count the chickens in the fridge, get more fond de volaille from the fridge, are there pigeons in the fridge?, etc…) Perhaps he had never seen a woman’s face as red as mine before!
Yesterday the heat was so bad that during the middle of service all the power went out on our block. This is a normal occurrence during summertime in Paris due to the power required to run air conditioning. But imagine cooking for a packed restaurant in the dark with nothing but the gas of 16 burners to light your way during rush hour with meat and fish sautéeing on every burner and all four ovens in use. Oh the horror!
this is how dark the kitchen was!
The dining area of the restaurant most have been incredibly romantic for the long ten minutes it took to get the power back on. At the meat section however, it was anything but! We often butcher to order so everything is fresh. I watched my boss hack apart chickens with a cleaver bigger than my head in the pitch dark. I nervously poised my camera expecting to catch him hacking off a finger. He actually told me to take a picture so he could see…
Tonight I managed to stay the whole service in the kitchen without trying to find solace in the walk-in fridge. Maybe I’m adjusting? I also was allowed to cook some of the veal and lamb under close scrutiny. I think my boss said that I’m the first woman to do so. Quite an honor if I understood him right. Must be my lax Californian attitude rubbing off the Parisian cooking militia (lol)!
I hit the jackpot with my timing because most of the apprentices will end their contracts in three days which is probably why they are risking training me at the Viande (meat) station . I will be one of the only people returning in September after the customary month long August vacation. Our thirty-six strong cooking staff will almost entirely turn over.
I will be sad to say good bye to many of the young men (and the two women) who have become my family for the twelve hours we cook together everyday. We do have our moments, but we count on each other and work together like a team to accomplish something more beautiful and memorable than we could do on our own. That’s what makes it all worth it – heat or no heat, lights or no lights – ah, the belle profession!