I’ve been avoiding expressing my immediate dream because I didn’t want to jinx it. Now I see that the idea is preposterous, so I might as well share my little foodie fantasy and if it doesn’t happen then I can grovel for sympathy or if it does happen we can all celebrate together.
I’m graduating in four weeks from Le Cordon Bleu and I’m trying desperately get myself ready for my “stage”. A stage is like an apprenticeship without pay in a restaurant. We call it an internship in America. However, in the french kitchen it really means slave labor. I have worked in kitchens in San Francisco restaurants and run overly packed cooking classes with hormonally challenged teenagers – a feat I still look back on with wonder – but the idea of working in a Michelin star restaurant is intimidating.
In the vein of Julia Child, I’ve started working in the kitchens at Le Cordon Bleu to try and get back into the swing of prep work and to practice with unfamiliar produce, meats, and fish. It hasn’t been easy. First of all, my french is horrible. The sous-sol chef barks orders to the assistants and I have to double check to see what he’s said. This is a huge problem. Often instead of telling me what to do, he’ll come over and show me an example. What am I going to do in a french restaurant where nobody speaks English? Is the head chef going to come over to me and show me an example every time he want’s something done? Uh, don’t think so!
I secretly think the sous sol chef puts up with me only because my french makes him laugh. I’m not shy about talking en francais, but my pronunciation, grammar, and verb conjugation in elementary. On our first encounter I told him that I needed a “gros carrot” for one of the chefs. He burst out laughing so hard that tears started flowing from his eyes. I didn’t understand what I had said, until I grabbed a big carrot from the walk in fridge – then it hit me. I had asked him if I could have a big penis.
To make matters worse, there’s a little hierarchy amongst the student kitchen staff at LCB and I spent the first week having to really prove myself. I’m older than everyone down there and have restaurant experience so you can imagine my surprise (and annoyance!). I know that sounds cocky, but when a 21 year old tells you your brunoise is shit and orders you to do it again in a tone reserved for disobedient kids, it takes a lot of deep breathing to maintain composure. And, by the way, the recipe said dice not brunoise. However, I sucked it up and inwardly thought, “This is just a test, it could be much worse in a real French restaurant kitchen”.
My favorite was when one of the students tried to tell me how to wash lettuce. I was ripping the core out quicker than he was cutting it out and he was insisting that I was doing it wrong. I finally turned to him and said, “I used to prep for hundreds of salads a night, I think I can handle these twenty heads here”. After that he realized that I had some experience and instead started asking me questions about quick ways to handle different produce.
But, I don’t want to come across as a know-it-all here because many of these Cordon Bleu Kitchen Slaves have been working sous-sol a long time and they understand the flow of preparing lunch for the whole Cordon Bleu staff as well as preparing all the foods for the demonstrations and practicals. I have learned a huge amount from the students in the basement of Cordon Bleu: I can shuck oysters, clean monkfish (very hard), cut purrrfect brunoise and julienne, butcher just about any type of meat, and understand basic french orders. And yes, I’ve also learned that it’s okay to be 30-ish and still learning.
I have four weeks in the basement kitchen at Le Cordon Bleu and then It’s either sink or swim. Why am I doing this you might ask? Because I want more than anything in the world to do my stage at my favorite restaurant in Paris, the three Michelin star, Guy Savoy. This is my favorite restaurant in Paris and if I had 285 euros for dinner I would eat there every night.
Recently Guy Savoy was voted the 7th best restaurant in the world. I would be happy peeling potatoes in a corner if they let me.
So keep your fingers crossed for me and if anyone has any fancy shmancy favorite restaurants here in Paris, please share…