Saturday, June 19, 2010

Laduree Week 1

It's currently 1:15 am on  Saturday morning in Paris.  I'd like to say I am just getting home from having dinner and drinks at some fabulous restaurant in Paris, but I'm sitting on the couch trying to stay awake for a few more hours even thought I spent all last week in the south of France trying to fast forward my internal clock.  Now I'm  trying to turn it back.  No, it hasn't been so bad that I am returning to the US immediately, but I'll explain shortly.  First I'm going to continue to write in my struggle to stay awake after another busy day on my feet in the underground Kitchen of Laduree at 75 rue de Champs-Elysees.

So much to tell!  First I'm sorry that there will be no photos of the kitchen and what I am doing at Laduree.  As much I would love to share, there is a time and place for everything, and this kitchen is not the place for taking photos and looking even more like an American Tourist.  I wouldn't even have the time to take photos, so I will try my best to convey all the mental images in my mind.  Really though, after just 4 days my head is over flowing with images of lovely pastries, industrial size portions of Creme patisserie, and the boys piping chartreuse strands of meringue into dizzying spirals over and over and over again onto plaques before sending them off to the oven.

I'm struggling to organize my thoughts because it really is overwhelming to be working in such a space.  There are at least 40+ young and energetic patissiers working in these kitchens (that seemed like a maze on my first day, but I've finally got it mapped out in my mind, I think).   I arrived at 8am on Tuesday morning and presented my convention de stage. Someone was summoned from the kitchens to direct me and I was led down the back winding staircase from the main offices to the basement kitchens.  I was introduced to several people, asked if I had a uniform and then shown the changing room and given a locker.  After changing, Raphaele (female) gave me a quick tour of the kitchens and brief explanations of each station, introducing me to the team members as well, all in rapid fire French.  What have I gotten myself into?  My head was already spinning.

I was then left to work with Desiree, a young lady from Venezuela.  When she started to speak English to me, I felt a guilty sense of relief.  I know I am in a French kitchen.....but they talk so fast, and I still know too little. Desiree is in charge of preparing the Verrines for Le Bar.  They are beautiful short, tumbler like glasses filled with yummy stuff.  Chocolate Intensement, Mont Blanc, A Rose and Framboise mini St Honore and another with Framboise and puff pastry as well.  I helped with these and then we prepared the Fraisier cake.  This is similar to the Poem cake I made in school, and a very popular pastry here in France.  It usually consists of a two layers of thin genoise cake with Kirsch creme and fresh Strawberries in between and it cut so that you see the strawberries facing out on the sides.  Laduree's uses Creme Pistache (a pistachio flavored creme) instead.  This is a flavor combination you find in several of their other pastries as well.

My Poem Cake from School
After finishing the Fraisier, Desiree and I moved into the other kitchen and helped with pouring a liquid citrus coulis into flex molds with candied citrus rind to make filling layers for the citron meringue cake.  I filled enough molds to fill an entire rolling bakers rack and then rolled it into the large refrigerator.  Then it was time for lunch.

Lunch, like in most kitchens, is provided for you and you eat with your team.  Laduree is no exception.  The food is good and basic, but always very French; baguette, lots of cheese and the occasional saucisson or pate.  However, the one thing I wish was not pointed out to me is the refrigerator in the corner of the of the lunch room.  It really is an evil thing.  Inside are poor little pastries that did not sell and are still consumable, but not sellable, and they are free for the eating during lunch time.  I tried to tell myself on my first day, I would only indulge once a week.  For instance; Mondays, it would be a good way to start off the week.  But then I reasoned today that I had worked hard and it was Friday, I deserved a little treat for the start of my weekend.  I'm so in trouble (and Romain is very jealous).

After lunch it was back to the kitchen where the pace picked up considerably.  Everyone wanted to finish and get out on time.  I frosted a gazillion Rose cupcakes and helped with a few other tasks before 5:30-6pm when the cleaning madness began.  I arrived home around 7pm, I think, and actually felt pretty energized for having worked all day.

My coworkers seem nice.  There are people from everywhere: Venezuela, Turkey, Martinique, different areas of France, and one gal who was born in Peru but has lived just about everywhere else.  Some speak English well, others none.  I appreciate the ones who do speak English and jump in to explain things to me when I'm lost, but I also enjoy the challenge of trying to communicate with the ones who don't speak English at all.  The lead chef in the kitchen told me straight away he was only going to speak French with me (he knows a little English) explaining I am in a French Kitchen, in France, blah, blah.  Oui, I understand, but everyone talks so fast!  My biggest fear, especially after having a harder day today, is that people will get frustrated with the language barrier and not want to have me working under them.  I know I get a little frustrated.  I just want them to know, I am here to work, here to learn, just because I may not always understand every word they say, I understand what they are doing.  If anyone knows of a faster way to learn French then working in a kitchen and living in Paris, please tell me.  Thanks!

On Tuesday I was lucky to have Ingrid (the citizen of the world) give me another tour of the kitchens in English, and explain my schedule to me.  The kitchens are divided into several stations: Entremets, Verrines, Tour, Bandes, and Decor.  Over the next 2 1/2 months I will work my way through each area in about 2 week stints.  This week I was working in Entremets.  Entremets prepares a lot of the bits and pieces for the larger pastries, cakes and some individuals.  I piped meringues, made cremes and coulis, and prepped cupcakes with them.  I spent the first half of today working in Bandes.  I helped fill the choux puffs for the Religieuse (like a double cream puff, that is supposed to look like a nun).  The Bandes team also prepares the individual desserts that involve mousses and chocolate, ect. 

The different departments have different start times.  This week I started work at 9am and finished at 6 with the Entremets team.  Now the explanation for why I am staying up so late.  I am leaving the Entremets team for now and will return to them later, well the morning team that is.  Starting Sunday evening at 10:30pm I join the Entremets Nuit Team for 2 weeks.  I will be working 10:30pm to 6:30am (though Desiree says the often finish later than 6:30....).  I can't say I'm really looking forward to it, but it is part of the training and thankfully for only 2 weeks (hopefully not more later).  It is the reality of this business.  But on the other hand, thanks to a nifty law in France, I cannot be scheduled to work weekends since I am an "intern".  That was a luxury I didn't even have in the US!

It's now 2:20am Paris time.  I'm really trying to make it till 3am.  Thank goodness Redbull is available in France, otherwise I'm not sure how I am going to make it the next 2 weeks.  It's not likely you will hear much from me during those 2 weeks.  They say what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger.  I'm hoping for the later, and that I'm not too tired to still practice my French, a la Rosetta stone.


Kristen said...

I just love hearing about your kitchen adventures!! Sounds like a great first week - I know that you can rock any challenge thrown at you! Miss you already!!

Lindsey said...

This is going to be such a fulfilling and invaluable experience for you. I foresee your French improving enormously by the end. I selfishly hope you're kept on or recruited by a restaurant after so you never leave Paris :) So glad you're here!

Little Miss Cupcake said...

Hi Jenni, So glad you got in touch for Cupcake Camp. I am entranced by your blog! Working in the kitchen of La Duree? Wow! That must be a trip! Stopped by to buy a cupcake last weekend but the line was too long. I am so curious to try them, but now that I know an American is involved in the making of them, my expectations just increased ten-fold! :)

Looking forward to meeting you on the the 4th!

Jenni said...

Little Miss Cupcake-

I haven't tried the finished cupcakes at Laduree. I do find their flavor combinations intriguing and they are quite pretty!, but I have tried a bit of the cake and it's a little dry for my tastes (a lament I hear often about French made cupcakes). But if you want to meet for a tea and try them together let me know- I'd be up for it!

Amrita said...

Oh my gawd! I'm so jealous that you're working in the Laduree kitchen...even reading through your post got me all excited!!