Monday, June 28, 2010

In the Night Kitchen - Week 2

"The Bakers who bake till Dawn, so we can have cake in the morn......"  
                          -In the Night Kitchen, Maurice Sendak

Who Wouldn't Like to Wake Up to This Every Morning?

It was my first job out of high school at a local bakery, where I  learned to love coffee.  No, scratch that, not love, started to need it's power punch of caffeine early in the morning.  I would often start work at 5am and first chore on the list was brew the coffee.  All the donuts and pastries were already made by a night shift that had started at midnight and finished some time before I arrived (it was a very small shop).  Once I got to fill in on the donut making shift.  I came to work at Midnight and Finished around 4am.  In my young mind, at first I couldn't understand why the donuts had to be made at night.  Then it occurred to me, how else would they be ready for those first customers at 6am?

It's now 6:30 am Paris time, do you know where your favorite Pastry Chef is???  I'm just finishing my 8 hour night shift at Laduree.  All the lovely little pastries have been decorated, garnished with fresh berries, and the tiny little Etiquettes (little gold oval pieces of paper with Laduree Paris on them) have been properly placed.  I see carts of fresh-from-the-oven Croissants, Pain au Chocolat, Brioche Sucre and Canneles ready to be sent up to the store front for Petit Dejuener of many Parisians.   I can't decided if I'm more hungry or more tired, but I'm happy!

So I have survived my second week at Laduree (first on the night shift).  I hasn't been as difficult as I imagined.  I am almost nocturnal now, working all night and sleeping away most of the day.  It helps that Redbull is available in France. The night time staff is mostly young men (younger than me).  Everyone has been nice.  I feel I had a better start with them.  Maxim is the head chef on my first night.  He asks (in French) if I speak French.  Oui, I speak just a little, but I explain that if  he speaks slowly and simply, I can mostly understand.  He seems to take this into consideration, as does most of the staff.  I find myself understanding them better than some of the day staff. 

I am told to work with Bastien.  We start with assembling the Isphan.  Rosey rounds of biscuit meringue, topped with a dab of Rose Buttercream, fresh Raspberries and Litchis and topped with another round, so it almost looks like a fancy round Raspberry sandwich.  It is explained to me to turn all the tops so that the end where the spiral of meringue was finished being piped is in the back.  I sigh a happy sigh, this is the level of precision and detail in pastry that makes me giddy, I get it!  Then 2 dabs of buttercream are added to the top; one to anchor another fresh Raspberry, and the other to anchor the Rose petal.  It's midnight and I'm tearing petals off of gorgeous, deep red roses.  Instead of chanting, he loves me, he loves me not, I wonder how many customers (American tourists in particular) try to eat the Rose petal, or a try to ask if it is edible?  The Etiquette is rested against the Raspberry.  The final touch is little dots of gelatin-like mixture piped from a frosting bag onto the Rose petals so they look as if they have been kissed by the morning dew.  After 2 nights of doing this, I"m over the novelty, but I think if I could take a picture of it and send it to my mother, she would sigh. 

The Laduree Etiquette

Next we start the Harmonie.  Much like the Fraisier cake, it combines the flavors of Pistachio and Strawberry.  I love it.  We take the pistachio green meringue rounds from the freezer and fill them with a little Pistachio mousseline.  Then we thinly slice Fresh Strawberries and place them on top of the mousseline. Then another layer of mousseline.  Halved Strawberries have been sprayed with a vanilla glaze, and are arranged just so on top of the mousseline.  One night I am shown by Bastien to arrange 2 in the back, 1 in the middle, and 2 laying sideways in the front.  Three nights later, Fabian observes me doing this and says, no no no, comme ca..... I stop and just shake my head.  I can't even begin in my little French to tell him, that it was how I was shown before.  I just say Bastien, and point.  We laugh. I think he gets it, but I do it his way with the Strawberries pointing up in front.  I think it looks better anyway.

After finishing the Harmonies, if we are doing well on time, we take a short break. Sometimes Maxim finds some food for us, probably left overs from the Laduree kitchen.  I now carry a fork in my pocket because of this.  Otherwise I have to eat with my fingers, it's like camping.  When the break is over, I usually get sent to another kitchen to help with finishing the tarts and this is where I end my long night.

In tarts I fill small pate sucree crusts with a Rhubarb compote and then carefully arrange tiny Frais de Bois strawberrys on top.  I don't understand the Frais de bois.  I don't think they are pretty, the coloring is never consistent, and they are often very mushy.  I ask Damien if they taste good. He doesn't think so.  I finally taste one and it's not bad.  Sweet, and almost kind of floral tasting.  I try to imagine it with the Rhubarb. Once the tiny Frais are all placed perfectly, I pipe a spiral of Strawberry gelee on top and of course, don't forget the etiquette!

About 5am the early morning staff starts to trickle in.  One by one, coming in to say Bonjour and give a kiss, or grasp your wrist for a shake if you are busy working.  Damiem tells me to go ask for the Cuit Sucre, or cooked sugar.  I am given several plaques of hardened caramel colored sugar that I then break into pieces to be melted down.  Several kilos of butter and a small amount of pectin is added, we are making the caramel for the Tart Tatins.  I tried one the other day and it was good, but way too buttery for my tastes.   I'd prefer to taste more of the apples.  I find it clever the way they make the individual Tart Tatins.  Large silicon flexi-molds.  A laddle full of the caramel goes in each round mold.  Then 1 and 1/2 apples are pushed in on top of the caramel.  Someone, probably in the oven room places the butter rounds of dough on top before baking them in the oven.  Then the following night I may have to take them out of the flexi-molds before starting the process over.

I am now bleary eyed and thinking of my bed.  We clean the kitchens, mopping the floors and washing the marble counters.  Make sure things are put away.  Our aprons are collected to be washed and I make my rounds saying goodbye to the staff before I go change out of my uniform. Then its up the stairs and into the day light on the Champs-Elysees.  I walk to my metro stop, passing the fruite and vegetable vendors setting up there stalls, deliveries are being made to the restaurants along the street and everyone is getting ready for the day.  At Laduree there are lots of fresh buttery Croissants, Brioche and other delights waiting for the first of the day's customers. 

So next time you are up early and visiting your local bakery or pastry shop, enjoy the first cup of coffee or tea, keep in mind all the work that went into making sure that pastry was fresh and waiting for you that morning.

In steaming on into Week 3 at Laduree with the night team.  Lots of other exciting things happening as well, that I will share after I catch up on a little more sleep.

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.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Here I Go Again.

Hello from Paris.  Time has flown by again and here I am back in the city of Food, and most particularly PASTRY!.   I was quite busy leading up to my departure from the US.  Packing for 3 months abroad is not easy.  My cookware and other belongings that could not come with me had to be sent off to storage or loaned out to eager friends. 

Before packing everything up, I did a fair amount of baking.  I made a lovely Lemon Raspberry Charlotte for my good friend Chef Chudy.  It was a surprise birthday cake for his girlfriend.  I've made this cake on a few other occassions for him, and he is quite a fan.  I'm really loving making my own Lady Fingers (or Biscuit a cuillere as the French call them) and my love affair with the Charlotte continues...

I spent the last few months living with a lovely lady and her 7 year old son as a kind of live-in babysitter and all around helper.  There was no keeping a secret of what my day job was from her friends, and so it was requested that we have a dessert party.  I gladly agreed; it would give me a chance to practice a few desserts I hadn't made in a while before I departed for Paris.  I went all out and with inspiration from JJ, I hand rolled all the apples for the Brown Butter Apple Tart to look like little roses.  I thought it turned out looking a little like worms instead, but everyone seemed impressed. 

The menu for the evening also included: Tarte au Citron, Rum Pastry Creme filled Cream Puffs, Moelleux au Chocolat, Chocolate Chip Cookies, and my favorite savory tart of Tomatoes, Olives, Brie and fresh herbes.   There were not many leftovers, and I was feeling very over sugared, but very pleased with my execution of the desserts and delivery. 
After the party, I hosted a small bake sale to raise some extra money for my plane ticket to Paris.  I made over 100 Buckeyes, 100 Whiskey Truffles, 12 dozen Chocolate Chip Cookies and 3 Dozen Madeleines.  I think I may have a calling for the mail order business.  Or next time if I have more time, I'll open the sale up to more people.  With one week left in Boston, I took a break from cooking and focused on my summer.

I arrived in Paris last Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning Romain and I headed to the south of France for a little vacation.  A few days to help me adjust to the 6 hour time change and prepare myself for my exciting internship. We drank Rose, ate lots of fresh seafood and lots of specialties of Provence, (some really yummy Olive Tapenade) and I got to see the Mediterannean Sea for the first time and dip my toes in too.

So after about two weeks break from the kitchen, I'm ready to dive in.  Tomorrow morning I start my internship at Laduree.  I have my uniform, my shoes, my notebook, sharpie and my French I forgetting anything?   Wish me luck!