Working Life 1: Reality Hits
Work at the Ritz Hotel in Paris is not all glamorous. It is humbling and hard work.
But it is interesting and enriching.
We all work together in a small corner of the cuisine city that serves this dignified and decadent leading hotel of the world.
I was prepared to be crushed in the kitchen. Reports back from other students were poor to say the least.
But I thoroughly enjoyed it… I went in with a positive outlook and knowingly expected to do the basic stuff, the menial tasks that must be done. I had no issues with cleaning, sorting and organising.
I was surrounded by really nice people that were willing to accept me and talk to me. I did tasks without question and as quickly and perfectly as possible.
Day 1 – the Amuse-Bouche
Think of this as my first taste – a special night courtesy of the chef.
I had a wonderful if unexciting night in the pastry kitchen that started at 3pm with a non-existent orientation, being thrown straight into the kitchen and finished at 11:30pm.
I had started off my illustrious pastry career cleaning out the ice-cream fridge – something of the utmost importance in procedure obsessed France.
I made a couple of plates of petit fours for the pass; and then I made 12 trays of almond biscuit sponge.
I placed a croqant disc on top of three trays of choux before baking them in the ovens and then arranging them in a tray to be placed in the freezer.
I learnt how to properly label boxes, how to sort the utensils and distribute them in the kitchen after they were washed.
And I moved an entire delivery of chocolate from the corridor to the Chocolaterie…
A tiring but good first day in the professional kitchens
Day 2 – the Entrée
Tonight the high had disappeared and the reality of hard work set in. I laboured away with little sweet success. I completed all my tasks but I was slow and imperfect.
I helped to make 80 pistachio and cherry tarts, only I broke 3.
I helped to make 360 macaron shells, only I mistakenly started making the French meringue too early.
I then had to systematically turn over and arrange similar sized shells before piping the filling for 180 macaron, which took me a long while.
Economy of movement was the key word of the day.
I then descended to sub-zero fridge to gather some stores of ice-cream and was shocked by the extreme conditions that my body were stunned to handle.
The impracticality of the storage system was apparent from the very beginning and my patience was not helped by the minus 17 degree temperatures.
The extremely heavy boxes of ice creams were stacked on top of each other and were not draws. So to get to the vanilla, the most frequently used, I had to lift up with only one hand about 30 kilos worth of plastic and vacuum packs of ice-cream before I quickly tried to get my other hand onto the slender and slippery ice-cream.
Day 3 – the Main Course
I came to work at 4pm already feeling like the clouds were gathering above my head. My nose was increasingly running and my head becoming heavier. I literally blew my nose almost every 2 minutes and it still wasn’t enough, and after each event I had to thoroughly clean my nose and hands with alcohol hand wash.
I don’t remember when during the night I started this mammoth task but I know it was my focus for most of the night. I prepared almost 6 kg of French meringue and then proceeded to make the mise-en-place for one of Le Espadons famous desserts.
60 fine meringue bowls and then 60 flat discs to cover them… and perfection was a requirement not merely a lofty goal.
We assembled the petit-fors for the next day.
And besides this there was the usual organisation, cleaning and Ice cream tasks
There was already no sous-chef to run the pass with the chef, and one of the other interns had called in sick so it was just two interns and the chef tonight.
A memorable evening to say the least as we all left at 12:30pm.
Day 4 – Just Desserts!
I was feeling absolutely terrible all day, willing myself to be well enough to tackle my fourth night in the kitchen. I was thoroughly distressed when instead of feeling even a semblance of relief my body continued to wage a war on my sanity. My nose was like a gushing tap, the headaches and body aches had only worsened and I felt absolutely exhausted… it was of course just the common man-cold!
Proven to be scientifically plausible, the weaker male species is susceptible to a particularly terrible reaction to the common-cold or flu and I had a bad case that I just couldn’t overcome despite my best efforts.
Feeling terrible I called in sick, apologising profusely but it was a sensible measure given a leaking faucet is no ideal when leaning over 5 star pastries!