The idea of shutting down business for the entire month of August – like they do in France – is a bizarre concept in America, but I can't help but inwardly smile as I sit in a trendy Lo-Side New York bar on vacation sipping a three olive martini while blogging. Forgive me if this post gets a little sloppy. It's been nine months since I've had a proper cocktail...
The last week before August break has come and gone and it has been filled with innumerable highs and lows at the 3-star restaurant I cook at in Paris. The highs being the photo shoot and the opportunity to work with Chef Damien (Chef de Parti) and keeping my position with him at the meat station for longer than two days – Wooo!.
Most stagiers have been cycled through the line positions quickly, especially the meat station. At our restaurant this station is the most prestigious and left to only the Chef de Parti (chef responsible for all stations). Chef Damien works solely with one other person which makes the position even more desirable. He's also super cool and every young guy there worships the ground he walks on because he's talented and he doesn't yell (what a relief!)
So you can imagine my little jump from the Amuse Bouche Station to the meat station caused some controversy amongst the other stagiers who were hoping to secure the apprentice position. Luckily I'm a positive person with a sense of humor so I think after the initial shock hit the young staff and the rumors died down, they just accepted it and decided it was kind of fun to work with me on the line anyway.
Damien (Chef de Parti) and me & Francois (Chef of all Garnishes)
Just how did I get the position? Good question. Maybe because I work fast? Maybe because they think I'm a famous actress from America (long story)? Maybe because I waited for the Chef to Cuisine to ask me what position I was interested in instead of asking for it outright? Or maybe it's because 25 of the 36 young chefs will not be returning after our August break and they needed a reliable person. Most of the young stagiers and apprenticeships are working towards their university chef degrees and they will be returning to school.
The Chef de Cuisine during service one slow evening asked me if I was interested in doing something new. I answered that I was interested in working on the line. I also mentioned that I was happy doing whatever he wanted me to do – even if it meant peeling carrots in the basement all day long!
The Chef asked, "Well, would you like to try the fish or garnish station? What would like to do?" With a second prodding I said, "I love fish but I'm really interested in the meat if there's an opportunity..."
He yelled across the kitchen for all the thirty-six chefs to hear, "Damien, how would you like to work with Amy?". Chef Damien, without looking up from the myriad of different dishes he was preparing, yelled back that it would would be okay with him. "Great Amy, you'll start tomorrow." I'm sure I turned a light shade of crimson as the whole staff stared at me in surprise. Needless to say it was hard to keep from smiling throughout the rest of the shift (yippeee!)
So will I hang on to the position when I return after August? That's still unknown and there are many other positions that I'm excited to explore, but I'm happy that I got the opportunity at least for awhile.
Now for the lows...on the very last day I brought in presents for the entire cooking staff. I made a special CD with candid shots of everyone cooking and pictures of the food. I figured that most of the young chefs at some point would want to remember their experience and that the older chefs probably didn't have any pics of themselves in action. I wrote special notes to each of the thirty-six chefs inside the CD jacket. I really took the time to do something nice.
There is one chef who I don't see eye to eye with. I gave him a CD and wrote a nice note anyway. He responded that he had a present for me too and went and got one of the adult videos (read my later posts on this one) from the basement. He handed it to me and told me that it was for me and my husband. On the cover was a woman holding an enormous penis in her hand about to perform oral sex and another woman spread eagle. It wasn't funny, but I tried to make a joke out of it anyway.
I put the DVD on the counter next to the huge basket of mushrooms I was trimming and tried not to look at it – kind of hard to do. I also tried to push down mixed emotions of tears and anger. Luckily there were three main chefs around me trimming mushrooms too, and they were also shocked by the exchange and a little uncertain how to handle the situation. We all tried to ignore the video glaring at us and go on with normal conversation, but the dynamics were uncomfortable for everyone.
The Chef de Cuisine came in and saw the adult video and asked what it was there for. I told him it was a present for me and my husband. He took the CD back and apologized. He also later translated the note I had written inside the CD for the Chef who gave me the present and I wonder if he felt a little remorseful afterward. Oh well, kill 'em with kindness.
Regardless, I finished the last night at the meat station in high spirits. We had a lot of fun playing around and making jokes in the kitchen. There was no yelling and no stress that night. The restaurant was slow (Paris vacates for August) so the atmosphere was relaxed and nostalgic as over half of the staff was cooking for the last time at the restaurant.
We are like a family and it was hard for everyone to say goodbye to each other. Funny how everyone was looking forward to taking off the month of August, but at the closing hour I garauntee that every single employee would have gladly agreed to work to another month – including me.
Ummm...another martini please?...