Ah oui, vacation est fini. The first week back from our 3 week August vacation started off with everyone cheerful and happy to see each other and ended in fatigue and frustration. With an all new kitchen staff this was bound to happen. As for me personally, I ended this week physically fatigued to the breaking (and crying) point.
The highlights this week included the Chef de Cuisine asking to hire me permanently after my apprenticeship is over – yippeee!!! He said he would make me Commis (a rank above apprentice yet under Demi-Chef and Chef de Partie). If I continue at the meat station this would make me The Chef de Partie's personal slave. I'm already playing that role, but I would actually get paid for it. It's quite an honor.
The unfortunate part is I don't have a work visa, I have a dependent visa which doesn't allow me to work or pursue work. If I can't figure out the visa issue then I can't work at the restaurant. Anyone have ideas on how to go about this?
Other highlights included gaining speed slashing chickens and pigeons into beautiful fillets, learning how to make Fond Brun and Fond Blanc or beef and chicken stock – and loving the comforting smell of it as it simmers into liquid gold. Gaining confidence with ris de veau or sweet breads (the thymus gland) and not grossing out every time I have to handle the small blubbery gland globs. Lastly, perfecting my oragami skills with special dishes that require time consuming folded aluminium packets that are presented and served tableside.
Now for the lowlights...yesterday I slipped and fell on my butt and slid halfway down a flight of stairs while carrying an enormous stock pot filled with heavy bones and hot liquids to the basement kitchen. I managed to hang onto the bones at the cost of bruising my tailbone and tushy. This of course brought forth a release of tears from the exscrutiating pain coupled with my fatigue. You know how babies cry when they're really really tired? That was me yesterday. And of course my boss had asked if it was too heavy for me to carry before my descent and I pridefully said "no".
Looking back the scene must have been humorous to anyone watching. As my butt bumped along down the stairs with the stock pot resting on my lap my boss came running over behind me and picked up the pot. "I told you it was too heavy. Are you okay?" I tried to smile but limped my way over to an empty hallway to whimper in private. When I returned to my station he told me that I could go to the bathroom if I wanted to take a little rest. But I reminded him that the ladies bathroom is up five flights of stairs and my bruised butt wasn't going to make that climb.
I continued with my work hacking apart pigeons with a shaky hand and a cloud of emotional instability which must of scared the daylights out of him. He kept asking, "Are you sure you're okay?" and I kept responding, "Yes, I'm sure." while whacking off pigeon wings haphazardly with my cleaver. Finally he said, "Would you like I make you a coffee?" Although coffee normally wires me out – especially the way the French make it – it actually settled my nerves a little and gave me some energy to get through my exhaustion.
The other huge issue I'm having is communication. I can't understand half the words my boss says to me because his accent is lazy like my Californian accent and it just sounds like mush to me. It difficult when we've got orders up and he's yelling at me to do and get stuff and I'm just running around like a headless chicken trying to figure out what on earth he wants.
Now that we've been working together awhile I can pretty much anticipate what he needs. But the other day he said, "get me fond brun" but I heard "get me fond blanc". I repeated the order back to him and he heard me say "You want fond brun?" and not the actual "You want fond blanc?". It's a Laurel and Hardy scene at the meat station right now.
He tells me often, "You make good service tonight" in broken English at the end of our shifts, which translates into "You're doing good work". But I know that I'm sloppy and slow at this point. It's really hard to work under pressure when you don't have a secure grasp on the language. I am honored that the Chef de Cuisine thinks enough of me to let me work at his 3-star restaurant at the most difficult station without a firm grasp of French and I often wonder why....
I still wrangle with the heat and depending on my womanly cycle I find it more or less tolerable. I'm one of those people that has the misfortune of turning crimson when it's over 120˚F, which it often is. Everyone else just pours sweat while I seem to turn into a hot tomato and then break into mild un-cooling perspiration.
I'm a runner too and I sweat buckets while I run, but not in the kitchen. I just retain all the heat in my face. Lovely. I know this is totally girly, but I don't like looking like a tomato! I'm self-concious about it especially when they make fun of me. To add insult to my injury, when I leave the kitchen my face is covered in a layer of shiny grease because we don't have proper vents to suck up the heat and grease. Everyone else just sweats the grease off but not me. Yuck-a-roo. I'm a greasy tomato.
The walk in refrigerator is still my saving grace and I like to find excuses to get things from there. My boss often says when it's slow, "If you want you go to the refrigerator" because he knows that I like hang out in there. I stand against cool shelves, face lifted toward the air conditioning, and use my toque to fan the frosty air my direction. Glad to know that stupid pleated hat is good for something besides trapping heat on my head. The walk in fridge is right next to the pastry kitchen so sometimes they give me little desserts while I'm cooling off. They know I like to hang out in there too.
Jeez, they must think I'm just a crazy American woman. Sometimes I think that too...
C'est tout from the land of French Food, more next week ;-)