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Thoughts on staging in Paris

I haven’t written in the longest time and many things have happened since my last post about school. First of all- I’ve graduated :). LCB was an amazing experience and being in Paris, learning the art and technique of french cuisine in France itself, and meeting all of my fellow foodie friends, is something I would never trade for anything. But we’ve all moved on, and pretty quick at that. Everyone has returned home and is making progress with their lives, moving forward. I spent 2 weeks back in Singapore catching up with the family and friends that I haven’t seen in the past 10 months. Then spent another 2 weeks traveling around Berlin, Copenhagen, and Gothenburg, gaining a new perspective on the food scene in different countries and a new perspective on life, living and culture (not as deep as it sounds, actually). But more about that in another post.

What is really on my mind right now (and actually, occupying most of my time) is my stage in Paris. I’ve spent about 90% of my 5 weeks in Paris staging in a pretty amazing 2-michelin star restaurant. I’ve witnessed how a big kitchen brigade (and I do mean big) is run, how the whole traditional hierachical kitchen ranking system thingamajig works, seen and worked with some amazing ingredients and learnt some really cool, traditional techniques that are slowly being phased out simply because cuisine like that is too time-consuming to make, or just no longer in demand now (what with all the nouveau-bistro and molecular gastronomy trends).

One of the chef-de-parties asked me that day, whether or not I was enjoying myself and what I thought of my stage at Taillevent. Up until then, I hadn’t given it much thought- I hadn’t had much time either considering that working hours were 8am to 3pm, then 5pm to 11pm (at least) from Monday to Friday. Yes, I was enjoying myself, but without much conscious thought– I enjoyed being at work, being able to handle food everyday and just be in the mere presence of all the preparation, the energy, the cooking, the smells and aromas, made me look forward to being in the kitchen everyday.

But the more thought I give it, the more “flaws” I find with the stage I’m doing, and although it might not be anything too damaging or too negative, I think it stems from my initial desire to use these 2 months to get as much experience and learn as much as I can, instead of just being able to put a good restaurant name on my resume without any real substance or backing.

Mainly, I wish there was more of a teaching culture in the kitchen. While there are a couple of chefs that are willing and really open to sharing whatever they know, most of them are more concerned with getting their work done and rightly so for that matter! All it really takes to get to know how something is done is a question actually, but I sometimes feel out of place being so “nosy” when it’s so busy in the kitchen. I don’t expect to be cooking on the line or doing anything too major as a stagiere who is only there for 2 weeks, but there are some tasks that I could be entrusted to do (I know this sense of entitlement might be misplaced but I’ve worked in a couple of kitchens previously, so this really isn’t my first stage and I am no idiot, if I do say so myself) like toasting hazelnuts or frying some chips. But I guess this is what happens in a big kitchen like ours- everyone has a set list of tasks to do and take care of, and it’s the same every single day. You fall into such a rhythm with what you do, and the chefs probably do the task better and faster than I could. I get it, I understand the system and the fact that I will not be as fast or as good as the chefs now, but given that November is such a slow period for french restaurants (I heard it’s vacation time for the french now, as it is with every other month), it would be nice to be taught and shown more things.

Otherwise, I’ve fallen into some sort of a rhythm with the kitchen life too! Mornings are filled with bulk prep work- shallots, onions, carrots, garnishes, etc. One of the chefs at the poisson station has entrusted me with finishing up “his work” during service time, going through tourteau meat to find shells, cleaning, separating and packing the boudins, breaking up lobster carcasses, etc that I don’t even have to ask anymore when I see ingredients come in the morning, or when I see bowls of prep work in his fridge. I really like this feeling of being entrusted, and he does trust me. He used to be really skeptical when I first arrived, rightly so- he would go through all my garnishes and inspect my brunoise so closely, but trust is earned and over time, I guess I showed him that I was worthy of being entrusted with more and more work! 🙂

 

Overall, I still wouldn’t have given up this opportunity. Spending 2 months in Paris working in a huge restaurant like this is a pretty incredible experience. I’ve learnt to work faster, more efficiently, to think ahead and plan before beginning on a task, learnt how to organize myself well, how to clean clean clean and CLEAN (a pretty important habit in the kitchen and something that we do to a really really crazy extreme here) and gotten used to working the long hours that are so required in the kitchen. If anything, this might have been a try out or a test to see if this was what I was really cut out for, and at the end of the day, all I can say is that this has only fueled the fire in me to pursue what I’ve always wanted to do- to cook 🙂

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