Friday, 31 July 2009

Paris gourmet guide

Being on morning shift for the last few days of work turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it meant that I was able to hang out with a friend from HK who had popped over for a quick visit. I really don't know how she copes with her jetsetting lifestyle (HK-London-NYC-London-Glasgow-London-Paris-London-HK), my head hurts just thinking about it.....signs that I am getting old :)

It was really cool seeing her, I can't quite believe that we've known each other for close to 10 years!! Since she had already seen most of the tourist sights before on a previous visit, I decided to show her around some of favourite places for food. Initially, our first port of call was Relais de Venise L'Entrecôte, a steak restaurant that my friend wanted to try cos the "special" steak sauce had been recommended to her. Despite consulting with a hotel concierge before heading there, we arrived to find the restaurant was closed for vacances! After that minor setback, we headed to L'Ardoise for a very yummy lunch. Afterwards, it was onto Jean-Paul Hevin to buy some choccies for her work colleagues (am sorry D!! didn't realise that JPH had shops in HK already!)

Some of the other places we headed to were:
  • Pozzetto: my favourite place in Paris for Italian gelato.  
  • Higuma: not a bad place for ramen.
  • Cuisine de Bar: chic place in the 6th for light lunches of tartines, open sandwiches served on Poilane bread.
  • Bac a Glaces: good place for French ice cream.
  • Lao Lane Xang: awesome and always reliably yummy Laotian food.
  • Les Cocottes: didn't like it the 1st time I went but this time, had a great lunch.
Not bad going for 2.5 days!!
So good seeing and catching up with you D, 香港見!! :)

Tuiles galore!

Have been a bit slack with the blog posts, ごまん (yep, the dorama watching is still alive and well!) Its actually been a week now since I finished week 4 of my stage. A bit of a mixed bag during the week - a few days on afternoon shift, a bit of a bummer as that meant only 1 day off rather than my usual 2. There was an upside which was a much shorter working day, we finished before 7pm on both days rather than the usual 10pm - I have a funny feeling that I will be in for a rude awakening after the holidays! The afternoon shift was mega-quiet with just me, the chef and another stagiaire manning the kitchen. It was pretty chilled and I also got the opportunity to do some proper production the form of tuiles, aka. tiles, aka. those sugary wafery things that one sometimes find on top of fancy desserts, aka. fiddly and messy things to make and bake! The 1st kind I had to make were a circular praline type with hazelnuts on top, the type that involves a load of scraping and can get seriously messy. After a few go's, I finally got the hang of it which was a nice feeling one point, the chef asked me to clean up which I acknowledged and then he said, "Toute suite". I was thinking what the bloody rush was and then my "French" brain finally caught up with me 10 seconds later that the big boss was coming into the lab so manic cleaning then......I managed to catch sight of my manky apron and managed to towel down just in time to say Bonjour to him, what a close shave! :)
The 2nd kind of tuile was another sticky number this time infused with flaked almonds, no shaping involved here (the chef was  in charge of that), just had to pipe blobs of stuff onto trays.....sounds easy but actually pretty hard to get everything regular and also hard to manage to the outflow of almonds, char! As I said, fiddly to do but was kinda half proud of myself that I got to do the stuff - the other stagiaire who has been working there longer than me only got to decorate fruit cake and tidy away silpats! I guess I also have the chef to thank for allowing me and trusting me not to screw up the stuff - word has it that he will be in charge of the morning shift after the holliers which will be good as he is way more organised than his predecessor and also a good teacher.

My last couple of days of work was back to morning shift and at the other shop doing "finition". Thursday was a real shock to the system as the whole crew from the production shop had gatecrashed so space was at an even bigger premium and us stagiares were relegated to the very bottom level of the basement, among the chambre froid and freezers. Since it was the last week before the holidays, the amount of cakes being made had decreased considerably and as there were so many other people around, we were left with making Ispahan. Another minor milestone for me here as I was unofficially put in charge of the stagiaires and also of the all-important rose buttercream! My last few days making Ispahan with the other stagiaires confirmed what I had been thinking all along, unless you can show that you can work hard and well, you are unlikely to be given the opportunities of doing more complex things. We were also roped into a massive clean-out of the lab, not exactly a whole lot of fun but one of those things that needed to be done.

So what do I think of my stage so far? OK and I definitely felt a bit of improvement after this last week. I only hope that I won't forget what I've learnt so far on my break and fingers crossed, I will get the opportunity to do a few more other things for the remaining 2 months. I think my French will also have to improve vastly before being able to be fully "accepted" by my French colleagues, I have enough to communicate in a work environment so the only way is up , huh? Roll on the holliers :)  

Monday, 20 July 2009

Mashite (まして)??

Week 3 and another week at the same shop doing "finition" - essentially more of the same but with the added "challenge" of tarte citron. Up until now, I haven't really complained about any of the tasks I've been told to do during my stage, no matter how menial they have been. However, my patience was being tested severely with this dastardly tarte.....umpteen anal steps and to top it all off, I don't even think it tastes or looks that nice!! The only consolation is that after doing it enough times, I managed to reduce my build time every day which was a nice feeling.

Even though we finish early practically every day at this shop, I have very little energy to do anything too taxing for the rest of my days sadly. My routine now consists of work, lunch, nap, downtime, dinner, phonecall to JD and bed. I've also rediscovered the joy of Japanese dramas (yep, almost 10 years after I saw my first one!) during mealtimes........have watched 3 (Good Luck, Beautiful Life, and One Million Stars Falling From The Sky) in the space of 2 weeks (scary! each usually runs for 10-11 episodes, each lasting around 1 hour), all of which star the king of dorama, Kimura Takuya (木村拓哉). Its funny, after all these years, I had forgotten that behind all the hype surrounding him, he's actually a pretty good actor......I was also reminded that he was probably the only person worth watching in that Wong Kar Wai stinker, 2046. The title of this post is in reference to the Japanese word that 木村拓哉 taught Beyonce when they were shooting a handbag (weird, I know but the guy was the spokesperson for ladies cosmetics brand, Kanebo a while back and the campaign was HUGELY successful!) ad together (mmmm.......stalkerish tendencies coming out here, he! he!) - I think its supposed to mean "still more"? Kinda what I was thinking on my last day of the week when faced with yet more tarte citron ;) 

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Lets make cakes!

Good news! I survived the 1st week of my stage and had the luxury of a 3-day weekend to look forward to which was pretty nice. I definitely needed all the rest I could get as my 2nd week was also morning shift but at another shop. As mentioned previously, this shop does no "production" work and is all about "finition", i.e. building cakes and tarts.  My first day almost got off to a pretty shaky start as I arrived at the designated time of 6am except I had no idea how to get into the shop (normally, at the other shop, one just saunters through the open doors) as everything was completely closed! Luckily, a fellow stagiaire arrived shortly and very kindly showed me the doorbell (inconveniently tucked away around the corner from the door) and hey presto, someone came and open the door! :)

So what are the differences?
  • The only toilet is located INSIDE the men's changing rooms - a bit weird, but you get used to it!
  • The lab spans over 4 floors, all in the basement. 2 are really storage areas (1 of which leaks), 1 has the oven and the other is the main lab. As the team are smaller, the lab actually feels bigger even though it is smaller in size to lab in the other shop. Worktop space, a luxury!
  • Like the other lab, we have a plongeur (ie. washer-upper) but this one cleans the floors for us, cuts roses and lychees!
  • We get to try some of the cakes which are not perfect and don't make it to the pastry case.
  • We also get a discount if we buy cakes in the shop, I can highly recommend the Ispahan cheesecake - you can really taste that world-renowned raspberry, lychee, rose flavour combination clearly here, unlike in the original macaroon which is a little too sweet for me. Not entirely nuts about the cheesecake base though.
  • People actually chat while they're working, mainly a lot of gossiping about fellow co-workers though! (JD reminded me that this happens everywhere which is true, shows just how long I've been out of the workplace!!)
I have to admit, the work has been a lot more interesting this week, being taught how to build all the different cakes on sale - a great feeling being able to see what you made every day in the pastry case after I finish work. We tend to finish earlier than at the other shop but for some reason, I feel even more tired than usual.....possibly because the work is more intensive here as we have a deadline to meet and have products ready before the shop opens. As its also my first week here, there's a lot of learning to do and remembering everything that people say to you re: how to decorate a certain cake, what are the steps and where all the ingredients are, etc. 

A few points of note this week:
  • I met the "big boss" who has his office in this shop also. A bit of a shock at first but it was pretty cool when he walked around the lab to shake everyone's hand. He's much shorter and plumper than I had imagined :)
  • Whilst reading a book called "Don't Try This At Home", I found out that Michel Roux Jr of Le Gavroche actually initially trained as a pastry chef and did a stage at a patisserie here in Paris, the location of which was at the shop I worked at last week! It feels good to be a part of history, knowing that I have shared the same workspace with such a respected chef :)
  • After a few pointers from the chef, I've resolved to focus even harder on my work, paying more attention to every excruciating detail and making sure that everything I turn out is as good as possible. Being a naturally picky customer myself, I've realised that anything less just won't be acceptable. 
Its been good, I think I am here again next week so hopefully, the learning will continue :)

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Stage - week 1

As I mentioned before, part of the pastry course at ESCF also involves a 3-6 month "stage" (work experience/internship), which was organised for us by school. Where we decided to do a stage was a decision reached between each student and chef. To be honest, I wasn't really sure where I wanted to go, just to a patisserie or shop as I myself would like to start my own business one day and therefore wanted to experience that kind of environment first hand. Chef had told us that it was difficult to place us in shops as most of them close in the summer so in a way, I was very lucky to have got my stage. I won't spill the beans yet as to where I am doing my stage but it is a very prestigious place and the name is known amongst pastry connoisseurs around the world - should be enough hints!! To be honest, I was a little shocked that chef suggested the place for me considering that the previous stagiaire he had sent there was top of his Anglopat class, I never thought I would've been good enough to go? 

Anyhoo, I was off to my stage the Monday after graduation - a bit of a shock to the system as I had to be in work at 6am....doesn't sound that early but getting up at 4:30am prolly sounds a little more impressive :)

My first day (I found out later) was actually quite quiet and the lab was operating with a reduced staff - a lot of helping out people with tasks. It was OK but a little confusing having to adapt to a new environment and remembering what everyone tells you.

The rest of the week was a different kettle of fish. The lab was buzzing with activity, everyone has their head down getting on with the tasks ahead, all to be performed with precision and lightning speed. The chef in charge was the one whom I had my "interview" with - at that time, he had given me the impression that he was a "no bullshit" kinda guy. My suspicions were confirmed when I saw him in action in the lab - all fine and dandy but it seemed a shame and ironic to me being that miserable when you spend all day making pastries that will give other people a lot of pleasure.  Also, it was blatantly obvious that his attitude directly reflects what the atmosphere of the lab is like so maybe not the most pleasant of places to work, there is no talking/banter.....even when people are on break! I must add though that at least here, the environment is what you see is what you get, believe me, the fake backstabbing office politics kind of environment is far worse and for me, the worst kind of bullshit. I realised quickly that if the chef stays quiet in the lab, it means you are doing a good job so based on that, I had a pretty good week.

I spent most of the week doing a lot of mise-en-place and setting some personal records for myself all of which I related to my body weight......chopping my body weight in lychees, squeezing my body weight in lemon juice, grinding my body weight in pistachios, grating my body weight in Parmesan, you get the picture :) 
Not exactly interesting stuff but I get the feeling that the people are prolly just checking me out and seeing what I can do/if I will crack, etc. - whatever floats their boat, doesn't really bother me cos I'm here to learn and better myself :)

I was also lucky enough to be working the same shift as the other Anglopat stagiaire which meant someone to have a chinwag with during breaks (in English,  a luxury!). Its been good to get the lowdown on what to expect for the next few months - he finishes up at the end of the month and has been fortunate to have been able to do a lot more than your average stagiaire (including an impressive demo of potential new products in front of the big boss!) so maybe there's hope for me?

So, am I enjoying my stage? Its OK but hasn't been very exciting and this is mostly due to the fact that I haven't really seen any final product and I never like it when I can't see what I'm working towards. The people have been fine, happy to answer questions when I ask them but I haven't made any bosom buddies yet - maybe the language barrier doesn't help either. The real plus has been being able to see how production works and all the things one needs to consider if really opening a shop,  a real eye opener. 

I'm off to the other shop next week where it is all "finition", ie. building and finishing cakes which should hopefully, be a little more interesting.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Thank you to the cow! :)

Following a frantic and frankly, disorganised graduation ceremony at ESCF, I was able to spend a relaxing weekend in Paris with JD before heading off to my "stage". As usual, these weekends are a great excuse to sample a handful of restaurants in Paris and not worry about my ever-expanding belly (how many months? hehe!!)

Only managed to visit a couple of new places, a yummy Argentinian steak restaurant called Unico and a Basque bistro called Le Troquet, the latter with an established reputation for good food. At Unico, I had some great ceviche to kick things off, a wonderful piece of  steak cooked to perfection and a delicious dulce de leche fondant to end (which we decided to share but probably could've polished one off each!). Oh, and did I mention that they serve Quilmes beer - felt like I had been transported back to Argentina for the evening! The restaurant itself is really funky and decorated in a vibrant orange, get the feeling that someone might have been channeling a little bit of Almodóvar with the decor :) The premises used to be a butchers shop and some of the old shop has been retained as part of the new decor like the meat hangers, side bench with meat slicer and the old doors for the cold rooms. As you can probably tell, I really liked this restaurant. Like JD said, its not a question of whether an Argentinian restaurant will be good (most people rarely turn down the chance of a good steak) but more of a case of how good. We had a great service as well and like the owner of Unico remarked, "thank you to the cow indeed"!! 

We also had a good feed at Le Troquet - a neighbourhood restaurant with a rustic feel and some pretty good food. I ordered cauliflower velouté to start and completely forgot the French love of cold soups - it tasted nice but just not that big a fan myself. My main of pan fried hake with a tomato sauce was really delicious and brought memories of a similar dish JD used to order during our holliers in Mexico (pescado a la veracruzana). The dessert of seasonal fruits was nice but nothing to write home about and I deeply regretted not plumping for the vanilla soufflé with black cherries as I found out later that this was one of their signature dishes! Next time :)