Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Eating with friends - Itinéraires and Afaria

Update on some of the restos I've been able to hit over the last few weeks. I had previously tried to get reservations for Itinéraires the last time JD was in town but they were already fully booked by the time I rang. This time, I was luckier and managed to secure a table on a Friday night (albeit for the 2nd sitting at 10pm) - I almost lost the booking when I forgot that I needed to call back on the day before 3pm to confirm the table and luckily, remembered minutes before the deadline :) 

So was it any good? The restaurant interior is lovely and decorated in a contemporary way, quite different for most Parisian bistros. Tables are very Parisian (ie. you will have problems squeezing in if you are bigger than a size 10!!) with cute menus written on slate for every table. Not a lot of choice on the menu, 3-4 choices per course.

Overall, the food was pretty good (dessert for me was highlight, a rarity!) and my friends seemed to like it too, a nice sending off for them before they headed back to the US.  

Seafood broth - it arrived on the table with raw shrimp. You're supposed to pour the broth into the dish this would cook the shrimp, hope you like half cooked shrimp! Think the chef was trying to give the dish an Asian twist (daikon, miso, soy) but not entirely convinced it worked?

Rissotto cooked in squid ink topped with squid "a la plancha" and foam - very tasty!

Lemon meringue pie served with raspberry sorbet. Garnishes are grey meringue spears and celery julienne?? A little different but it was delicious and the whole thing worked!! :)

I then met up with a couple of chums from school last weekend and we finally made it to a bistro that has been on my friend's "hitlist" for a while, a little Basque place in the 15th called Afaria. The menu is slightly different to other places - the chef has a starter, main course and dessert all grouped under a particular theme (4 or 5 in total). The diner can decided to choose all 3 course from one theme or pick and mix from various themes. A fantastic meal there with great company as usual - would dearly love to come back and try the roast duck served with handcut chips served in a giant clog - a lot of people were ordering this so it must be good!! 
Parillada of seafood (for 2 to share) - soo good and had everything!! (clams, mussels, razor clams, crab claws, prawns, whelks, oysters)

Pork loin slow cooked with country vegetables - perfect winter dish and meat was super-tender.

Brioche with pralines roses and served with orange flower creme anglaise (for 2 to share) - probably the low point of dinner but still pretty tasty.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Full week at "le tour" (almost)

Thank God for a 3-day weekend is all I can say! Basically, its been germ city at work for the last few weeks and I was already feeling a sore throat developing come the end of last week. Well, my sick colleagues finally passed it onto me and I came down with a dose at the weekend (first time since Feb so at least the ol' immune system has strengthened) - all a bit crap cos am running out of weekends here to do some interesting stuff before leaving for good...just to really rub it in, the weather was lovely also and all I could do was stay in, rest and drink lots of fluids. After 3 days, at least most of my flu had gone, which was just as well as I needed all the strength I could get to survive a whole week in the tour.

This week was more of the same of what I had done the previous week but just to do everything a bit faster and with a bit more finesse (cue ball-busting). Usually, every day starts off with me having to prepare brioche for the proofer. Despite having done it a few times now, my brioche dough still gets pounded a bit more after my efforts but when I try to do the same, I get told that the dough has become too squidgey and this will hinder the rising process so I make the "least bad" error and leave the dough less pounded...I actually got to weigh and make the brioche dough one day this week, followed the recipes and instructions from "Mr Anal Perfect" (guy in charge of the tour) - dunno what happened but apparently it didn't turn out the way he wanted so he immediately asked whether I had weighed out the right recipe? Everything else I had weighed to date (and afterwards) had no problems but just because, this one thing didn't work, of course, the first thing to do is blame it on the stagiaire.

Lots of feuilletage made this week, another area ripe for ball-busting. Don't pull the feuilletage so much when relaxing it as we don't want too much "chute" (ie. wastage)...... afterwards, "Mr Anal Perfect" grills me on not to pull the feuilletage at the top of each plaque and that I must lift it (but not too much) and then lay it down, without tugging it- easier said than done for me stretching over a marble surface  on tiptoes and at the end of the day, we're talking maybe 1 cm of feuilletage not lying absolutely properly out of a sheet of 240 sq. cms??

As I mentioned this week, I had the privilege of weighing out more recipes for pastry and just my luck, every time I went to the flour/sugar bins, they were close to being empty. All of a sudden, I'm being treated as being "one of the guys" and I'm lugging 25kg bags of flour/sugar up the stairs from the storage area and into the tour. I was actually quite impressed with myself that I could pick up the bag in the first place. One of the bags had to be tipped into the big mixer which is down the corridor from the tour section and believe it or not, I got reprimanded by the boss of the shop for daring to drag a 25kg bag of flour across 5 metres! FYI, it has to be carried in case the bag breaks. Of course, there was no mention of my back breaking during the same distance or God forbid, an offer to bring it up for me himself?? Call me stubborn or whatever but when you are faced with this kind of attitude, when "Mr Anal Perfect" actually offers to help you carry something, why should you take it seriously when you're afraid that it will just look like a sign of weakness?

One of the things I started thinking about this week was the quantity of product we make here in the tour and its quite a lot for 2 people. This week, I shaped 500+ shortcrust pastry tins (just the small ones), 50+ litres of almond cream (helped lift the vessel containing it onto the benchtop, which was big enough for me to have a jacuzzi in!), 56 plaques of feuilletage for millefeuille, 300+ individual handmade galettes (not selling these until January but prep starts now), 200+ Ispahan croissants, you get the idea...

When I turned up for work yesterday, I was told that I wasn't working in the tour for the last day and that it was back into the production lab. That also meant making lots of Ispahan for the weekend rush - a little weird cos when I was faced with my first plaque, I almost forgot how to do everything having had a 2 week break from it! Yes, there were lots to make but I have crossed the pain/boredom threshold associated with it and it also helped that I knew that it would be my last ever day making them!

So....only a week left to go and thoughts about the stage are still mixed as ever:
  • The tour was definitely a good place to go to learn and make other products but physically very demanding for a girl. Couldn't do it long term unless I maybe take growth hormone to grow several inches and steroids to bulk up a few kilos :)
  • Despite my moans, I have a lot of respect for "Mr Anal Perfect" cos everything he makes is probably 99.9% perfect all the time. On a personal level, its a little weird for me to work with someone for 8 hours a day and not saying a single word to the other person except for work related purposes (I did try being Ms Social for a day but sadly, to no avail - can't fault me for not trying). Having said that, the same applies across the whole shouldn't surprise me after 3 months but it still does from time to time....
  • Having worked next to a fellow stagiaire yesterday from a "rival" school, I realise that my own work is pretty good and fast, probably as a result of my stage here so I can afford to give myself a little pat on the back for that :) 
  • "Formally arsey guy" even found the time yesterday to ask what I was doing after my stage and after hearing that I was heading back to London to try and find a job, he suggested that I had a chat with him or the shop boss to see if they could give me any help before I leave. An unexpected surprise, am thinking they must be relatively happy with my work to say something like that? (something to chuckle about......he asked if I had heard of the "Fat Duck" - what foodie in the world hasn't?? Truly a "no shit, Sherlock" moment)
  • Before changing career, I always had a feeling that I would need to get a thicker skin in order to survive in this new industry. Its not perfect but its getting there. Some "pikey newbie" in the lab yesterday wanted to pass on his cleaning duties to me but when I mentioned to "sole nice colleague" that "formally arsey guy" had specifically asked "pikey newbie" to clean, "sole nice colleague" stepped in to help me. One of the good things about growing old is that your people judgement gets a little sharper; I had never liked "pikey newbie's" attitude so as far as helping him, he could take a flying leap ;)
5 more working days with the afternoon team - fingers crossed for a happy ending :)

Monday, 19 October 2009

3 weeks and counting.....

So after last week's debacle, I was back in work on Monday with the afternoon team. Working afternoon shift is a little odd as we work Monday to Friday, morning on Monday and then afternoons the rest of the other days. Monday turned out to be pretty good, I got involved with some production work again....making copious amounts of chantilly cafe for one thing and then helping out with weighing ingredients for Ispahan, joconde, etc.... The afternoon team is a lot smaller than the others....the chef, his seconde, another commis and an apprentis. I was mainly taking orders from the seconde, have only worked with her on a couple of other occasions and wasn't sure what to make of her but actually, she's pretty nice to work with and also speaks clearly and slowly which is a luxury! The chef and her took the flak when the pate de cocoa that I put on the stove for her burnt......somehow am not sure whether I would've been let off that lightly on any of the other shifts?!! Finished off the shift with shaping some meringue shells for "surprise" - originally, the seconde got another stagiaire and I to do this work. Then the 3rd stagiaire, lets call this guy Boris sees us doing this stuff and thinks its a cool thing to do so goes running off to the chef to ask whether he can join in as well and unfortunately, we get lumped with him also. Boris reminds me a lot of a guy who was on my course at school, whom we always suspected as maybe of having mild ADD and also having the same annoying habit of butting his nose into your work....he's been on the receiving end of a few stares and "quoi"? from me......I mean, who has the luxury to be swanning around in the lab anyway, bar the chef??    

At the end of the shift, I ask the chef if he knew what the planning for me was for the next few weeks. This was when I finally discovered that I was supposed to be working the morning shift this week after all....of course, my "grinning and bearing it" face was not up to scratch but the "for fuck's sake, you amateurs" face was firing on all cylinders!! I was also told that next week was also my last week and when I queried that, they eventually had to look up my convention for the specific dates. When they finally realised that I would be working until the end of the month, they put me down on afternoon shift for my last week. Am really surprised at how disorganised these guys are?? I mean, how hard is it to read dates from some contract, update a couple of spreadsheets and coordinating this simple info between 2 shops? Hardly rocket science but clearly in the realms comparable to quantum physics for others?

So it was back to morning shift for me on Tuesday....a little sad cos I did like working with the afternoon team, looking on the bright side, at least, I will be with them on my last week of work. "Formally nice guy" wasn't in work which meant another one of the guys being in sooner had I got into the lab (didn't even make it to "Bonjour" to everyone), he's already getting me to help him do stuff.....all hunkydory but now that we had established that I was working morning shift, I thought that I would be working in the "tour" as previously discussed?? When I finally brought up the subject, the guy in charge for the day didn't know and thought maybe I would be going there tomorrow......luckily, this was confirmed later by "formally arsey guy". Helped out with making pastry cream today as well building a shed-load of "plenitude" and doing some other odd-jobs, fairly eventless day and best of all, I missed out on most of the cleaning which was nice :)

So, Wednesday arrives and I finally make it to the "tour" - this is a section of the lab where a couple of guys are in charge of making all the raw pastry (mainly pate sucree) for all the tarts sold in the shops, as well as all the viennosserie in the shop (croissants, pain au choc, brioche, kouign-amann, bostok, kougelhopf, etc).....oh and a shed-load of feuilletage for millefeuille, etc....          

Last 3 days of the week were spent working in the "tour" and so far, I have to say its been pretty good and easily, the best place to work in the shop for me to date. Its not exactly been a walk in the woods; physically, its demanding as hell, not helped if you're female and short but I've seen and learnt a lot, got to do maybe double the amount of stuff that I would normally do in production and the guys have been pretty patient and "nice". My French isn't good enough for me to tell them how much I love working with dough/ sounds kinda weird telling people in English that I love the way dough feels so how on earth am I gonna make it sound not weird in a foreign tongue?? Best to leave these things unsaid, methinks....  

To date, I've helped make kouign-amann, brioche, creme d'amande (50 kilos, maybe? including a funny/not so funny episode of forgetting to put the rum into the mixture!!), pate sucree (70 kilos, baby!! more than my bodyweight!!), feuilletage inversee and galettes - its all about quantity (and not forgetting quality) in the tour :)

As I said before, a great learning experience but tiring....have started waking up in the middle of the night cos my arms have got pins and first, I thought maybe I just slept on them but a friend mentioned that it might be from all the pounding of dough in the "tour', she may have a point.....I just hope that I have the energy to work 5 days next week there.....after surviving the disease trap that was Bonaparte last week, the germs have migrated to the production lab here with a bunch of people being sick and I maybe finally succumbing to a bout of flu, char!! Hope a 3-day weekend will be enough of a remedy :)   

Friday, 16 October 2009

All you need is love :)

After a less than pleasant week at work, I was a very lucky lass and had a weekend filled with love :)

First up, I met up with a friend from school for dinner and good ol' gossip sesh about our respective stages and life in general - as usual, lots of laughs and great to get everything off our chests!! M picked a small little bistro called Les Enfants Perdus (handy for picking up JD afterwards!). The food was OK but the dessert left a lot to be desired - we shared a millefeuille with mango and ginger which was pretty disastrous! Feuilletage was not cooked enough and drizzle of caramel was still grainy......bit too much cream for me but that may have something to do with the fact that I had a lump of marscapone in my starter as well as a main of risotto drowning in cream....anyhoo, love from a good friend more than made up for it! :)

Tower of Babel - smoked salmon, tomato confit, marscapone and avocado. OK but nothing to write home about. 

Casserole of squid and squid ink rissoto - Squid nicely cooked and tender, risotto too creamy, not cooked in squid ink??!

As mentioned, I had a visit from JD (true love) which was fab as usual - cue opportunity to go out and try new places to eat! This time, we headed to Le Hide, a small bistro in the 17th with a Japanese chef cooking French classics. Special mention has to go to the entrecote which I ordered for my main - my jaw nearly hit the floor when my plate arrived covered 80% with steak!! Very delish (and did I mention filling also?) and served with some very tasty tasty that JD even took a few mouthfuls and he hates the stuff!!

Nice glass of Cotes de Beaunes and some bits of saucisson to nibble whilst reading the menu.

Tartine of escargots - tasty but bread was little bit too greasy.

Infamous 350g (aka. 12oz) entrecote served with sel Guerande.

Mont blanc - a little too sweet and vanilla ice cream was not tasty.

At the end of the weekend, I received some family and brotherly love.....well, just to remind me how not young I am ;)

Props to the Beatles......its true sometimes, all you need is love :)

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

B-day lunch :)

October fetish - Vanille

millefeuille infiniment vanille

éclair infiniment vanille

infiniment vanille

Friday, 9 October 2009

More finition+8 day week

So after a lovely weekend back in London, it was back into the lab again for more early starts and finition. Originally, my schedule was that I would work Monday to Friday and have Saturdays and Sundays off. However, that all changed when I went to work on Monday as the chef decided to swap me with someone else so I would work Monday and Tuesday, have Wednesday and Thursday off and then Friday through to Friday. Of course, when he asked me about changing days off, I said no problem as long as I could get the last weekend off cos JD was coming to visit me. Then it dawned on me that I would have to work a 8-day week without breaks which was pretty daunting.....

Well, I can finally say that I made it through 2- and 8-day weeks respectively and by the time it got to the end of the day today, it truly felt tough and rough....

Day 1 of 2-day week felt pretty good as I was doing decoration for some new cakes. Came tumbling back down to earth again on Day 2 as I had to work with one of the regulars in the kitchen and basically had her busting my balls all day. OK, she asked me to decorate a certain cake which I had done back in July - when I made the cream for it wrong (yep, cos I'm old and sometimes forget things), she basically threw a mini-tantrum and muttered stuff which essentially translated into, "What the fuck? Didn't you say you had made this before??". Every time she asks me to do something, its generally in muffled tones and when I ask her to repeat what she says, she says it again in a condescending, "you're such a dumb fuck" tone. The stage has been pretty tough at times and the place isn't exactly friendly but I can honestly say, this is the one person in the shop that I truly dislike - really don't know what her problem is?? (The bonus of finishing up in this lab means never seeing her sulky mug again!!)

Days 1 and 2 of 8-day week felt like everything was going from bad to worse......all of a sudden, I wasn't fast enough when filling eclairs so the "2nd in command" took over from me. Not that I really minded, but why do I have to endure being shouted at when he was just as slow as me after he took over?? I also got a bit of a lecture from the chef on how to build one of the most fiddly cakes of the lot, "Surprise". The things which he said were fair enough but I just wish there was a consistent way of teaching people things as I was only told how to make this thing properly, on mmmmm........maybe my 8th time of trying?

Days 3 and 4 of 8-day week improved a bit as I finally got the hang of this "Surprise", worked on a few more new cakes for me and also worked with the regular team members which I get along with better. Days 5 and 6 continued on a similar vein and at one point, there was even a bit of banter in the lab where I was actually included in the conversation?? I even think I heard the "2nd in command" that he wanted to me to work with him for the day, not sure if this was a good thing but decided to see it as a positive thing.....
The chef was off on Day 7 so "2nd in command" was in charge and on the day, gave me things to do which also included a time deadline (dunno why as no other stagiaires have this and I can confidently say I am the fastest out of all of them in this lab). All my cakes were made on time and he said "tres bien" for one and "tres jolie" for another.....nice to hear and secretly, I was pleased with myself for achieving the deadlines (including one which he hadn't even reminded me about), as for the "tres jolie" cake, I knew that anyway without him saying :)

Of course, all good things have to come to an end but even I'm surprised at how pear-shaped everything went on Day 8. The thing that I have the most issue is when people are telling/yelling at me that I've done something wrong when I haven' I actually did try to say that it wasn't my fault but all of this fell on deaf ears (cos obviously, I'm a lowly stagiaire). Of course, the girl that I dislike stuck her oar in a couple of times muttering shit about me not tidying up when I actually didn't need to cos we were still using the materials....all she does is criticise which is a bit rich given the fact she is not perfect in the lab.... if that was the case, then maybe I would have a smidgin of respect for her...

I couldn't help but feel mega-frustrated when I asked the chef to double-check what my schedule would be next week. I had been told 3 weeks ago by "formally arsey guy" that he had changed the schedule for me so I could go to the "tour" (section where they make pastry dough and viennosserie) - all of a sudden today, it had changed again and I am working afternoon shift next week. When I asked why this had happened, "2nd in command" didn't have the balls to call "formally arsey guy" again and I was told by him and the chef that this is the way it was.....all I was thinking, why make the big deal of telling me 3 weeks ago that the schedule had been changed for me when it hasn't now at all?

I was also reminded throughout the course of the week about having champagne on the last day of work in the lab (presumably to celebrate) so I did bring a bottle of bubbly this morning but at the end of the shift, no-one mentioned anything so I was left wondering.....what a bloody waste of time, really.....

The metro ride back home after work was filled with mixed emotions, mostly negative......frustration, fucked off, disappointment, helplessness, rejection....all I do every day at my stage is try and do my best and at this point, it feels like its all being thrown back in my face.....its prolly a bit too raw at the moment and hopefully, in a few months time, I will look back at it and put it down to experience. At least, I did leave the metro with one positive thought and I dunno why since I'm not a fan.......if Gordon Ramsay survived working in French kitchens for 3 years, then surely, I can put up with a piddly 3 more weeks? Here's hoping :)   

Thursday, 1 October 2009

"Days off" eating :)

Only worked Monday and Tuesday of this week before having a couple of days off - the chef had asked if it was possible for me to swap days off with somebody else. Wasn't particularly bothered as long as I could keep my days off for the following weekend.....when he did finally tell me it was Wednesday and Thursday, it then dawned on me that I would have to work 8 days straight before getting my next days off!! Am not looking forward to that at all, the only consolation is that I will get see JD at the end of that stint :)

Went for my favourite bento for lunch yesterday at Jujiya....tori kara age.....turned up early enough at 12:15pm and even then, there was a queue, crazy!!

Met up with a friend from school last night and we went to try Ulla's restaurant (Ulla had written a blog on ESCF long before I had gone to the school, I contacted when I first got here and we have become good friends since) in the 9th called L'Aromatik. Its a small place which is is very nicely decorated serving French bistro food, sometimes with a little twist such as nods to Asian fusion. We got there early and managed to a sneak peak into the kitchens (small, but not minute) and also tasted some of Ulla's dessert creations prior to dinner.
Tuiles sandwiched with smoked salmon, mango and wasabi cream

Roast quail with nuts and dried fruits served on a bed of fennel

Trio of pannacotta (pistachio, pomegranate, mango) 

All in all, a nice dinner - sizeable portions so we were rolling out the door by the end of the night! Merci bien Ulla et bon continuation :)

Brief return to Blighty

Since I am currently working Mondays through Fridays and I was given enough advanced warning about my schedule, I finally managed to squeeze in a weekend trip back across to La Manche to see JD. Woohoo, cue spending some quality time (LDR's are a real pain in the bum, no matter the distance) and of course, quality nosh!

Managed to secure a table at Sardo on Friday evening despite only ringing in the afternoon, one of our favourite restaurants in town. Ringing up for a booking was particularly amusing; to be honest,  I didn't think we would get a table....
Moi: Hi, would you have a table for 2 for dinner tonight please? (thinking to self.....prolly not!)
Dude at Sardo: ......depends on what time?

Dude at Sardo: OK, see you later, bye!

Yummy bread basket including Sardinian speciality, pane caresau

Crab linguini (prolly 50% crab!!), soooo good!

Pan fried veal - bit of a wait between starters and mains, when it finally arrived, the owner came with 2 plates, said "Veal, lamb, buon appetito", put them in front of us and off he went!

Food at Sardo is Sardinian, high standards are still being maintained - only bummer is that you have to pay for the bread and olives but its not too bad at £1.50 per person. Ate too much of the bread basket so I didn't manage to get to dessert, next time :(

I finally satisfied my craving for dim sum (been waiting months now!) on Saturday afternoon with JD, bro and Jools. Mmmm......too greedy so no pics here, however, I can recommend Lido on Gerrard Street for OK dim sum :)

Decided to stay local on Saturday night and went to Tosa, a small Japanese restaurant serving up all sorts of goodies. Not cheap and not huge portions but OK if you don't want to trek all the way into town for Japanese :)
Pork belly with mustard and green beans

Tori Kara Age (deep fried chicken) - prefer Jujiya's version but still not bad!

Sushi (eel roll, spicy tuna roll, sea bream nigiri) - assumed that they would give us 2 pieces of nigiri but only 1 turned up!!

Grilled chicken wings

Zaru udon

Chestnut ice cream 

Hopefully, the last time I came back to London and have to go back to Paris after just a weekend :)