Wednesday, 4 November 2009

C'est fini!

So the day has finally come and despite already being back in blighty, it hasn't sunk in that I have now left Paris....

My last week of stage was pretty good - I was working the afternoon shift, my first and only week of working this shift. The bummer was only having 1 day off the previous weekend cos we have to work Monday mornings but on the whole, the afternoon shift is far better than the other 2 shifts because:

  • the team is much smaller (chef, seconde and commis) - I got on well with all 3 and since it is such a small team, stagiaires get to do proper production in we get to make stuff rather than just weigh out ingredients and decorate Ispahan.
  • the team is in charge of making fours secs, all biscuit/sponge bases, cakes....IMHO, far more interesting than making a bunch of creams (this is what morning production shift does).    
  • the chef is pretty organised and laid back so the atmosphere is much calmer. 
If I'd known earlier that this was the shift I would enjoy the most, I would've asked for more of these shifts.....the big difference lies with the people, I think and even though we didn't chat at coffee breaks, it didn't feel so awkward.

I also stayed back one of the nights to help someone who is in charge of research and product development for the shop. We didn't do much - it was mainly tidying up but it was nice to chat with her. She has been with the shop for around 5 years, starting off at finition, then working at the "tour", becoming chef at the "tour" and finally being at the post she is now. It sounds pretty interesting - at the moment, she is doing some experiments on the effects of colourants of macaroons following new legislation in France which has changed the amount of colourant permissible for use in pastry. She will have to report her findings back to the big boss in a few days time before extending the research further to macaroons being produced in the Japanese shops and how they will be affected? She seems to really enjoy her job and likes the fact that she gets to do some travelling with the big boss on occasions.

Like my final day at Bonaparte, the chef of this shift also reminded me of bringing in some bubbly to celebrate the end of my stage. At first, I was reluctant to bring any since nobody remembered at Bonaparte so I had wasted a bottle of Laurent Perrier for nothing. However, after a bit of coaxing from JD, I came to work armed with a bottle of Moet just in case.....luckily, the seconde remembered so we all had a glass at the end of the shift......I actually felt a little tipsy after just 1 glass but that might have something to do with the fact that I hadn't eaten anything substantial since midday :)
The Moet got props from the chef and the commis was very sweet and said thanks several times (even though he doesn't like bubbly!!)

Unlike some previous stagiaires, I didn't get any book or macaroons when I left......was I disappointed? A little but at the same time, I wasn't surprised given the mixed feelings I had had throughout the stage. All I can say is that I gave 110% every day I came to work and on a personal level, felt that I had worked well and improved as time went on which is good enough for me - if the establishment didn't feel the same or just plain didn't like me, then there is nothing I can do.

Of course, my stage ended with another little hiccup when trying to get a reference letter. I asked the chef at the end of the shift on my last day and naturally, when he went to look in the office, there was no letter. I was then told to ring on Monday and to speak to the executive chef about it - a minor pain in the bum as I had a telephone interview and visit back to school to juggle as well as this. I rang in on Monday, spoke with the executive chef and he then said that I needed to speak with formally arsey guy about this, which would mean a mad dash back into the lab first thing Tuesday morning before I had to catch a train home, grrrr.....I get up at the crack of dawn on Tuesday, speak with formally arsey guy......luckily, at this point I knew the official word for reference letter ("attestation", merci Won!) and he then told me that only the executive chef could provide this. The executive chef arrived a quarter of an hour (the longest 15 minutes of my life, having to sit in his office), he apologised and thought I was look for my contract (why would I be looking for that??) and after a couple of attempts, I finally got the reference letter I wanted.....still not perfect as my surname is spelt wrongly but what can you do??

As I said to my chef at school later, I am very grateful for him for sending me to PH to do my stage. It was a good experience on a professional level, having the exposure to and working in a professional pastry kitchen. The variety of work was also a plus compared with my fellow classmates, some of whom did the same thing every day for 3 months. Of course, it was tough at times but I never let that affect my attitude regarding work or my drive to learn and improve. The part that I struggled with a lot was the people that I had to work with (after a few attempts of trying to start some banter, I gave up due the lack of enthusiasm from the opposite party). The culture just seemed to be that no-one interacted with each other except for work purposes. Yes, stagiaires come and go and the treatment towards us mainly ranged from being someone's lacky to being personal "ingredient weigher". It comes with the territory but I had hoped to meet and get on with more colleagues than I did - I was also worried about my French sucking and I think one of the reasons that it did not improve more than I had wanted was due to the fact that there was no opportunity (or no-one could be bothered) to shoot the breeze with colleagues. I did a lot of procrastinating as to why I was feeling the way I was (people didn't like me, colleagues didn't have much to talk about, colleagues didn't rate stagiaires, etc) but in the end, maybe this issue just cannot be rationalised?

I am now hoping that my next stage will be better on this level.....the chef who I have already spoken to seems quite nice. He even apologised for his English not being great and noted that the French are quite lazy when it comes to learning English - a breath of fresh air compared to my Parisian experience where no-one was allowed to speak English! (surprisingly, German was permitted??)

So now, I am back to the real world and will need to start earning some sheckles "toute suite" to bolster up my cash flow situation - now is the real test, will doing my stage at PH really open doors and prepare for working in a paid job? Fingers crossed :)

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