Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Intern Diaries: Behind the scenes in some of the world’s best kitchens! Part I

Working with a French chocolatier almost seems like a dream. But, when I close my eyes... I can see giant blocks of Valrhona chocolate, I can hear them being broken into tiny little pieces, I can smell sweet raisins being flambéed in rum, I can taste the creamy and soft pink champagne truffles and I can also feel my swollen feet and broken back after a 14hour Christmas shift! 

Internships are hard. You are the bottom of the food chain and have to be grateful to be allowed to enter the kitchen and observe the masters. You go to culinary school and think working will be the same…but nothing will prepare you for your very first internship. And then, you realize that school was just a walk in the park compared to the real world.
We all have kitchen tales to tell. Some are fond memories and others not so much. So what is it like to work in some of the best kitchens in France? Are chefs really crazy ? What was the most memorable aspect of the internship? 

In a 2 part series, here are some stories from my friends and classmates from culinary school and our stage (internships) in the kitchens of Paris. 

Pablo Naranjo Agular, 22, Colombia,
Restaurant Guy Savoy 
3 Michelin stars, The S.Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants

I'll start saying that working for Guy Savoy was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had! It was in this restaurant, that I realized that actually I’m a 100% sure this is what I want to do for the rest of my life! I learned how to be perform, work as fast as you can... work like a machine... I learned how to work naturally without thinking, cooking so much until everything becomes natural. No pain, no weakness, no illness and never being tired enough to say I can't do it. 
I have NEVER worked as hard as I did and probably that’s why, after the second week of stage they gave me the responsibility of a commis in the hot kitchen.

That is where hell started. Suddenly my name was not Pablo. It was: Pedro, Ramirez, Cabron (asshole), Le Mexicain, etc etc... And when I had the wonderful idea of telling them my name was Pablo, I got a great " Pedro, Ramirez, Cabron et Pablo, ca viens tout du meme endroit, pour nous c' est pareil!!" (they all come from the same area so for us it’s the same!)
Anyways I finished my stage, I lost 6kg in 3 months (it’s kind of normal when you work in a place that is around 40 degrees), but I was offered a job over there and I gladly accepted!
I worked as a commis in the hot kitchen for about 6 months, then I went as a premier commis at the garde manger. Then it was fun! We were three employees (Chef the partie, me and a second commis) and we always had some trainees as well as some apprentices that did all the dirty work for us.We just had to basically take care of a little bit of mise en place and the service. The hardest thing to do, was finding the way of making special miniature dishes for the sommeliers, so we could exchange a little bit of cold lobster for a zip of greeeat wine or a bottle of "chateldon"!!! It was greeeat. Obviously I got my 6 kg back, and 3kg more :D
As I said, it was an amazing experience. I worked there for one year and I don’t regret, not even for a second, for doing it! I learned where my limits are... and how to push them even further!
But the hardest thing to learn, was how to be an asshole in the kitchen with your colleagues and leaving all the troubles at work and not letting them to go back home with you! But anyways, every single great chef is a little bit of an asshole... right? ;) 

Ankit Chopra, 29, Australia 
Restaurant L'Astrance

3 Michelin stars, The S.Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants
25 covers, 6 chefs, 11th best in the world (2009 Worlds 50 Best Restaurant List) - already the restaurant sounds quite an exciting one for a stage! Under the guidance of Chef Pascal Barbot the restaurant had achieved 3 Michelin stars. 
However, there were both fun days and let’s just say not so fun days! Day one, service time and I’m asked to make quenelles - well mine weren’t even close to the shape that my pastry chef expected of me. This gave me the opportunity to learn some Italian...being Italian, my pastry chef taught me some not so nice words in Italian. Ah the joys of our society being multi-lingual. 
My experience was nothing short of magnificent - every day was a learning curve. Having worked in Australia Chef Pascal was very welcoming and was happy to explain and answer all my questions. There was no shortage of latest gizmos in the kitchen but the plates spoke of calmness and loads of flavor. A must attend for any budding chef! 

Carolina Costa, 25, Brazil 

I started my internship a month ago in a new restaurant. As soon as I arrived the chef told me that they still didn't have anyone responsible for the pastry kitchen and gently asked me if I could work there at least for a while. I accepted. Result: I'm basically the pastry chef of the restaurant, serving about 40 plates of deserts for lunch - and also helping the others when there's time to. Now everything is fine and I finally learned the rhythm, but in the beginning, for a moment, I thought I wouldn't be able to make it until the end! Everything is 'Vite, vite, vite! (Fast, fast, fast). Once during rush time I was about to put caramel au beurre salé on the top of the tiramisu instead of putting coulis de fruits rouges. The second the chef saw it, he asked, "Tu fumes?" (Have you smoked!?) 

Last week, during the 'grand nettoyage du vendredi' (deep cleaning) one of the interns was cleaning the stove. I was on the other side of the balcony, in front of him, while he distractedly cleaned the chef's 'piano' with that great and corrosive product to clean and remove all kinds of fat. Result: the product flew directly into my left eye! I spent more than ten minutes washing it, but it still hurt, I had the constant sensation that I had something inside my eyes and I couldn't see perfectly. The boss took me to the hospital and we took the product with us to show the doctor. She basically said that I could have lost my eye, but luckily everything was going to be ok. I still have to put medicine and vitamins in the eye 4 times a day, but everything's fine and I'm seeing perfectly again! But let's try to think positively: at least it was just one eye, and not both of them! Besides, doesn't every great chef have a story like this to tell? =)

Coming up in Part II - The pastry kitchen of Hôtel de Crillon, the kitchen of famed chef Alain Ducasse and much more! Stay tuned! 


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