Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The real world...

After spending a fun "vacation" week with my mom and Wayne gallivanting around Paris, Nantes, and a chateau in the Loire Valley, it was time to start my internship. I should have taken the fact that I didn't know what time I was starting or where to go on my first day as a sign of the craziness that was to come with my internship at La Grande Epicerie.

On the quai of the Seine

Have you ever seen a steel drum musician play classical music - Amazing!

Went to visit two of my favorites...Josh and Phillip at Le Petit Flore in Nantes

I arrived at La Grande Epicerie on Monday, July 6th and after hearing my fellow classmates' stories about their internships, I was a little worried, but didn't have any expectations. Would I be writing the name of a famous hotel with mini chocolate chips on 500 financiers every morning or dealing with a chef who was super serious and critical? Well, let's see...I ventured down into the 1st basement (we have two) with the chef, was told to change into my school chef's uniform and report to the lab. Then I was thrown to the lions...ok, not literally but I was thrown right into the mix and spent my first day more as a member of the petits gateaux team and not a lowly inept stagiare(intern). We have three stations in the pastry lab - petits gateaux, entremets (cakes) and four (oven). Another stagiare, myself and 4 other people are on petits gateaux and we're responsible for making petits four frais (mini desserts such as cheesecake, clafoutis, linzer), tarts (chocolate, lemon, strawberry, raspberry) and several other things (millefeuille, éclairs, etc.)

Emerging from the metro with a view of my workplace

During my first week, I was less than pleased with my stage because the people telling me what to do seemed to be totally clueless. They would tell me how to do something, I would do it, and then one of the chefs would come around to tell me that I should have done it differently. Plus, our station seems to make pretty much the same thing every day. One of the things I take solace in is that I work with friendly people who don't really look down on interns as peons. The things I make in the lab are put in the pastry case just like everyone else and I'm incredibly thankful that I don't spend the day peeling fruits or washing dishes like some interns do.

It's hard to believe this is my third week at La Grande Epicerie. Even though my internship is not really meeting my expectations (we do everything on such a large scale and with machines that I often feel like I'm working in a factory), but I'm enjoying it more than I did at the beginning and getting more comfortable. Despite this fact, I think I'll stay for 3 months and not 6 month as planned because I think working for a smaller pastry shop would be a more beneficial experience considering my future goals.

Here's to my 4th week at La Grande Epicerie...hope it's a good one!

Wow it's been a long time!

So, I realize that I have been a total delinquent and haven't updated in far too long. Life has been chock full of craziness so let's see if I can get you caught up.

My last post was about my final exam which I passed - woohoo! Our exam was over two and a half days. To get through the exam without stressing too much, most of us told ourselves it was a regular class day. Unfortunately, knowing that you're getting graded on your products creates stress that either pushes you to perform better or worse. In any case, when the test was over, we could all breath again and it was time to celebrate.

The Sunday after our final exam our class took a trip to the Pays Basque (Basque country). The Basque country is located along the border of France and Spain and the region is brimming with culture and proud of it! I won't go into a lot of details about the trip because it would take forever but I'll give you the highlights.

Side of the road photo shoot - Anglopat '09!

St. Jean de Luz


We arrived in Biarritz which is a cute and highly touristy vacation spot with magnificent views of the ocean. After a quick breakfast (yes, some vegetarians are weak and give in to their love of bacon) and a photo shoot, we were on our way to our home away from Paris, Cambo-les-Bains. We drove up several hills to our "home" for the next few days to a chorus of "Chef...slow down....CHEF!!" This chorus would become a part of our everyday adventures through the Basque country accompanied by white knuckled grips of anything we could get our hands on in the mini bus. Our "home" for our trip was perfection in a valley. We stayed next to a blueberry farm in a quaint house run by Laurent who was an amazing cook, host, and cider pourer ;)

Yummy organic breakfast every morning

The view from the valley house we stayed in

Laurent, our host, pouring cider for aperitif

We spent the next few days exploring the region, eating some of the freshest and most amazing food I've ever tasted (trout tastes amazing when you eat it down the road from where it was raised and who knew fresh blueberry preserves and ewe's milk cheese tasted so darn good), baking/burning in the sun and relaxing after an intense 5 months of school. One of the highlights of our trip was on our last morning in Cambo-les-Bains. Some of us woke up early to go blueberry picking before we left and oh my goodness...fresh picked sun-ripened blueberries are divine. I never cared for blueberries until I tasted fresh ones and now I find myself on the hunt for blueberries as tasty as the ones in Basque no avail :( I'll just have to make my way back to Cambo-les-Bains to go blueberry picking again...anyone interested in accompanying me?

Fresh blueberries..delish


When our class returned to Paris/school, it was time to prepare for graduation. We had each chosen two dishes (one savory, one sweet) from our respective countries for our graduation buffet so we jumped into making the necessary preparations. I decided to make Jamaican beef patties (Ya Man!) and mini carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting - have to represent the American and the Caribbean cultures! I had purposely chosen two things that were relatively easy and I was thanking God on graduation day that I had made that choice due to the ensuing confusion.

Jamaican beef patties - Would have made grandma proud ;)

My mom and Wayne came to visit me and they arrived on the morning of my graduation in plenty of time to settle in and then meet me at school. Ha, nothing ever works out that easily. Let's just say my mom forgot to call me when she landed (it was only the last thing I said to her before she boarded the plane) which resulted in me stressing out to the point I couldn't make any progress in the kitchen and my stomach was in knots. Three hours after she should have landed, I hadn't heard from my mom. I let my chef know I couldn't get any work done because I was worried and I was leaving to scour the city of Paris for my mother...well, not exactly. Timing is a funny thing and as soon as I walked out of school and was on my way to my apartment who should call mom. After taking her and Wayne to my apartment and giving them a tutorial on how to lock and unlock my door ("You live in Fort Knox!), I was off to finish my cupcakes and patties at school. Thirty minutes was all I spent at school before I was out the door again for an interview with HR at the place I'm doing my internship, La Grande Epicerie. Luckily after a super quick chat, I was back in the lab and with calmer nerves, I finished my two dishes and got them on the buffet table in a fairly timely manner.

Due to the fact that our school was officially closed when we graduated and no one was around to set up for graduation, we started pretty late among lots of confusion ("We don't have silverware or plates for people to eat with/on!") Eventually, our informal graduation ceremony started and after remarks from the director of the school, the director of our program and both the pastry and cuisine chefs, we were given our certificates...5 months and x amount of lbs. later ;) I completed pastry school in France, a dream come true.

Thanks Chef!

Everyone kept saying...Oh, is that you're older sister
...haven't heard that one before

We all attacked the amazing buffet and complimentary champagne afterwards and bid our goodbyes to those whom we wouldn't be seeing anymore. It was truly an amazing, trying, eye opening, intense and interesting 5 months that I was kind of sad to see end. As our chefs kept telling us...Now it's time for the real world. Bring it on!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The fat lady has sung...almost

School is now 99.9% finished and after a week of brutal practical exams...I'm relieved. We had two days of testing and made a total of 12 things. I can't go into details right now...I'm heading to the train station for a much deserved trip to the Basque region with my classmates. Here's some pictures from the test...updates when I get back.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Has it really been five months already?

What do food babies, crepe souffles that are capable of driving you stark raving mad, and saw chains (aka chain saws) have in common?? Week 18 at ESCF

We started off the week with the much beloved catering class where attendance topped out at a whopping 50%! There were only two items on the menu for our 5 hour class which seemed unusual until we learned that we were making coulibiac, a classic Russian dish with 6 components: brioche, parsley studded crêpes, duxelles (mushrooms cooked in butter with shallots and lemon juice), garlicky spinach, basmati rice pilaf, salmon, and bechamel sauce. While chef was telling us about all the different layers, I'm pretty sure my eyes were popping further and further out of my head as the items became richer and richer. 

Assembling the coulibiac was probably one of the most entertaining/heart attack inducing experiences I've had at school...13 layers of richness. When all of us finished, we looked at our "food baby" and were pretty sure it weighed as much as a small child, if not more. However, in the end, when it was time to taste, the coulibiac was much lighter than we expected and quite tasty. We also made pizza in class and although the crust could have used a boost in crunchiness, the tomato/onion concassé on top was nice. 

The first 6 layers of coulibiac

The "food baby" before baking


The inside


We had our last restaurant service on Wednesday (yay!) and since our chef of the week was out sick, yours truly was summoned to be chef for service...yikes! The chef of the week is responsible for running the pass and since my only experience with this is watching a certain chef on Hell's Kitchen go ballistic on the pass because the food isn't coming out quick enough, I was more than nervous. Chef added to my anxiety when he told me all 3 desserts were à la minute and a pain in the butt...Perfect! 

I'll spare you the details of servers waiting 20 minutes for desserts and me realizing I NEVER want to be at the pass again. Let's just say that at the end of the night, we were all relieved it was the last service. We also had service on Thursday but since we were serving the ice cream cakes we previously made, we only had to prepare cookies as an accompaniment. 

Pre-dessert - Super rich rice pudding with strawberries, 
strawberry juice and crushed meringue

Rhubarb/apple compote with a dried rhubarb slice,
 fromage blanc sorbet and nougatine tuiles

Anis infused créme brulée with red fruit compote 

Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of the third dessert we made that evening, crêpe soufflé. This is probably due to the fact that after waiting 15-20 minutes for it, the waiters whisked it away the moment it came into view. 

Friday was a pretty fun day. We put on giant trash bags and took chain saws and chisels to huge 150-200 lb blocks of ice. Carving ice turned out to be easier and much more fun than carving Styrofoam although the fact that ice melts (Oh, really? One of chef's classic quips) made our mornings a little more difficult. Chef told us we could change our subject but since I'd already had experience carving a shell, I forged ahead and it came out fairly well for an amateur.

Garbage bags - the new fashion 

My setup 

From rectangle to shell - craziness! 

We have final exams this week so I'm off to study and practice piping until my hand falls off ;) 

Sunday, June 7, 2009

I scream, you scream...

...We all scream for ice cream, sorbet and bakery tests! It was a crazy, full-on, exhausting week at ESCF as our class took our first test in bakery and tackled the tricky science of making sorbet and ice cream. 

We had Monday off which generally makes the week feel shorter - not the case this week. Monday was spent reviewing and comparing copious bakery notes for our test on Tuesday. I think Tuesday morning was the first time ever that we were all there on time at the delightful hour of 6:30am. We were given 6 hours to make a 4 kilo (8.8 lbs) recipe of tradition baguette, 10 croissants and 9 pain au chocolat (that's what the recipe makes), two forms of brioche: braided and crown and a specialty bread of our choosing ( I chose whole wheat because I made it during our practice test). Things didn't get off to such a great start for me and I found myself wondering "Is this the kind of day it's going to be?" as the scale I was using refused to work and I dropped a dough hook on my finger and started bleeding. Luckily, things improved..slightly.

 My baguette dough, viennoiserie (croissants/pain au chocolat), and brioche were turning out satisfactorily but I was having some serious issues with my specialty bread. Chef came over and said the dough was too dry and to add some water which resulted in kneading the bread, checking the temperature and consistency and trying to get a homogeneous dough.  All of this would have been fine on a regular day but on an exam day, this was bad news. You would think that 6 hours is a sufficient amount of time to make 4 different types of bread/viennoiserie and it is, granted that nothing goes wrong and you time everything correctly. The extra time I spent "doctoring" my specialty bread put me in a crunch because although it's "quick" to make in relation to our other breads, specialty bread takes forever to rise. In the end, my specialty bread didn't get cooked enough; all of our products had to be on the table at 12:30 sharp and even though my bread wasn't done baking, chef said that getting some points for undercooked bread was better than getting no points if it wasn't on the table. 

It was a crazy day and I was pretty satisfied with my work but knew I could have done better. There was one highlight of the day though...After we displayed all of our products on the table, chef came around to cut into our baguettes to check the texture. He couldn't go around and taste 10 different baguettes (watching the waistline apparently ;)) so he the bread open instead which would tell him if our bread contained enough moisture and whether or not we had managed our dough correctly. Chef came over to my baguette, wielding his serrated knife - one swift cut and all the bread's secrets would be out in the open. As he cut my baguette, I held my breath, anxiously waiting to see if I had learned the essentials of making baguettes and...........................................................
Phew! The inside looked exactly how it was supposed to - moist with visible air bubbles meaning that I hadn't kneaded my dough to death in the mixer or fashioned my baguettes like a caveman.

 At the end of the test, most of us agreed that our practice test had turned out better results than our real test, an unfortunate coincidence. However, our chef congratulated us on all our hard work and dedication and said he wished his other students worked as hard as we did. We still haven't received our grades yet but we know the range is from 12 - 15 over 20 - not too shabby after all. 

My "problem" wheat bread and my petits pains (small breads)

Croissants - yum, yum

Crown brioche, braided brioche and pain au chocolat


Wednesday through Friday were spent making ice cream, sorbet, and all the accoutrements necessary to make entremets glacé (ice cream cakes), ice cream "pots", and givrés (sorbet filled fruit). The first order of business was making our favorite thing, nougatine. Seeing that the majority of us burned ourselves the last time while making this delicious treat, we weren't exactly looking forward to doing it again. Luckily, practice makes perfect and it was a much quicker and smoother process than the last time...I only burned myself once which probably helped in coming to this conclusion. We also made funky sponge cake and meringue before tackling the real focus of the week: ice cream and sorbet. 

Wavy sponge cake in the making 

Waiting to be churned...

Can't remember if this is blackberry or black the color

On Thursday we made 10 different types of sorbets (passion fruit, orange, lemon, pineapple, raspberry, blackberry, black currant, strawberry, peach, pear) and 3 types of ice cream (pistachio, chocolate, vanilla). I was responsible for making the lemon sorbet and what should and could have been an easy process became more scientific when we realized the lemons weren't as sweet as usual. In order to make sorbet and ice cream that has the right consistency and can keep for a long time, there has to be the right balance of sugar. Since my lemons were a little off, I had to recalculate the amounts of sugar and water in the sorbet so it wouldn't come out grainy or melt too quickly. I finished off Wednesday by making one of the most delicious things I've tasted so far, a blackberry parfait. A parfait is basically a sabayon with whipped cream folded into it...absolute calorie free heaven. ...I wish. 

We spent Thursday churning ice cream/sorbet, putting together ice cream cakes and marmite, getting frostbite filling frozen fruits, and tasting everything that was coming out of the churner with reckless abandon. For the record, fresh churned chocolate ice cream made with good quality Valhrona dark chocolate tastes unlike anything in the world and is almost impossible to stop eating once you start, trust me. At the end of the day we tasted all of the ice cream cakes and the William, a classic cake that a few classmates and I worked on, came out as the crowd favorite. My favorite part of the week was watching everyone's reactions as they tasted the ice cream/sorbet because the opinions were all over the board. Some people thought it was too sweet, some too sour and others just had a look of sheer pleasure on their face, especially with the chocolate ice cream. 

Lemon and orange givrés

Ananas givré royal - Pineapple filled with raspberry/pineapple 
sorbet and candied pineapple tidbits 

Filling our marmite 

Sorbet filled nougatine marmite

Chef's amazing nougatine basket 

William - Layers of almond dacquois, pear sauce, caramel parfait and vanilla ice cream 

Cassate - Pistachio ice cream filled with kirsch soaked fruits and meringue 

Vacherin - Meringue lady finger shell filled with two fruit sorbets, topped with whipped cream 

Rousillon - Almond dacquoise, raspberry sauce, pistachio parfait, apricot sorbet 

Bourgogne - Layers of almond daquois, blackcurrant sauce,
 blackberry parfait and raspberry sorbet 


Passoa - almond dacquoise, passion fruit sauce, 
cointreau parfait with nougatine, blackberry sorbet 

Now that I've tasted authentic ice cream and sorbet, it will be hard to eat anything that's not as fresh or high quality. My classmates and I are finding out that our palates have evolved over the last 5 months and we've become really picky about the things we eat. Luckily, we live in Paris, a city with some amazing food, and finding treats to whet our appetite is not a problem.