I had an amazing week at my internship. It went so well that I’ve been asked to come back at the end of this month, and I’m really hoping that this could lead to an actual employment opportunity! I got to see, handle and prepare so many noble products, like truffles and raw foie gras, and everything from stocks to sauces and smoked salmon and macarons is made right there, from top notch ingredients. I was also able to work in the restaurant for a service and spend the rest of my time in the catering “lab” where 60 beautiful appetizers were plated by a team of chefs, sucking-pigs were gently roasted and topped with the jus they were cooked in and filets of red mullet were portioned by the hundreds to cater to the businesses increasing demands.
My first day was spent with Laurent and Louis in the brasserie. It’s only a brasserie by name, as the cuisine that’s served there is definitely gastronomic. The appetizers ranged from a fried soft-boiled egg with smoked salmon to a tomato carpaccio and the mains change each week with the “around the world”-themed menu. Last week it was a dish from russia, veal steaks with a mustard-based sauce and sautéed gnocchi. The desserts were imported from the catering lab, and the biggest crowd-pleaser was by far the make-you-own café gourmand. A café gourmand is an espresso served with an assortment of petits-fours or mini desserts. It’s a great way for customers to sample a little bit of everything, and with macarons, chocolat financiers, pistachio mousse, etc., it’s definitely what I would’ve chosen as well.
It was a pretty easy day on Monday, but I took full advantage of the situation and asked as many questions as there was time for. I got to prepare a delicious crab remoulade, made of cooked crab, mayonnaise, grape mustard, spices and sautéed zucchini and carrots. I helped plate the appetizers during the service and generally soaked in every inch of my environment.
The next few days in the lab were spent trying not to get lost, and trying to be everywhere all at once. The lab is split into several distinct work stations: fish, meat, vegetables, butchery, pastry, etc., and it really is a labyrinth. The preparation of one simple thing, like the buttered fois gras and gingerbread canapés, required the help of the pastry station for the gingerbread, the “froid” (literally cold, the term referring to appetizers and first courses) for the buttered foie gras and whoever else was available to help with assembly. Plating appetizers for an outside order of 50 people took four of us, including the head chef, with each person having a distinct, repetitive role (for instance, I was in charge of placing three pearl onions on each plate of salmon rolls, then the sugar snap peas, opened and beautiful, while someone else preceded me with the vegetable base and someone else followed me with the sauce. It was quite the assembly line!
My very first day in the lab was spent doing just that: plating very appetizing dishes with the chef. We started with the salmon rolls, followed by a trio of foie gras, then a lobster dish, a beef carpaccio with truffles and carrot/kumquat mousseline, and finally a scallop charlotte with eggplant and zucchini. It was amazing to be plating such delicate preparations and to see the beautiful results. It was also crazy to see the well-oiled machine in action, as order after order was carefully plated, wrapped in saran wrap, placed into refrigerated containers and shipped off to its final destination.
My second day was spent in the fish lab where it was only about 40 degrees. It was difficult to take at first, but once I had my tub of hot water to soak my hands in every once in awhile, it became slightly easier. We portioned fish for upcoming orders and made the most divine and simple scallop mousse that’s used to stuff fish with, among other things.
I also got to spend a day in the pastry lab where we made diamants, which are like shortbread cookies. They were flavored with chocolate and rolled in crushed pistachio nuts and I wrote down the proportions and made mental notes of each and every step so that I can soon recreate them at home. We also filled gruyère-topped choux with a mornay sauce (a bechamel with more cheese and egg yolks) for an upcoming event and made the beginnings of apple tatin tarts.
All in all, it was a very eye-opening week and I can’t wait to go back and learn even more. It was a slow week, so I’m also excited to see what business is like when it’s full throttle. The chef (who is relatively new) has worked with some of the best and clearly has a wealth of information to share, and I’ll be right there alongside him, drinking it all in.