Tuesday, October 11, 2011


There are some moments in life that slap you across the face so fast and ninja-like that you don't really know what's going on until they've passed you. I have numerous moments like that at my patisserie and just the other day I had a monumental one.

Eight cases of figs had arrived and I volunteered to clean them and put them away. This was something I could easily do without any problems or hassel. So I rinsed them off and noticed that most of them were really soft. Some of them were even falling apart. While this is what I look for when I'm going to eat a fig straight from my hand, it is something you try to avoid when you're going to be cutting over fifty of them as thinly as possible the next morning. I tried to make this known by Gaetan by saying that they were "pas dure," (not hard). I asked if I could take the ones that were literally falling apart in my hands and cut them up to be used in the fig sauce for the tarts. I got the green light and tried to complete my job quickly to impress all the people around me who couldn't give a shit.

After cutting up the figs that had failed my "let's pretend these are acceptable" inspection, I put the rest (which were also too soft to be of any use later) neatly on trays and in the fridge. I was proud of the job I had done and even more proud of the fact that I had seen a job that needed to be done and then completed it without needing to be told what to do.

A few hours later my boss, the big boss man, asked me where the figs were. I told him they were in the walk-in. Where are they? He continued. In the walk-in, I said again, and pointed at the door to the refrigerated room. Get them for me! So I went and got the box of cut up figs and gave them to him. Surely he didn't want me to get out all five trays of figs that I had just put together. "Is this it?!" Is something along the lines of what he said, I can only imagine what he was actually saying since we all know how little french I speak. But I could pick up the basic meaning. "Where are the other figs?! There were eight boxes here! Where are they?! Did you throw them in the trash?!!" And then he went and pointed to the trash.

I was very confused on what the urgency was of this situation was and why he didn't understand that they were all in the walk-in fridge. I was, after all, speaking his language. I said again as he was pointing into the trashcan with a horrific look on his face, that they were in the walk-in. He then opened it with a fury and asked me to show him where. I pointed to one of the trays and said, "Like that," implying that I had put all of them that were not cut up in the box on trays. "That's not enough! There were eight boxes here! Where are the figs?" And then he said "figues," in english which, honestly, sounds exactly the same. How stupid does this asshole think I am?

The thing that was the most frustrating about this was that he was so blinded by a white rage that he refused to understand me. I was answering his questions. I was even miming shit out for him. I was speaking french. Where was the problem? By now his voice was so loud that even Irina from upstairs could hear him. Everyone else in the kitchen were obviously paying close attention to this fig fiasco. My boss had even called Gaetan over to help solve the mystery of the lost figs. Was there something I was missing here? Why was this so pertinent that he needed to freak out about a simple lost in translation moment? Why couldn't he just shut his mouth and actually try understanding me? But no, he just kept getting louder and louder and more and more angry.

Since my boss continued to shout at me about the damn figs I then pointed to every single tray of figs in the refrigerator. Did he understand now? He shouted at me a bit more for good measure and then violently grabbed a tray of figs and slammed it down on the counter. He went back and did the same with a second one. "All the figs! Cut all the figs! Put in the box!" He said this in a mix of english and french just to make sure I could understand.

What the hell had just happened? I got a cutting board and knife and cut quickly and quietly for as long as I could. I was terrified to utter a word, to ask any questions. When he said all of the figs did he mean both trays, or that once I was done with these two trays to continue with the rest of the figs in the walk in? Eventually I had no choice but to ask him a question and the asshole continued to be, well, and asshole.

I had filled up the box with figs and still had an entire tray to cut up. If these were going to be used today they didn't need to be put in a tupperware box, they could just go in a big bowl. I cut a few more figs until the box was simply overflowing but eventually I had to ask what to do next. It was a simple question. I wasn't asking for much. So I started to ask him if I should get another box or a bowl and he cut me off before I could get past the first word, "ALL THE FIGS!" he screamed at me. "I know," I responded, "but should I put them in a box or in a bowl?" "In a bowl," said more calmly this time, "a bowl."

Now this only begins to explain the type of atmosphere at my pastry shop. It isn't that they just want perfection it's that they are also complete impatience unnecessary assholes about everything. I've worked in kitchens where the chef is scary, where the chef yells, where the chef wants everything perfect. But I have never felt so hated or despised before in my life. Without even listening to me my boss just assumes I don't speak french and so cuts me off before I can even utter one nasally word. I know my french isn't perfect but if we worked together we would both get so much more out of our relationship. As it is now I fear him and don't respect him and it seems that he hates and doesn't respect me. Oh how wonderful a life in the kitchen can be!

In fact, life in my kitchen is so wonderful that 6 people have left since I started! Three people were from the front of the house so I never had a chance to "bond" with them. Selling stuff up front really isn't that hard but I'm sure that Monsieur and Madame Boss make it much harder than it needs to be. Let's not forget they are French, after all. But most importantly they have such a negative attitude that I can't imagine why someone would actually want to stay in the front of the house. The only reason people want to work at this patisserie at all is to gain experience from a well known, popular pastry shop in Paris, but you only gain that from working in the back with the actual pastries (or so I'm told). Working up front, most people are probably just trying to pay their rent. So why put up with being yelled at over something trivial and unimportant, especially when even when they aren't yelling you it seems like they wish you were dead.

So three people up front, three people in the back. My first week at my patisserie I was trained but a man named Robin (Row-BAHN, if you're French). He was very intimidating and very mole-y. He shouted a lot and had a attitude about him that always made me nervous. He even threw a tantrum or two while I was there. But while he may have freaked me out he at least expected a lot from me. This expectation meant that he let me actually make things. It was fantastic. Sure I couldn't speak french but that didn't stop him from believing that after five months at a top tier pastry school I could make a decent pastry cream.

Then, one day, I came into work at Robin was gone. I asked the other American what had happened and apparently it was quite the blood bath. He had called in and from what she could gather he was quitting because the Monsieur and Madame were refusing to pay him for his last month of work because he was breaking his contract early. So he decided to then give them a well deserved middle finger and go on his merry way. This was after five years of dedication to them and their cause. Imagine how the rest of us must feel.

As you may have read the shop had also recently employed a man named, "Nico," whom I found exceptionally creepy because he was always looking at me and spoke to me in english (which from any Frenchie is questionable). One day as we were all working I heard a lot of talking going on behind me. I mostly tune out any speech while at work because I have to focus my full attention on to it if I want to understand it at all. But from how the people were acting I could tell that something big was going on. Plus, they kept saying "Nico," "Nico," "Nico."

Eventually Nico was summoned and went and had a not so private talk with Madame in the hallway within plain view of part of the kitchen. I watched them out of the corner of my eye as I completed one of my many drone-like tasks and even tried to listen in, but alas, it was to no avail. After finishing their conversation however, Nico ascended the stairs, changed, and came back to say goodbye to all of us. I didn't think too much of it because it was a reasonable time for him to leave and he seemed to have a nice fat smile on his face. But low and behold the next day he was nowhere to be found and I later learned that he "just hadn't been what they were looking for."

Then the other day I was hit with the biggest stunner of all. Perhaps my closest "friend" at my patisserie, aside from my new found, upstairs, Romanian love, Irina, was Min, my fellow intern. She was always quite patient with me and we were often given similar tasks of nothingness to complete. Her french was much better than mine and so she was allowed to actually make things, but all the same we would work with one another during most days. But then something happened. One day I went into work and Min wasn't there.

"Maybe they asked her to come in later," I told myself. But then noon rolled around and still no Min. At lunch I asked another intern, Mike, what exactly had happened. Mike is one of the only other people aside from the American and Irina who can speak english. It's limited but still he probably speaks better english than I do french. He is from French Guiana and after an embarrassing moment of trying to explain to him about Jim Jones in a combination of french and english, he and I didn't talk all that much. I just couldn't figure out a way to say "cult" in french and so I'm fairly certain he thinks I'm a crazy person.

All the same, he seems to have forgiven me for my "kool-aid is like juice but not," and "suicide because he thought he was jesus," comments and enlightened me to the falling out between Min and the patisserie. Apparently Min had been upset that she wasn't released from the evil confines of the kitchen by exactly four pm. According to French law this is required. You can't make people work extremely long hours, especially not interns. Most people follow these rules but as with everything you get some rogues who always push the limit. But truth me told, since I'm no french lazy ass and am, instead, and American who knows what the sting of sweat from a hard days work feels like in my eyes, I don't mind working a bit over the deadline. And honestly, while I may have my problems with my sadistic bosses, one thing they don't do is keep us for ridiculously long hours. I have worked an hour over my allotted time, tops, and same with Min. She even got out half an hour early for a whole week. I may have liked the girl but after hearing that she had thrown a big fit over this, I was more than disappointed.

Six people in four weeks. That's quite the record. I should feel proud that I've made it this far. And the funny thing about it is that I am starting to get situated in this hellhole of a pastry shop. We make incredible pastries and while I may only be on the peeling and shoveling shit side of that endeavor, at least I am a part of it. Everything we make looks, smells, and most likely tastes incredible. The daily swarm of humans who jam into our tiny shop is proof of that.

And to make matters even better there is a new cog in the machine of the pastry shop who sits even lower that I. Hirimo (sp?) is a Japanese intern who speaks less french than I do and not a word of english. He's slow as hell and if I look as brain dead as he does when he gives his deer in the headlights stare I really hope someone will just run a knife through my chest and be done with it. The man is sweet and I'm sure that he will prove to be a valuable asset to the team. But for now he is the one guy in the kitchen who makes me look good and for that, I absolutely love him.

No comments:

Post a Comment