Wednesday, October 12, 2011


I have now finished my fourth week at my french patisserie and in a month I don't feel as though I've gotten all that far. My french is getting a tad bit better because I've been able to pick up on some of the kitchen lingo and since my "new-kitchen jitters" are beginning to clear up I don't feel so flustered whenever I try to speak the terrible language. I'm settling into my apartment and Paris is feeling more and more like home with each day. I'm comfortable here and while I may spend most of my time in either my apartment or my torture chamber of a kitchen, I have plans to go out and actually explore at some point. Perhaps after I have another nap...

But in my kitchen, things seem to be getting worse. After a month I am still not allowed to do much of anything. In the beginning I was asked to make creams and even made a biscuit or cake (remember the baba incident?). But recently all I have been doing is prepping or finishing. I either scale out ingredients for someone else to later mix, or I pack thirty boxes of rosemary crackers to be sold at the store. While peeling 5 kilos of carrots upstairs with Irina may be less stressful that messing something up downstairs, it's not exactly why I'm here.

Elze keeps telling me that I should talk to my boss, that if I approach him and let him know how left out I feel things may get better. I am, of course, too much of a coward to do this. I may complain a mighty amount here on my blog where there are no ramifications for my actions, but to someone's actual face when they have a chance to reply? No way! Especially not someone who, for as little in stature as he is, terrifies me in two languages. And what exactly am I supposed to say? "I'm sorry that you're such a pompous ass but I really do want to learn and while you clearly think otherwise I am, in fact, not a completely mentally challenged individual." It doesn't help that he isn't at all approachable nor has he made me feel welcome in any sense.

Most kitchens I've been into have taken some time to introduce me. I didn't have to fend for a locker all on my own and I was actually trained. This involved showing my around the kitchen, where ingredients are, what the daily process is like, what the overall mindset of the kitchen and the shop is, what people's names are and some general introductions. But here I was just tossed in with no "welcomes" or "hellos" or anything.

I also get the feeling that my bosses just don't like me. The new guy who speaks less french than I do has been allowed to make more things this week than I have. Any time I say hello or goodbye to Madame she looks at me with disgust and when I accidentally brought a tray of crackers into the savory store instead of the sweet one she refused to let me move them to the proper place and instead told me with distain, "It's fine. I'll do it."

To make matters worse, yesterday I experienced one of the most frightening moments of my life. You see in the kitchen there are two assistants in training that switch off every two weeks. These assistants are Eddy and Gaetan. Gaetan just ended his two weeks are we are back with Eddy now. Eddy does seem to mess a fair share of things up but then again, so did Gaetan. But for whatever reason it is apparent to me that the boss just doesn't like Eddy. So when I went in the other morning and found the boss yelling at Eddy about tarts for the shop, I wasn't all that surprised. This yelling continued and continued and Chef was obviously getting frustrated with Eddy. And every time Eddy tried to do what he was told he just wasn't doing it right.

But then "it" happened. Eddy brought out a tray of what I call french cinnamon rolls. They're rolled feuilltage dough with pastry cream and raisins inside. They're quite tasty, flaky, and sweet. Eddy brought out quite a nice looking tray of them but then the madame saw them and I guess something just wasn't right. Then the boss man was called over and he started going into Eddy asking him questions and I could only guess at what they were saying he was speaking so quickly. He asked Eddy why they were like this, there was some issue with caramel, and then Eddy tried to respond but Chef cut him off and started getting even louder. Then with one swift movement he flipped the tray over tossing all of the rolls onto the floor. He shouted at Eddy some more and stormed off somewhere.

Madame was actually the sweet one in this scenario and tried asking Eddy what had happened. She gathered that he had been confused and when boss man returned she tried to clarify this to him. He, however, did not care. He started yelling at Eddy again, louder and louder. He slapped his hand on the counter in continued frustration and Madame even shushed him because his voice was becoming so booming that any customers in the shop would surely hear him. But it made no difference. He then reached such an thunderous peak that my ears actually hurt. This was not yelling, this was screaming.

I haven't heard any human being speak to another like that ever. OK, I may have screamed at my moms a few times when I was younger but that was before years of therapy and serious medication. So I know from experience that no mentally stable person would subject another to that amount of disrespect and ridiculousness. And in front of the whole kitchen? And over a tray of ten rolls? It was absurd, not to mention frightening.

I was putting god knows what onto a tray (they tell me as little information as possible about the tasks I'm ordered to complete) and I couldn't help but start to shake. It was terrifying being in this man's presence as well as being very uncomfortable and awkward. Eddy was bright red from embarrassment and Chef was bright red from fury. If I had been Eddy in that situation I would have walked right out of the kitchen without a word. But Eddy just continued to work. It was horrific. Hell, if I were in my own country and expecting to be paid I would've left just from witnessing my chef treat someone like that. It's terrible to work in a kitchen that has no respect in it. I've worked in places where I feel like a part of a family, but here I'm just happy if I go through the day and no one speaks to me.

Needless to say I'm not all that happy in my patisserie. I going to stick it out for a bit longer and then think about it some more. I have to decide if it's worth it to stay there and if so if speaking with my boss might improve things. But maybe it would be better to try and move to a different pastry shop to finish my internship. I would hate to start all over again but if I'm lucky I may get put in a place that actually lets me make things. Or at the very least I would like to end up in a shop where I don't have to wear earplugs to prevent ear injury when Eddy messes up a tray of breakfast pastries.

Most importantly I am realizing how much I cannot wait to begin my own shop where I find a family to work for me and with me instead of reigning over a bunch of employees like some all-mighty, fear inducing tyrant. People work much better when they enjoy coming into work. Doing what you love is difficult to do when you're terrified of doing anything. And I find that people are able to work a lot faster when they aren't shaking from fright. In a kitchen you ask people to sacrifice a lot. It's exhausting work that leaves your entire body sore and feeling fifty years older than it should. It often requires early and long hours. You have to give up every holiday and normal weekends. But if going to work feels like going to hang out with your friends, it makes it easier to do those things. And when you like the people you work with it's easier to work as a team and in the long run, to do an incredible job.

Instead of working in silence I find it's best to work in an atmosphere with music and laughter. People shouldn't be terrified to ask a question or make a suggestion. They shouldn't be so afraid to make a mistake that they never push themselves. It's good to take your job seriously but for heaven's sake we're pastry chefs, not brain surgeons. No one is going to die if the raisin rolls aren't perfect...well, Eddy might.


  1. Maintain your steely resolve woman! Put back your shoulders, lift your head high, and maintain your confidence buoyed by the knowledge that you may have to deal with this mo-fo for a few hours every day, but he, he has to be with himself forever! And in this, you, you are the winner because people will never remember you as the asshole. So carry on. Continue to BE AWESOME. Look at this man with the knowledge that you are better and you can always take him down with the eye gouge, so do not be afraid, and exert yourself in your tone and carriage.

    xoxo abs

  2. You may just be learning kitchen management skills and not even know it!

  3. Grant is right - you might not be making pastries, but you're definitely learning a lot about how you want to run your own kitchen. And Abs is also right - don't forget that you know the eye gouge trick.