Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Only a few days after arriving in Yssingeaux for our French Pastry Arts program, we were introduced to our two chefs, Chef Baccon and Chef Leroy. Aside from the fact that they were both wearing chef coats and tokes, and aside from the fact that they were both trapped in this tiny nothing town to teach us pastry, there are probably no two people less alike.

Chef Leroy was undeniably french. He had salt and pepper hair and a small gut poking at his chef white's buttons. Non-ironic facial hair dappled his face and culminated into a poorly manicured goatee at his chin. He had spectacles and a slight hunch in his back, most likely from bending over a kitchen counter. He had a thick french accent and failed to say numerous english words correctly, but in an endearing way. He seemed to take himself very seriously and certainly gave off the impression that we should do the same.

Not long into the program did we realize that this was mostly a front. He was, to be kind, sitting on a throne of bull-shit and lies, but he was, at the very least, a kind king. His heart was in the right place and he wanted to teach us as much about everything as he possibly could. The only problem with that was that he really didn't seem to know what he was talking about and his teaching abilities were even less impressive than his pastry ones. I eventually dubbed him Chef Lefrog because it was hilariously and light-heartedly disrespectful and because he was dripping with french-ness.

Midway through the course we wanted him fired. By the end of it we all left him with hugs and tears. Hey may not have been top of the top in much, but he was so sweet and had bonded so deeply with us that we couldn't help but love him. He had taken a personal interest and commitment to finding us all decent internships even though he had very little background information on where was good to go. Still he tried his best and his eyes welled up with tears as we said goodbye.

Then, there was Chef Baccon. Though her surname exudes french, it is simply because her husband, the devilishly handsome chef with boyish good looks that could make any girl blush, was french. She, herself, was Korean and so stunningly beautiful and petite it was almost as if some fairy or pixie had stepped out from a childhood story and donned a chef's uniform. And her phenomenal ability to create breath-taking desserts that exceeded perfection seemed to support this.

My first impression of her that was she was very serious, and very intentional. I doubted that anything she ever did was a mistake. She stood perfectly straight and had long double jointed fingers that exceeded reality in how they could bend, move, and manipulate whatever they were holding. And while she seemed to be a master of everything to such an extent that I was always in shock and awe, she did so with such a kind, light-hearted and sometimes a downright jokester attitude, that we all fell madly in love with her.

She would create these masterpieces and then ask us to do the same, and I couldn't help but laugh out loud in overwhelming amusement. Sure she made it look easy but there was no doubt in any of our minds that the magic she created was not, in any way, easy. But we tried and as we blundered and went down in flames, she would giggle at us in such a way that we didn't feel defeated but instead reveled in the hilarity of it all.

The contrast of Chef Leroy's bumbling and emotional french attitude to Chef Baccon's fun flawlessness was almost comical. And, at the very least, it made us appreciate our heaven-sent angel of excellence, Chef Baccon, to the fullest.

While we grew to love Chef Leroy and left him feeling that we were bettered for meeting such a man and that through it all we had learned a thing or two, for me leaving Chef Baccon was exceptionally difficult. She had taught me mountains, heaps, loads of things. I knew that for at least a short time I had been lucky enough to stand next to excellence and absorb as much as I could. And amidst all this brilliance she was still so sweet and grounded that I wished she could be in my life always. I wanted to show her off to my family and friends back home like some celebrity that just a proximity to somehow makes me cooler.

It has been months since we left our mentors, but we have kept in touch either via email or through facebook stalking, and just recently our incredible Chef Baccon competed in the Pastry Queen Event, a global event that takes top female pastry chefs from all over the world to represent their country, sort of like the Olympics, but with dessert. We were all so anxious to see how she did, though none of us doubted her abilities. She, of course, did well, coming second in the world overall and scoring the best in sugar sculpture, cleanliness, and technique. First place went to the Italians who hosted the event and who some of us suspect may have bended the rules for their own to take home first. We, of course, have nothing to back this up but also cannot believe that anyone in the world could be better than our Chef Baccon.

While I may not be lucky enough to bring Chef Baccon home with me in my luggage (though she is tiny enough to fit) I at least will have her with me in other less tangible ways. From now on whenever I make dessert I will ask myself, "Is this something I would be embarrassed to show Chef Baccon?" Whenever I use tempered chocolate I will remember her and how easily she could tablage all chocolate to perfect tempered perfection, and how she showed me how to make the most beautiful and magical chocolate flowers.

If I ever become anything impressive or successful I know that it will have a lot to do with Chef Baccon and what she taught me about food, technique, skill, and how to handle yourself in the kitchen and in life. I will be reminded of Newton who said, "If I have seen further it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants," and though Chef Baccon physically may be no giant, spiritually, emotionally, and skillfully, she dwarfs all those around her without breaking a sweat.

No comments:

Post a Comment