Sunday, February 28, 2010

Yum yum dim sum

Over the weekend I had a massive craving for Hong Kong style dim sum. Back in the states, I'd have to say I had dim sum probably every other week between bouts of Korean food, Vietnamese food, and the obligatory burrito.

The 13th arrondissement of Paris is teeming with Asian stores and restaurants. However, dim sum is quite specific and I really didn't think I'd find it at a Chinese/Vietnamese/Thai conglomeration of a restaurant. So what's a girl to do? I googled "best dim sum Paris" and went with a suggestion from Zagat.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Picard party!

For a long time, I've been wanting to have Picard party. And no, I'm not talking about Jean-Luc Picard ala Star Trek. I'm a nerd, but not THAT big of a nerd. I'm talking about Picard, the highly-popular chain of French stores specializing in frozen foods.

It seems as though in the states, anything frozen is generally deemed as either junk-food or something you turn to when there's absolutely nothing to eat. Americans (or at least Californians) generally hold up their noses to most things in the freezer chest. We can thank frozen pizzas and Hungry Man TV dinners for that. Well the French have it dialed when it comes to flash-freezing. At Picard they sell all sorts of frozen foods ranging from meats and vegetables, to baked goods, and full meals including appetizers, mains, and desserts. Its quite impressive, even if you just pop in for a look.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Oh oh okonomiyaki

According to Wikipedia, Okonomiyaki is a "Japanese savoury pancake containing a variety of ingredients. The name is derived from the word okonomi, meaning 'what you like' or 'what you want', and yaki meaning 'grilled' or 'cooked'."

Monday, February 22, 2010

Oh sheet...

So being an American, you'd think I'd jump at the chance to make some chocolate chip cookies at work right? Well, yeah if we actually used chocolate chips in the lab instead of having to pulverize Valhrona chocolate, and if I didn't have to make 12 kilos (~26.5 pounds) of it.. in one go. To make matters worse, these aren't Nestle Toll House cookies that plump up. They're cut out with a round cutter. Its blasphemy if you ask me.

Well anyways, today I had to use the Laminateur, aka pastry dough sheeter, to roll out my 12 kilos of dough. Well you know how they tell children to look both ways before crossing the street? Well kids, if you ever use a pastry dough sheeter, make sure to look on both sides of the belt before using it. I learned the hard way. One of the ADPA (Alain Ducasse a Plaza Athénée) pastry guys put a sheet of thin dentelle cookie things on it...and before I knew it.. crash.. splat.

After a slew of expletives from him, horror-stricken, I cleaned up the mess. He apologized too... since he should have known better than to put the sheet there! Oh well I'm tired... and don't really give a sheet full of dough.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Rest for the weary

I calculated that even though I only work four days a week, I actually work more hours than my friends at Pierre Herme, though considerably less than those who are at gastro restaurants. Still, I'm quite happy (aside from the throbbing feet and skin allergy).

Things I steal from work

Okay so it's a bit of an exaggeration saying that I steal things from work. More like I take the unwanted refuse and rejects of the day. Like my other staigiare friends have noticed, there are always rejects in the lab especially when you're producing high-quality goods. Though for me, I'm not picking through 2000 raspberries and eating 200 of them. Instead there are always cookies, cakes, madeleines, and financiers left behind. However, producing as much as we do, I'm rather sick of smelling, let alone eating, everything.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Pros and cons

So I've officially finished my first full week at Plaza Athénée, and its been rough. Luckily no catastrophes this week, but I'm still tired. I'm slowly getting used to the schedule, so I'm not as fatigued as last week...where I just wanted to curl up into a ball and die. It's a really good learning experience though and I'm humbled every day by how little French I know, but everyone is willing to speak slowly and help.

Every day I add to my mentally compiled list of pros and cons about being a stagiaire. I hope someone finds it a least mildly this is my life for the next six months.

Pro: Working with a World Pastry Champion.
Con: Achy sore feet after standing for 11 hours a day.
Pro: Seeing the Eiffel tower every night on my way home.
Con: Not seeing the light of day for four days straight.
Pro: The sous chef is super super nice.
Con: The sous chef is only super nice if you haven't screwed up and he's not lecturing you.
Pro: The magical 'lingerie' where you swap dirty uniforms for clean ones.
Con: Cleaning the lab/kitchen three times a day.
Pro: Getting to taste/take home some leftovers from the day.
Con: Allergy to D10 cleaning product that is resulting in a rash.
Pro: Latex gloves for said allergy.
Con: Being too short to reach most things.
Pro: My best friend the stool.
Con: Spending at least half an hour in the walk-in fridge stocking and cleaning.
Pro: Doing everything from juicing 4 kilos of lemons to chocolate work to cake assembly.

And the list goes on and on. One thing I've discovered is that stagiaires generally don't stay very long. One girl just left yesterday after six weeks and two others, who started when I did, only have about a month left. So guess who gets to be the long-term kitchen slave? At least I'm paid, whereas they aren't, even if its a pittance and I could make more working at MacDo. On the upside, the longer I'm there, the more I get to learn...and hopefully there will be more staigiares to 'ranger' and 'nettoyer' the lab.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


So I know this post is un peu en retard, but better late than never! A week and a half before school finished, my girlfriends and I figured we should plan a mini trip during the week we have off before our stages began. I know as a stagaire without a real income, I should be pinching every penny so I don't end up broke, but when they suggested a 4 day trip to Barcelona with tickets at 90 euro, I had to say yes!

Friday, February 5, 2010


mor⋅ti⋅fi⋅ca⋅tion - /ˌmɔrtəfɪˈkeɪʃən/ –noun:
A feeling of humiliation or shame, as through some injury to one's pride or self-respect.

So it happened. I did something really really wrong. Well okay, to be honest, I did a few things really really wrong. At least I lasted until the afternoon of my third day before screwing up. At least.

Our chef at Ferrandi was always telling us to never sit around and watch milk boil; there's always something else to do in the kitchen. Usually I pride myself on being able to multitask pretty well, but maybe the stress of a new environment and fatigue was catching up. So, I was asked to make a chocolate sauce for profiteroles. Pretty simple. Milk + glucose + chocolate. Voila. Well, taking chef's advice while my milk was boiling, I went to quickly do some dishes. A few seconds later another pastry cook runs in telling me to go get my milk, as it had boiled over. Ugh. I had to redo it.

My nerves already frazzled, I remeasured all the ingredients and put the milk to boil again. This time as I was prepping my chocolate, another stagiaire splashed some raspberry coulis on my hand... and I was temporarily distracted... and hear a different pastry cook yelling, "THE MILK!! THE MILK!!". NOT AGAIN. Thank god he lifted the pot as it barely boiled over. But it was too late. Our pastry chef looks at me and sternly says, "Thats the second time, Diana... the SECOND TIME."

Okay, so no screaming, but at this point I was feeling completely shitacular. To make matters even worse, someone left a huge hobart mixer bowl full of crap in the middle of the aisle next to a sink where it should NOT have been. Guess who ran smack right into it? Guess?!? I should have moved it... that was the thought that ran through my mind a split-second before the pile of crap teetered and crashed all over the floor. Not even a second later CM comes out of his office yelling in French "What is this f*cking catastrophe?!?!". Sadly, its name is Diana. Mortified, I stood frozen as my nice coworkers ran to my aid.

It could be worse I suppose. And as my friend and fellow Ferrandi alumni Joan says, "Its ok, cuz you know if you spill stuff now.. then later the chef will be like omg you improved! You are amazing. I'll remember u as the girl that spilled everything but came out a superstar!". Yeah... in my wildest dreams. Thanks for making me feel better though Joan! Well, on an upside, I have Friday, Saturday, and Sunday off to nurse my wounds and rest my tired feet.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Jour 1 in the Plaza patisserie

So orientation day was a piece of cake compared to my first day in the kitchen. It's hard enough to drag my lifeless carcass out of a cozy warm bed at 6 am, let alone baking, trying to understand another language, and trying not to mess up and get yelled at.

The first half of the day was actually quite nice. I spent the morning in the boulangerie portion of the patisserie making petit pain, croissants, pain au chocolat, and pain au raisin. Well, technically I helped out a lot. The two boulanger chefs are joksters and not what I was expecting for my first day. They were really nice to boot!

Well, that was the first half of the day. The second was a lot of work, followed by fatigue and a few embarassing moments. I'm too exhausted to think clearly, let alone be funny... so maybe a list will suffice.

First day highlights:
1) Uberfriendly boulangers
2) Coworkers willing to speak slowly in French and motion w/ their hands as if you're 'special'
3) Witnessing amazing desserts take form
4) Working next to CM (though I don't think he works much... more like gives orders and tinkers around in the kitchen)

First day downers:
1) Work from 7:30AM-6:30PM
2) Having to say "Je n'ai pas compris" (I didn't understand) many many times
3) Almost tripping and the Alain Ducasse boulanger asking me if I've been drinking
4) Splattering strawberry juice all over my whites
5) Running into CM after spilling juice all over said whites
6) Coworker telling me I have juice on my hour and a half after spillage
7) Being told I need to remember to work 'intelligently'... but hey expecting someone to use a 2 foot ladle to ladle juice from a huge bucket high up on a countertop into plastic bags isn't quite ergonomic.

Well, I'm sure it will get better with time. My main goal at the moment is to not horribly maim nor embarass myself. I think that's maybe doable. Wish me luck!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Plaza Athénée.. jour 1

Okay, so I'm technically blogging out of order, but I'm not sure what people want to hear more about.. Barcelona or first day of my stage. I'm thinking the latter, and since the latter doesn't require me to post any pictures, I figure it will be a quick fix for my adoring public. Remember, first hit is free and soon I'll start charging!

Yes I'm still quite on a high from my first day. No I didn't have a baking sheet thrown at my head... no I wasn't locked in the walk-in. It was actually a day full of orientation. I showed up at HR at 9 to be ushered into a room of 8 other soon-to-be stagiaires/employees. We had breakfast together, got our uniforms, had lunch, did a tour of the hotel, and all in all it was very civil! And I think I'm oriented for the most part (though I managed to understand about 80% of the French).

I'm not sure what tomorrow will bring, actually being in the kitchen and messing up left and right whilst trying to decipher French. I'll have to say, touring the kitchens and hotel was quite amazing. I imagined Alain Ducasse at Plaza Athénée, to be much larger, but it was still quite stunning. And it also turns out that AD has his own pastry department, so Christophe Michalak... the resident pastry chef, is actually my boss (or more like my boss' boss' boss). Yippee!! My favorite part of the hotel? The doohickeys on the floor that you step on...and then voila a hidden door opens up!

Most people don't think about how much detail goes into prestigious hotels since, quite frankly, most of us can't foot the bill of a hotel where a standard room is 700 euro a night. From panoramic views of the Eiffel Tower, to Mont Blanc pens on the desk, to ostentatious looking Louis IV style furniture with enough gold on it to blind a person, its no wonder that the larger suites go from 5k to 22k euro a night! There are people who tailor your minibar to your preferences, make sure that your bed is made exactly how you like it, and if you want to get rid of all the furniture and bring in your own? Completely doable.. if you can afford it. Apparently Salvedor Dali used to reside at the Plaza for months at a time and would paint on walls and have his pet ocelot/leopard rip apart the furniture.

I'm still amazed by the Plaza right now... but maybe reality will set in tomorrow. At 7:30 AM to be precise.