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My Life in Paris – La Gourmandista

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Categoría: My Life in Paris

On One of my Favorite Restaurants in Paris : Welwitsch

Welwitsch is a restaurant I have the honor of having known since before it existed, because, even when I am exaggerating a little, it’s got it’s bit of truth. I met Patricia, the chef and owner of the place, from a distance when we were both in culinary school 5 years ago. We never shared a classroom, so I had no idea how she cooked, however, every time we ran into each other, she greeted me and we talked amicably. With time, we became friends.

We followed each other on social media, and from time to time we kept meeting each other at an event at school. A few months later I moved back to Mexico while she was working on opening her restaurant. When I returned to Paris to carry on studying, Welwitsch had just opened its doors. Without wasting any time, I went for brunch with another friend of mine from school as well.

I loved the place. Everything was done with high-quality organic ingredients. It wasn’t pretentious at all, however, when leaving the place, one was quite satisfied and did not feel having paid a whole month’s salary. I returned to Mexico really happy of having visited her new restaurant, but I never sat down to write about it. I don’t even know why. Maybe it was just because I stopped writing regularly.

When we were planning last Fall’s visit to Paris, we had to also choose where to go with each group of friends. Evidently, this is not done randomly, we thought about the place that would suit each group of people best. Thus, we chose to go to Welwitsch with those who would love homemade, organic food and who would appreciate Patricia’s creations, for I think they are creative jewels she shows in each seasonal menu. I logged on to her website, which by the way is available in more than 10 different languages. That, I was not expecting. However, knowing Patricia, who pays attention to the smallest of details, and that she is a polyglot herself, this isn’t difficult to understand. Anyway, once our table was confirmed, I was sure she would be expecting us: I wasn’t wrong.

Ensalada de temporada con betabel y butternut

We ate deliciously until we couldn’t have one more bite. Laëticia, who is now in charge of the front of the house did not stop the pampering. Of course, Patricia  came out to say hello as soon as she had a moment and could escape from the kitchen. Honestly, the culinary experience was even better than what I remembered, since, apart from the excuse of stopping by to say hello, for me this place has become one of those one shouldn’t miss when in the City of Lights. It has got, I think, everything one wants: good food, good quality ingredients, good service, and on top of all… good prices. To sum it up; it’s a treat.

Address: 91, rue du Chemin Vert, 75011 Paris

Metro: Saint Ambroise     Richard Lenoir           Rue Saint Maur

Ph: +33 (0) 1 4807 3787

Note: This restaurant has permanently closed.

Some of the Best Food Movies to Watch

Who doesn’t remember their first date as a teenager? For many it was probably an invitation to go to the movies, maybe even with a group of friends. It was easier that way. Today, as it’s Valentine’s Day, I think about it because we are not always looking forward to going out in these dates now categorized as the ones preferred by marketers, even though we do want to cuddle with that special person and why not watch one of those movies we have watched one hundred times and which we know the dialogues by heart, if there aren’t any new ones still to be watched and which have arrived to our preferred streaming service.

Today I will be alone at home, since a business trip had to take place and our romantic date had to take place prior to the trip, and will surely enjoy one among my favorites… the question is, which one?

True it is that the kitchen and the stories around the great cooks and chefs have become quite popular in recent years, and thus, this blog post has been in the making for quite some time, but I had to wisely make my selection, since, even though there are many options out there, I am not sure all of them are my go-to options to watch once and again. I, however, think that the first one which was a great success when I was a teenager was the adaptation of the novel by Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate. I watched it once more recently having found it on Netflix, and you know what? I confirmed that it’s a masterpiece, but, for me, with a definitely uneducated opinion whatsoever regarding the movies, I think it’s lacking light and will stick to the written original.

More than ten years later the subject became fashionable in the big screen, if I recall correctly, and if my memory serves me right, the next culinary film I watched and which I liked was the one with the Parisian mouse named Remy and his friend Linguini. Yes, you nailed it. It’s Ratatouille. And frankly, more than the great success of the film, I think it attracted a lot of attention to the culinary arena. I dare to say that this may have been the movie which inspired many others later produced, and even inspired searching new formulas around food for TV.

I can’t, obviously, skip Julie & Julia, which also has literary support. Nonetheless, I have to say I prefer the movie to Ms. Julie Powel’s book, since the material Mrs. Julia Child’s pen provides through My Life in France is of a greatly superior quality than that of the blogger and writer for my taste.

In time, with the subject in question being more popular, and me being more involved in the kitchen, I found Chef with Jon Favreau and Sofia Vergara. This story made me conscious that food critics may destroy the career of anyone who’s dedicated their whole life to what might be their greatest passion. This film, I have to say, is one of my favorite ones from Hollywood.

Then, of course, I have to mention the French influence in Les Saveurs du Palais, which appeared in the United States as Haute Cuisine. This story taught me so much and helped me enormously to understand the French culinary arts as well as their pride towards dishes, ingredients, and even wines. I can watch it over and over. I will laugh out loud and even shed a tear or two. If you haven’t watched it, I highly recommend it. (If not through Netflix, surely iTunes will have it…). I have to confess that this was not a movie I went to watch at the cinema, but which we discovered at home one Sunday evening as it was aired on TV and totally fell in love with it.

Coincidentally, when I was finishing culinary school another story came out: Burnt. Wow! This film was so controversial. Some people loved it, others felt angry for how it was all portrayed. However, in all defense to the filmmakers, I think this movie was the one responsible for attracting our society’s attention to the lifestyle of cooks and chefs, both men and women, especially at the restaurants searching to receive industry’s accolades. I thought the story was good as it was presented, that it was entertaining, and not exaggerating whatsoever, given there are places where the cook’s lifestyle is exactly as it was portrayed for better or worse. Hey, it is what it is!

Evidently, I think that the most recent productions have been for TV rather than for the movie theater, however, I should not and cannot ignore there are classics that I’m not a fan of such as Babette’s Feast, or that there are other more modern like The 100-foot Journey which do not fully convince me to take a stand, since there are some aspects I like and some others which I think are exaggerated.

Now, of course, we shall talk soon about TV, without a doubt… even if it takes me more than one entry. In the meantime… enjoy your evening’s choice!

Mauviel 1830 : Consciously Working Since 1830

As a Mexican, when someone talks to me about copper, I immediately think in handcrafts, in pots, in markets. It reminds me of that small mining town in the state of Michoacán which is famous for the Purépecha Indigenous Group who very particularly work hammered pieces that they engrave and polish by hand. However, truly and sincerely, I had never stopped to think about luxury cookware in such a metal before I visited the Loire Valley a few summers ago and witnessed an exhibit with numerous marmites, pots, and pans made of copper and with their manufacturing date engraved. Needless to say, they were all at least 100 years old and in perfect conditions to begin cooking a soup or a jam on the spot.

They didn’t have a brand, however, the style was very particular. Reading here and there, and with the help of my professors in culinary school, as well as visiting specialty stores around the Les Halles quarter in Paris, I learned that many of these pots and pans came from a place very similar to the one I knew about in Michoacán, but, this one was located very near the Mont Saint Michel Abbey in the Lower Normandy region in France. Thus, I arrived to Mauviel 1830. Now, I learn that the main difference among both sites is that here the manufacturing began back in the Crusades. Back then, artisans learned how to provide warriors with utensils because they needed to. In time, the pieces became purely ornamental, and even though Mauviel 1830 is not the only manufacturer of the regio, they are the most important ones. They currently serve exclusively the culinary arts industry, even though, history may change again in the near future, thanks to the popularity copper has been recently gaining in the decorative arts.

Mauviel 1830 is located in a small town named Villedieu-les-Poêles. It has been a family business for 7 generations, and Ms. Valérie Le Guern Gilbert has been in charge since 2006 when she succeeded her father. Since then, Ms. Le Guern Gilbert makes her best not only to be the head of an international company, but that of an entrepreneurial family. Since the moment one enters Mauviel 1830, one can feel how how homey it is. True, not all of the products on sale now are purely copper, they also work with combinations of inox with different treatments, with ceramic, and even silver for contests such as the Bocuse D’Or which takes place every other year in Lyon.

To summarize my day at Mauviel 1830 is especially difficult. I can certainly say I found a company interested in their industry’s innovation, in doing a good job, in leaving their mark in the community, but more than anything, for their daily activity to be conscious. The company’s retirees frequently come back twice, even three times a week to carry on teaching their apprentices their handcraft professions and pass on the experience acquired throughout their years on the job at the company.

Mauviel 1830 has presence in Asia, Europe, Australia, the Middle East, and America, being Mexico and the United States two of the fortunate countries where one can find the firm’s products which have been described by chefs such as Yannick Alléno, who holds at least 6 Michelin Stars in France, as the best in the world, and you know something, I think it’s impossible to disagree with him.

Valérie  tells me that for some time, Mauviel 1830 has been available at the Williams-Sonoma stores in Mexico as well as in the United States, though in the latter you will find them in other specialty stores such as Sur la Table, since they are interested in their international presence. I think to myself, who knows? Maybe in the future the purépechas from my native Mexico might collaborate hand-in-hand with Mauviel 1830.

Amélie: An Example of Inspiration

No. This is not about the French actress, Audrey Tatou and her very famous 2001 movie Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain. It is about the young lady I mentioned in my last entry who from a distance, taught me more than she would probably imagine.

The day I arrived to work as an intern in a professional kitchen, my eyes were stunned by a lot of things. Why? I wanted to learn as much as possible of what happened in there. I wished to be as attentive and alert as possible to understand all the dynamics of the place.

Firstly, it was evident that us girls were greatly outnumbered in all positions available in the restaurant… the kitchen, the dining room, everywhere. I think the only place where there were more gals than guys was the pastry lab. But I will focus on the kitchen, since it is where I was spending my time and efforts.

In total – not including myself- there were three, THREE! The brigade was made up of about fifteen people and only three were women when I worked in the kitchen. One was a commis in the cold section, the second one was an apprentice in charge of the appetizers, and the third one was originally in the fish section, but later moved to work with meat products. I assume she was a demi-chef. She worked for the Sous-Chef. Her work included not only mise en place for meats, but also protein distribution during service, as well as some specific tasks for other preparations.

Her name: Amélie. A tiny young lady probably in her early thirties. She, like myself, reconverted to become a cuisinière. Originally a lawyer with a Master’s Degree, she worked for the State, I understand, but didn’t ever really enjoy it, so she decided to go back to school, but this time, to culinary arts school. She attended her classes and passed her exams like any other student, however, by the French system’s standards, she was already behind. Cooks start apprenticeships at 15 years old, no exaggeration. So, to be in her in her twenties… late, late, late. Nonetheless, she took up the challenge.

Through her, I learned that being a girl in a professional kitchen is harder than one would expect. The job is very physical, and among her daily tasks was the distribution of pantry supplies… meaning that coming up the stairs with very heavy stuff was part of her routine. But hey, don’t panic, this was no form of abuse. This is a standard task in a restaurant, and someone has got to do it. In this case she had just gotten the short end of the stick.

Then, there’s the fact of dealing with a brigade mostly made up of men. My perception is than in many professional kitchens in France, women are not seen as serious workers sometimes, so picking on the so-called ‘weaker sex’ might be common. And guess what? Yes, in order for her to be seen as a serious hard-working cook, she had to demonstrate there were no weak bones in her body, that her character was strong at any and all times, and that emotions were nonexistent, notwithstanding the comment of her counter part.

Once, I remember telling her “I think you are a very strong woman, Amélie”. She responded with a humble “Not always”. Yet I still think she is strong, and I just hope to see her in charge of her own kitchen one day. It would be a pleasure for me to dine at her Chef’s table.

Curiosity Fuels the Future of Global Gastronomy

Once no more mushrooms were to be cleaned during the early morning, new tasks had to be found for me. Now, I honestly don’t remember how many cases full of chanterelle mushrooms I went through during the season. I just remember I was EXTREMELY happy when it was over.

However, during my stay at the restaurant, I got a chance to work with plenty of other products. Yes, the tasks were quite simple and little if compared with what the rest of the brigade did, yet, I kept in mind that if my little hands were enough to work on this or that at such a Grande Maison, it was okay. And such a mindset was needed when my new friends the gray shallots arrived before me. Those little guys  who are cousins of the onion were another piece of work. If you are not familiar with them, they are similar to regular shallots, BUT their outer layers are so thick and sharp one cannot and should not peel them without a pairing knife. And of course, this meant sore fingers every time I worked on them.

And who would forget the little balls of foie gras? They had to be a certain weight in order for them not to be considered as ‘shit’, because they were too little and made the plate look disgusting, or too big and made the pasta explode while getting cooked at service time. I think those were between 100 and 200 on almost a daily basis… After a while I actually found out those went together with the chanterelles. To date, I still crack a smile when I think of them.

An endless amount of aromatic garnishes for stocks were also on my chopping board regularly: Carrots, shallots, onions, celery… the works. I think it was at least a couple trays per day, mostly for the fish section. And talking about them, how can I not mention crab cooking day. Vivid memories come to my mind.  Firstly, the smell is difficult to forget. I mean, I love eating fish and shellfish products, but you have got to really love cooking to not mind the smell with which your clothes and basically your whole self end up with. Then, the speed one has to work at when they come out of their court-bouillon (cooking liquid) to avoid the flesh from sticking into the shell again plus the temperature at which the crabs come out of the pot makes one develop never before imagined abilities towards hot ingredients. The fish lab becomes a production line with as many helping hands as possible to go over about three dozen crabs, to peel and extract all the flesh they hide under their very hard shells. During service, we, the interns, were responsible of finishing the flesh extraction with long toothpicks.

And yes, several other products came before me. Lettuce, brik pastry, and ducklings, just to mention a few more. But surely the one that excited me the most was the day I was given the chance to bone a dozen pigeons. The Sous-Chef handed me a tray full of them and asked me if I knew how to do the task. I said yes, but… the truth was I had never done it with a 8-inch chef’s knife. I was in a little panic to be honest. I didn’t want to ruin the product. I turned to Amélie, the only girl in the brigade who was neither an intern nor a apprentice. In a very confident way she said “just work with the tip of your blade”. It took me a good 2 hours, but they came out nicely, I think. Nonetheless, I still think I prefer a smaller boning knife for these jobs. It’s much easier.

Like I said before, my hands had the chance to work and touch quite a few products and, yes, I learned several reasons why dishes taste so differently in these fine-dining restaurants. It all starts with quality of the product surely, but also the way these products are worked on all the way through until they arrive to the dining room and served to the guests to get wowed.

What You Need to Know if You Want to Become a Chef

My alarm clock rang. I jumped out of bed, and I took a quick shower. I tidied up my place and had breakfast. Who in this world is capable of starting a day on an empty stomach ? I can’t, and shan’t, so I ate… Some bread with homemade jam and a cup of coffee would be enough.

Fortunately, bus 52 towards the Opera House stopped just half a block from home, and it would drop me off merely 50 meters away from the restaurant door.

I arrived a good 10 minutes before 8:00 a.m. The entrance, as well as the patio were in complete solitude. I thought I was late, yet the door to the kitchen and the locker rooms was locked. So, I waited.

Not long after, everyone started arriving. The chef was the last one to arrive. He greeted us all one by one and the door was finally open. We headed inside, and the day began.

I was appointed to the entremets section. The chef de partie gave me my first assignment. I thought I was never going to finish it. I had to peel a 10-lb. box of chanterelle mushrooms. Without further ado I put myself to work. I did whatever I was asked to, yet, the f#!%&ing box of mushrooms looked infinite, and even though I thought it was going to take forever, a few extra hands came to help for a little bit. I think they were just tired to see that I still hadn’t finished.

Chop here, cut there, swipe, and clean. That was pretty much my every day for the next few days. Little by little I started learning how they wanted things to be done. I’d like to think I was doing my assignments correctly, since I got to work on different products, but also got kind of stuck with some others which became part of my every day job.

I was not allowed to interfere during service and I was to carry on working in the back on the little tasks needed for the evening shift -which I did not cover. Sometimes I was allowed to leave earlier than others, just like in any other job. Yet, my body reminded me every evening that I was neither 20 years old any more, nor was this any other job. I had no idea this was going to be so physically demanding.

Behind the Scenes: Understanding the Kitchen Brigade

As per the Internship Coordinator’s instructions, I arrived on a Monday morning with a hard copy of my résumé, my internship contract (the “Convention de Stage”), looking as nice and as professional as possible, to the back door of what seemed to be a very imposing restaurant.

I entered the patio, and figured out which was the kitchen door; knocked, and since there was no answer, I discreetly opened it and let myself in. The floor was quite slippery, and I was in stilettos, so I had to pay very close attention to my walking. A young man saw me and even though he never stopped preparing his tray of tomato petals to be confit, asked if he could be of help. I greeted him and asked for the chef. The answer was unexpected: the chef was unavailable. I had to come back in an hour and a half.

I decided to go to a café nearby, grabbed my book of the moment, which of course I was carrying in my purse, and asked for a cup of tea. It was not very chilly that morning, but I chose an herbal tea, maybe just to feel calmer. Honestly, I wasn’t able to read much. I was a bit anxious, and the clock advanced quite slowly.

A few minutes before the agreed upon time, I paid for my cup of tea, put my book away, and put on my trench coat. I walked the 150 meters to the restaurant, and returned to the busy kitchen where the mise en place was coming to an end. Once again I gave my greeting, and asked if the chef was back. The young man called the chef in a rather loud voice to tell him that there was a lady asking to see him.

Reading with my cup of tea

I was invited to a very small office, barely a 1.5 m2, I think… but I am quite null in measurements of the sort. He asked me my business and I told him. He nodded as he listened attentively. He asked what schedule I wanted to work, if I had my contract with me, and when I wanted to start. All was discussed in a matter of 3 minutes. It was actually shorter than a phone call.

We both signed the documents, and he turned to the young man saying “she starts tomorrow”, who was then introduced to me as the Second de Cuisine. The young man just said a firm “oui chef”.

As we said our goodbyes the chef said “see you tomorrow at 8:00 o’clock, madame”, I answered with the same firm “oui chef”, and left.

I was excited. I was part of a 2-Michelin Star brigade. Yes, I was only the intern, but then again, I had dreamt about this for a long time, and never even imagined it could come true. What was there in store for me? It was a matter of a little more time, now.