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.