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aventures culinaires – La Gourmandista

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Etiqueta: aventures culinaires

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.

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.

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.

French Cuisine History: The “Grande Table”

To talk about a French “Grande Table” is to talk about a spectacular place in the broadest possible sense of the word. It indicates that from the moment we enter the establishment, our experience will be unique; a once in a lifetime kind of thing. We should enter with the knowledge that even if one goes back to the same restaurant, there is a big chance that at least the menu will have changed.

Therefore, when I could understand what these restaurants were about, beyond the luxurious dinners full of delicacies coming from the most exclusive places around the globe, I knew that it was in such a place that I wanted to do my Internship to work as an Apprentice Cook. I wanted to witness firsthand if the abundant smiles, politeness, and sense of peace in the main dining room would also reign before the burning piano during service. In other words, I wanted to know what happens “behind the scenes”.

Many times I heard that if I wanted to learn as much as possible, it would be better to go to a small restaurant, for it is there where my workforce would truly be useful and required. However, my mind was made up. My wish list was full of legendary Parisian places; some of them with more than a century’s worth of history. My argument: I was interested in being in an exceptional ‘cuisine’, one where breathtaking plates would be prepared, where guests would dream with their eyes wide open. I am still not sure if the internship coordinator was convinced, or if she just gave up and presented me with some options.

I had to do a little bit of research, and selected one of those places called ‘a maison d’exception’ for their tradition, techniques, and awards. Yet I truly had no idea what awaited my arrival.

Pedagogical Lunches, a great learning opportunity

Sometimes one would be awed at a certain class or activity organized by a school. That was exactly what happened to me when I saw my schedule with an activity called Pedagogical Lunch. At first, as I was studying the culinary arts, and since we are in Paris, gastronomy capital of the world, I thought it would be a lunch with a teaching purpose. I have to say in the end I was disappointed, since I think some people might have ended the afternoon a little bit more tipsy than they should have or that I would have enjoyed, and even though there were quite a few things to talk about the service, the food, and the wine pairings, such discussion I had expected did not happen. Then someone explained to me that actually these lunches were aimed only at integrating the group. Not exactly up to my expectations for I would have enjoyed and probably learned a lot from discussing about it with my chef instructors. Or they should have called it ‘Integration Lunch’ and then I wouldn’t demand anything else and expect the tipsy people.

I thought maybe I should approach the administration and talk about it, since it might actually be a good idea… and so I did. The answer was quite astonishing to my taste, since I was told that if I wanted I could talk and ask the chefs about their opinion and discuss the meal, but that was as far as it would go. So, my reading was ‘sure, if you want we won’t say you can’t talk about the lunch with your teachers, but we won’t organize a specific setting for everyone to talk about it’. Dommage, as the French would say, I still think.

The places got better as the studies advanced, however, I have to say out loud that if the purpose is just to become peas and carrots with my school buddies, I don’t need to dress up and go to a certain place dictated by the school syllabus. Most of us are foodies, so it might be quite easy to take us pretty much anywhere as long as the food is good. Nonetheless, if we are going to analyze, talk about, and eat a set menu, then I would be more open to attending one or another place preferred by Madame La Directrice.

I mean, don’t you agree?

Still, just my crazy idea.

Any Given Parisian Sunday

Discovering new places in this city may be easy, since it is only necessary to allow oneself to walk down a street, avenue, or even an alley dating back to the Middle Ages and dare to enter a place you’ve never seen before. I can’t really explain it, but there are places that you can tell, even from a distance, they have catastrophe written all over them, others which, in spite of their appearance, I never felt attracted to, and only dared to enter for the sake of courage or because they had been recommended to me by a reliable source – even when despite said recommendation I ended up wanting to run out. Then there are those places where one feels invited to enter just by looking at them, and last, of course, there are those that look so beautiful that one gets scared of even setting foot into, and where you’re required to take out a second mortgage on your house when the bill arrives.

Right by the Latin Quarter at the exit of the Odéon metro station there is a little alley that is over 500 years old. Here, you can find a Chinese man selling jewelry, a restaurant I have heard is good, but given it’s rather unhygienic appearance never attracted my attention in the least, and there is another place which seems to give away chocolates rather than selling them, since it’s always jam-packed and is impossible to get into. I tried to get a table twice, maybe even three times, but never succeeded. I never got to know why it was so popular, since it seemed to be of a certain price. I assumed it was one of those places that you “simply couldn’t miss because it’s so exceptional” which seem to be hiding all around the city.

With time, and a little bit of learning, I was lucky enough to not only know, but also to study under the Chef de Cuisine who opened the place. The owner is the maître chocolatier Pierre Clauziel, who, according to what I’ve read, still considers Sundays sacred. He thus created a place where all of our chocolatey dreams get together… Ok, so that’s my personal interpretation of the aim of our chocolate master. In fact, he actually calls this place a Concept Store, since one can find in it a chocolate boutique, a chocolate bar, a restaurant, and even culinary workshops. But, just between you and me, I would consider this place to be a marvelous restaurant with a chocolate boutique next to it, plain and simple. Admittedly, however, I didn’t walk through the entire place, and as it would be expected, the place is still very special, for every dish served in the restaurant contains cocoa or chocolate in some form.

For this man, sharing joy is giving a bit of his time, discovering, tasting, licking his fingers, laughing, learning the language of chocolate and writing poems with it. Therefore, my dear reader, you can conclude from these lines, that the place is simply unique.

Finally, we were able to get a table in the middle of the week, and not on the day the Lord rested – ha! We went with some guests worthy of such pampering. The service was amazing, and the food was quite an adventure – and yes, I found chocolate and/or cocoa from beginning to end. Now, I could spend the next five lines listing everything we ate and had a chance to taste together with our guests, however, I think the best would be to say that this place is worth making time for, whether it’s a Sunday, or a Wednesday. If you find yourselves in the City of Lights, give yourselves the chance to stop by Un Dimanche à Paris and let yourselves be captivated by the young Chef Jean-Pierre Jullien and the marvelous chocolate of master Clauziel.

Some of the delicacies served throughout the night

Address: 4 Cours du Commerce Saint-André, 75006 Paris

Subway Station: Odéon

Phone Number: +33 (0)1 5681 1818

Rungis, the Biggest Farmer’s Market in Europe

I pick up the thread from my previous post about markets, specifically those in Paris, and the question presented at the end regarding where all the delicacies sold there, as well as those served at the restaurants of the French capital, come from. The answer is Rungis. A place I feel anybody who loves eating good food would think of  as a one-of-a-kind market. Then, my lucky day. I found a documentary on TV about it with tons of hard facts: it is located only 7 kilometers away from Paris. It is the biggest market of the Old World, and it has industrial-sized warehouses where all the products are distributed as follows: Seafood, Meats, Dairy, Fruits and Vegetables, as well as Cut Flowers and an Administrative building. Each one of these is classified by type and merchant. It employs more than 20,000 people and about 1,200 wholesale companies in charge of distributing as fresh a product as possible to about 18 million consumers.

Of course, talking about the figures and the 8.8 million Euros marketed here in just one year (according to the 2013 numbers), is quite easy, and quickly written, but to have taken Paris’ main market from the capital all the way to this site was a piece of work I dare to call titanic, since at no given moment did provisions stop being sold. 5 years of construction work, and the ‘move of the century’ between February 27 and March 1, 1969, made it possible for Rungis to be admired by so many around the world.

The most important question – and personal quest –  for this weird Mexican-Parisian person was how to find the way to get there, and how to get to know such a place, since most of the commercial activity takes place between 2:00 and 9:00 AM, as far as I was aware. The information available to me was limited, though correct, and said that by 7:00 in the morning sales would be over, therefore making it a bit difficult to arrive there in time. Another factor was that sales would only be available for clients registered in the market’s database. Having heard this, the requirements seemed excessive plenty, so I decided to leave it at that and dream about maybe one day getting to know the place just for kicks. 

Later, when I began my culinary arts studies, someone shared with me that it was possible to take a tour there with a guide. Nonetheless, the price seemed excessive: 80€ for a lookie no touchie was an impressive price in my head. There were some who went, I myself decided to wait until the school would take me there as a ‘pedagogical field trip’.

Thus, after going through two thirds of the training, the long-awaited moment to visit the sacred market arrived. The rendez-vous was at 4:00 AM just a couple of blocks from the school. We were all there on time; some sleepier than others, some by foot, others by taxi or even Uber. It was cold, but I feel we were all anxious to see the place in question and even though we were all in coats and jackets, had we been handed a pillow and a blanket, no one would have complained. 

Upon arrival to the first warehouse we received some disposable overalls, which were legally required for hygienic reasons. It was evident that we had arrived to the place closest to the Parisian coast. There is no sea here, but there was tuna, sea bass, sea bream, octopus… I even saw some red snapper, which isn’t very common around here. In fact, I had never seen them in this area. The guide showed us the products, the chef cleared  up a few doubts, we took many photographs. The visit finished when we arrived at the end of the unit and got to see small lobster farms, where a discussion began about which kind of lobster was better: the American, or the Breton. It was clear that among the French there was no doubt that the best product came from the Hexagon. For me, the most important piece of information was that 90% of what arrives to this unit is sold within 24 hours, since most of the orders are placed in advance.

Rungis is so big that moving from one unit to the next has to be done in a four-wheeler… so, the bus driver took the group to the next stop: Meats. I literally felt I was entering a walk-in refrigerator, which the chef confirmed was in fact the case. We were taught about product tracing and how the system was implemented due to the mad cow problem at the beginning of the 21st century. The carcasses were quite impressive. The meat looked beautiful. However, I learned that most of the produce coming in from other countries within the EU arrived already cut.

The third stop took us to the fruits and vegetables. I have to confess that my Aztec side surfaced quite quickly, since I immediately started looking for avocados, limes, mangoes, anything I could think of that might arrive from my country. I smiled more than once, when my classmates pointed at fruits they called exotic, and which for me were only star fruit, pitaya, or even a piece of yellow guava. How fortunate we are, those of us who come from a place bathed by sunlight all-year round!

 It was late and we couldn’t stop by one of the pavilions that I was looking forward to the most : The Dairy. The reason was that they were in their most important hour of commerce of the day, and we wouldn’t be welcome. Thus, we went to visit the unit which is the most difficult to manage : The Flowers. This is because the florists’ trading mainly takes place electronically from the Netherlands. Last, but definitely not least, we went to the pavilion in charge of hosting the small local producers. This last pavilion was of utmost interest to me, since they are farmers mostly from the Île-de-France region, who bring their products to compete with those from any other wholesaler. The merchant who probably attracted our attention the most was the one who had exotic herbs and blooms. He was so popular that he chose to look the other way for a bit, and sold little bunches of herbs to my classmates.

As we had some time left, the chef decided to entertain the pack by letting us roam around one of the stores where the school buys supplies such as spices, oils, and vinegars. Of course there were some better behaved than others – I got some spices that would be difficult, if not impossible, to find in my country of origin, or at the local supermarkets in the city.

The tour ended at around 9:00 in the morning. We went to have a quick breakfast at one of the restaurants on the premises. We got into the bus again, and most students fell gladly asleep just as the bus started to head back to Paris. There was no doubt that everyone had looked forward to this visit, and all I can say is that I would most definitely go there again if I had the chance.

Address: 1 Rue de la Tour, 94550 Chevilly-Larue, France

To visit the market, click here