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culinary arts student – La Gourmandista

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Etiqueta: culinary arts student

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.

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.

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.

From Ensenada To Mérida and all the Way to Paris: Ven a Comer (Come to Eat)

Me and my classmates have been learning how to cook meat ‘saignante’, which literally means it has to still be bloody for months. We’re learning how to differentiate between Pont Neuf and Anna potatoes -both of them are very different, yet they’re both potatoes. Thus, when the administration employees went looking for volunteers to talk about habanero and pasilla chiles, and even black recado, I don’t have to emphasize how much I wanted to help out, since surely I was not only going to learn, but I would have the chance to get to know and work hand in hand with some of the big ones from back home.

Two days of masterclasses during the afternoon, but we had to be there at the break of dawn in order to have everything ready just as if we were going to have a small service, for a tasting would take place, and we were expecting about a 100 people to attend, and yes, we only had a few hours to get ready. The rendez-vous was in no restaurant, but in a two-story gallery which had been very well prepared for us to work in the lower level, while upstairs everything had been set up as a television studio for the demonstration to take place. The city was just waking up; it was 7:30AM. Mexico was already sleeping; it was past midnight.

Chef González Beristáin giving his class

My role was to give a helping hand as much as I could. I was to peel carrots, score the duck breasts, and serve as a communicating liaison between the organizing French speakers, and the Spanish-speaking cooks. Up to there, no problem whatsoever. I had already learned so much, and the show hadn’t even begun.

The first team began to work. The chef, a big name: Guillermo González Beristáin, and he was accompanied by his sous chefs. His restaurant: Pangea in Monterrey, right there by the Cerro de la Silla. The mission: A duck breast accompanied by a foie gras sauce and red mole, a pickled carrot purée, and a pickled red onion gelatin.

The clock was now striking three o’clock in the afternoon. We’d had lunch and taken a break. The class was about to begin. During that time, the second team arrived. The chef, even though unknown to me, I was very curious to hear to attend his class. His name: Ángel Vázquez. He would be cooking with his sous chef, who was also his wife. His restaurant: Intro, in Puebla, probably the most important Mexican city in Culinary history, I believe. The mission: A ceviche tostada made from dry shrimp, but I would not see their prep work, I would actually get to sit down in their class. How curious was I!

The Chefs & I: Guillermo González Beristáin, Diego Hernández Baquedano, Franck Poupard, and Ángel Vázquez

 The people started to arrive and take their seats. We knew it would be broadcasted via Livestream… ¡I was so excited! Well, up until the moment when the lights, the microphones, the cameras, and the enormous amount of cables made me conscious that we were live and that it was available anywhere around the globe.

The class began sharply on time. Some of my teachers, as well as my classmates were in the audience. I was so proud that they could get to see just a bit of everything my Aztec land has to offer. The chef made his presentation, and then I participated in the plating of his delicacies. Between you and I, everything was sweating -even my earlobes- because I couldn’t deny it, I was shaking, and before all those lamps and cameras, the only thing I could do was focus and act quickly, for this rookie apprentice was next to world-class professionals. In the end, everything turned out marvelously. The second presentation went more smoothly, and since I was without any stress whatsoever, I could enjoy not only the chef’s teachings, but also a small bite of what he prepared, while I had the chance to say hello to all those familiar faces I found in the event.

On the second day we began again at dawn. Today, the trip would take us in a couple of breaths to the northeast part of the country, right there by the vineyards of the Guadalupe Valley in the city of Ensenada, in the State of Baja California, and then all the way down to the southeast to the place where there are no jokes, but ‘bombs’… yes, ‘bomb’ means joke in Yucatán. I got to work with Diego Hernández Baquedano. I had recently watched a documentary about him not long ago, even though I wasn’t familiar with his cuisine. His restaurant, Corazón de Tierra in Ensenada, was already in my ‘go-to’ list and hope I get the chance to go eat there, soon. Diego, who also went with his sous chef, presented a tamal, but this had nothing to do with anything I had tasted before. I understand, however, this is one of the classic preparations in his restaurant, even though some adjustments had to be done due to ingredient constraint. They called it a Celery Strained Tamal with duck and red mole. The tasting was served in a very modern way; in a verrine. It was so good. How innocent had I been, for I thought I wasn’t going to discover much… it was such a great surprise to see my country’s gastronomy have so many new proposals.

Last, but definitely not least, Roberto Solís entered the scene. He brought us a black recado taco. When I read the program I thought it was to die for, and made no mistake. It was awesome! He came from the very opposite edge of the country; from the southeast peninsula. His restaurant: Néctar. Honestly, I had never heard about him or his restaurant, but in my defense, I haven’t been to the beautiful Mérida in over 20 years. I think it’s time to go and discover what people are doing there.

An enormous alebrije making an appearance at the park of La VilletteThe event passed by so fast, but I felt as if a truck had run me over. I had worked between 18 and 20 hours between both days. I was so tired, but so happy, and no one could take that away from me. On the weekend and more relaxed, we went with some friends to taste the tacos prepared by the chefs in the food trucks installed at the very popular parc of La Villete. The best, apart from the revisited indigenous delicacies, was to have the chance to talk with them with no formality whatsoever and even share a beer in the midst of the Parisian summer. So much was there to learn from them, so proud was I to share with my friends from all over the world my country’s richness. I’m still grateful for it, and to keep on discovering this universe, that even though I know it isn’t endless, now, I feel it is.

A Small Step, but My Own Giant Leap

Since I was 8 years old, I found my special place at our home’s kitchen. And even until last December, I was just a small home cook passionate about eating well at preparing good food for my people in order to pamper them, to treat us, to share it with our friends and adorn our table, but moreover, it was for me, to enjoy myself, to de-stress. I was an expat who had to find a way in order to recreate the flavors from a faraway land which we missed and learn how to mix it with the new ones.

Firstly, I learned how to make tortillas. Before, I just had to go and buy them. Then, I searched for specific recipes for things I wanted to prepare, such as pan de muerto for the Day of the Dead, or Rosca de Reyes for Epiphany, or even tamales for February 2 to celebrate Candlemas. Lastly, I was courageous enough to prepare dishes from our new home, and I did so with a Quiche Lorraine just the way Mrs. Guyon (or Mamie Gigi for the grandchildren, a.k.a the mother of our dear friend Stéphane) does it, and then even a pot of Bœuf Bourguignon according to the instructions in the cookbook of the very important French Chef, Mr. Paul Bocuse. And it was just then, when I realized I was living in the Mecca of world gastronomy, and therefore decided to follow upon a childhood dream which I had ignored for almost 20 years.

The beginning was more than 8 months ago, and I can’t find any word which may better describe my passage by the kitchens of Le Cordon Bleu than a whole adventure in itself. I thought I had come to learn French Cuisine, and in fact, I learnt everything again from scratch. How to hold a Chef’s Knife and take care of any product since the very first Lemon Sole I found myself in front of, and which I had to cut to obtain its filets. A few months later, I was capable of deboning a whole chicken almost without any tears. I got to know new products and learned the difference between a jus and a sauce. Towards the end of the journey, I even had the courage to create new recipes.

And even when there has been a lot of acquisition, I am sure this is just the beginning. I have to keep on working, training myself to master it all. Evidently, I would have loved more training, more theory, more direction in plating, and more hours dedicated to matching wines with different plates, but professions are not just learned at school. One has to fly to become a pilot.

Life brought me to Paris for a specific reason, and while walking my own path, I chose to live this amazing culinary adventure. The diversity of nationalities found in the group of students made the classes richer, but thanks to most of the Instructor Chefs being French and evidently holding on to the savoir-faire of their ancestors, the training became unique in its class.

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