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estudiante de artes culinarias – La Gourmandista

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Etiqueta: estudiante de artes culinarias

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.

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.

After 9 Months of Culinary Training, My last Dish!

Yes, in this post I am going to talk about that last stretch whenever one is just about to finish a project, the school year, whatever… Several posts ago I talked about 5-hour ‘Ateliers’ in the kitchen which prepared the students for the final exam. Quickly, the moment during which one doesn’t even know what your own name is, arrived. However, even though the accomplishment can almost be touched, there’s that last 100-meter sprint one’s still missing. I’m sure you all know what I mean.

Proposed Starter: Roasted quail scored with aromatic herbs and bathed in its jus. On the side, a green salad and pea purée.

 Needless to say, this aspiring Cuisine Diploma graduate hadn’t taken an exam causing so many butterflies in my stomach in many moons. So, I had not only to prepare in the theory and practice of the test in question, but also in the emotional aspect of it all. The first part of the exam was the written part, and even though this was no worry for any of the students, it was a good source to score points which may come in handy in the final average. Then, we had what I deemed was the most important test of them all, the practical. This exam lasted 4 hours, hence, one hour less than the workshops did, which complicated the ‘gig’ quite a bit. During all this time, where every minute I think was of vital importance to take the most advantage as possible, I had to prepare a two service-meal which would include: A starter course created with one sole deboned quail. Additionally, on the side there had to be a purée, a vinaigrette and a sauce or jus, plus another twenty or so products. Afterwards, I had to reproduce an entrée whose elements had been prepared throughout the session. To be able to obtain the recipe, we had a list of ingredients and a photograph. To have perfect cooking and seasoning was not only of utmost importance, but the plating had to be as planned, and of course, within the allotted time frame. If the candidate were to serve any of the plates late, a 2% of the final grade would be deducted per minute; very expensive. This could put anyone in serious trouble. Lastly, all the work plan had to be presented in a written dossier either in English or in French, in order to allow the Chefs to know beforehand how the preparations would be worked, and what they could expect before tasting. At the end of the day, surprisingly, I felt more at ease in French.

Compulsory Dish

Quite honestly, I have got to say that even though I had invested hours and hours to plan my dish and although I had trained both recipes at home, I wasn’t totally sure to come out of the kitchen knowingly I had done a good job. I didn’t know if I had been able to conquer the taste buds of the jury. At home, my test run had been good, but it had taken me more than the four hours I were to have the day of the exam. I had to do my best and expect no problems whatsoever. Therefore, I made a very detailed plan (color coded and even play by play) in order for stress and nerves no to take over me.

So, I arrived to school very anticipatedly. I was ready and in front of the kitchen door waiting to enter at least 20 minutes before my starting time (10:30 AM). Just as per the rules stated, the Chef in charge of giving the exam let me enter the kitchen 10 minutes before I were to begin, so I could set up in my station. I took out my notes, the necessary utensils, turned on the fires and the oven, and took the necessary ingredients to my fridge.

As the clock stroke 10:30 on the dot, I started to cook full speed ahead, following the order I had set in my work plan. The minutes passed by extremely fast. In my perception, never had I felt time pass by so fast; promise. For a moment, I felt in despair, for I felt I was not advancing in my list, but as I pulled myself together, I realized I was doing everything as planned and on on time; at least according to my calculation. At 2:00 PM I sent out my starter course, and precisely 30 minutes later, my main course went out. Now, all I had to do was clean and patiently wait. I was so nervous. I had given it my best shot. I felt no big mistakes had been done, even though I wasn’t completely comfortable with the sauce accompanying my fish, but matter of factly, it was the only aspect that disturbed me a tiny bit. Truly, there was nothing that wouldn’t let me sleep that night.

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