Chapter 6: Overworked

I was on quite a high after last week’s class, to be honest, despite being told that my jogging bottoms are not smart enough to wear in public. This week brings me right down with a large bump.
It didn’t help that I’d spent a great weekend welcoming old friends to Avignon, showing off my new cooking skills to them; they were all very complementary and I was feeling pretty good about my work. It didn’t help either that I’d woken up this Monday morning with an absolutely terrible cold,
Everyone was either off sick (six out of 17 of us), or should be off sick (me, Eric and David to name just three) or in a really foul mood (absolutely everyone, Chef included and especially).
We spent the morning from 9 to midday doing what should have been about half an hour’s work which we didn’t finish until gone 1215 because Chef decided at the last minute to get us to do some goujons of the merlan fish we’d been preparing, and make a tartare sauce to go with it. By ‘last minute’ I mean five to twelve; we’d spent the morning just cleaning the merlan and making pastry.
This meant that there was a HUGE queue at the canteen for lunch. Luckily I’ve mastered the art of queuing French-style, so I dragged Eric, David and Laurence along behind me and just pushed in at the front; luckily, again, we’re all elderly persons so the teenagers in the queue don’t have the courage to say ‘boo’ to us. Either that or they thought we were teachers. And anyway, we needed to be at the front to give us time to go and get a coffee afterwards.
Most of the pupils at the cookery school are teenagers going through their normal high-school years, just with added cooking. They do classes in maths, history, physics, English and so on and also spend a few half-days a week learning how to cook. We’re supposed to be doing their entire full-time, two-year curriculum in one day per week over one year, and in fact we learn that we do more TPs – Travails Pratiques or practical work – per week than they do. Sometimes they go a fortnight without lighting a gas burner, the poor things.
Every week Chef gives us an hour of classes about cooking – well, sort of, it usually descends into a discussion about whether or not Puy lentils are really superior, is Métro (a big restaurant wholesale chain) or Auchan (a regular supermarket) cheaper, and the best way to cook a coypu – and then an hour with another teacher, either about ‘hygiene’, basic catering hygiene, or Droit, business administration. This week straight after lunch we had ‘droit’ which is frankly the most boring class I have ever taken, and I used to get Old Tom for Physics classes, so I know what I’m talking about here.
Today, we had to fill in a stationery order form. Yep, an order form for stationery. I am not making this up: here’s a Post-It note from your boss saying he wants pens, pencils and stuff, so fill in the stationery order form. (OK get in the zone, imagine you’re a stagiaire in an office, right? OK, are you in the zone?) Absolute nonsense..
After that Chef clearly had Something Else he needed to be doing somewhere other than in the kitchen with us, so he loaded us down with a good five or six hours worth of work to finish between 2pm and going home time at 6pm, recipes and techniques we already knew so we didn’t need to keep asking him how to do stuff.
So we did lemon meringue tart and fish mousselines and braised endives and turned potatoes (pommes chateau, in fact; all the same size with seven equal sides) and made fumet (fish stock) and reduced it down for a sauce and peeled lemons ‘à vif’ and cooked who knows what else and didn’t finish until half-past six. Then Chef told me my sauce was a ‘funny colour’ and gave me a minus mark for it without tasting it – or anything else – on my plate, so I just walked away and left him to throw it in the bin. The sauce, let me tell you, was absolutely delicious and the EXACT same colour as David’s, which was ‘perfect’.


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