Vignette: Power cut

Last night was fun; six tables reserved, about 25 covers and we’re halfway through serving the starters at 2030. I’ve just finished cleaning up the batterie of saucepans and whatnot from the prep and have half-drained my pots ‘n’ pans sink when the power goes off. I re-plug the sink and wander into the kitchen, where Chef is checking the fuses. I check my fuse box in the Plonge and it’s not us, so I go up the drive and look up and down the street. The traffic lights aren’t working, so it isn’t just us. In fact, it later turned out that about a million people throughout Provence had their electricity cut off because of a forest fire.

I collect my bike lamp and back in the kitchen we’re working by emergency exit lamps, torches, cigarette lighters and candles, and continue to do so until 2200. At about 2130 Chef comes to tell me that the emergency puit, the well-water supply has failed so that quarter sink of muddy brown water I’ve been using for the past hour is all there is. I use a sieve to strain out the big bits every now and then, and the Plonge gradually fills up with plates and saucepans.

But the service goes well and quite a lot of extra customers arrive when they work out that (a) they can’t cook themselves because they’re on all-electric deals, and (b) the restaurant down the road (us) cooks with gas so will have hot food. We light the restaurant with lots of candles and it’s very romantic for the customers. The Patissiers even find an old silver candelabra to light their workspace. I work by the light of my bike lamp.

Then at 10pm the ‘leccy comes back on, and I push everything I’ve stacked up through the dishwasher. I’d just been discussing with Chef whether to come back in the morning or afternoon tomorrow, assuming the power ever comes back on again and this isn’t just the end of the world – not a prospect I was relishing (coming back tomorrow, my half-day off, not the end of the world).

Chef sends me a stagaire to carry stuff back out into the kitchen, a very needed helper considering I have three hours worth of washing up to do in one hour. This particular stagaire is stupid even by stagaire standards; finding nothing to do during the power cut, he literally stood in a corner of the room next to the plonge, wedged between the wine fridges, for 45 minutes without moving. Weird.

He also thinks that the best way to clear the trays that hold the plates I put into the machine is bit by bit, picking things out of the two or three cleaned trays and leaving stuff in each one; I fiercely tell him to clear one tray at a time and then give it back to me so I can put more stuff into the machine, and he takes this advice badly – as he always does. I’ve tried telling him before that now he’s in the kitchen he has to work by kitchen rules, but he doesn’t believe me; he assumes he’s due the same respect and so on that he got in his former life (he’s 38 and a former accountant for the Epargne, the big French savings bank). He refuses to believe that, in the kitchen, as a stagiaire he’s less than nothing and even I, the Plongeur, out-rank him. The other night he refused to believe this so much that he shouted at me in my own Plonge that I had no right to tell him to take stuff out with him and put it back on the shelves if he didn’t feel like it, he didn’t see why he had to do things like that if he didn’t want to. This allowed me to shout back at him and wag my finger in his face, as well as using lots of French and English swear words. He didn’t speak to me for two days after this, which was a blessed relief – he only knows how to talk crap.

Anyway. Then the Patissier came along to help, too, having finished the puddings (and bringing me a plate of strawberries and almond ice-cream too, which was nice of him) so things really sped along.

In the end we were out of the building by 2330, about the same time we’d have finished normally. I just hope the finance director doesn’t hear that we managed to do most of a service without water or electricity – he’ll want us to do it like that every night.


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