Vignette: Real Work

I actually enjoy the washing up. No, really, I do. There is, to me, immense satisfaction in making something clean. Really clean. As in, cleaner than the last person who cleaned it left it. So today I have at some of the aluminium oven pans which are, shall we say politely, a tad neglected. Five kilos of elbow grease later and voila, clean. Cleaner anyway, some of them are a tad beyond hope.

And then Chef gets me to clean up the salmon he’s just brought in. Cut out the gills, scrape off the scales, give them a good wash.

Next, the encornets – baby squids. These are even more fun: pull out the insides, peel off the tissue-thin skin membrane, separate out the body parts, cut off the tentacles, remove the cartilage. All very satisfying.

And finally the greatest challenge, 50 ecrevisses, small fresh water lobsters for want of a better word. 50 live ecrevisses, that is. The secret here is to keep them in the fridge for an hour or two first, which calms them right down. Then, you remove that vein that runs up their spines (or where their spines would be if they weren’t crustaceans) by gripping and gently twisting the middle paddle in their tails and pulling the whole thing out in one go – it looks rather blue in the middle, a navy blue compared to the very dark blue of the ink of the squids.

About 20 ecrevisses into the pile, the heat of the kitchen starts waking them up and they begin to fight each other. And then one of them decides to fight back against me and pinches my finger, so I finish them off working in the walk-in fridge – with a good few handfuls of ice cubes in their container to help calm them down a bit more. You can’t blame them really, I suppose – how would you react to someone trying to pull out your intestinal tract via your bottom?

Yesterday I got to do some vegetables too: endives – just pull off the dirty outer leaves – and then some carrots and courgettes, cut en biseau – basically, round off all the sharp edges of the pyramid-shaped cuts to make sure the clients don’t hurt their delicate mouths.

And we eat well at lunchtime again: roti de veau stuffed with foie gras; roast chicken; pate de campagne; and then a special huge brioche stuffed with sweeties of some kind.

It’s not all hard work, you know.


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