Vignette: Soirée Vigneron and Stagiaires

We did 98 covers last night for our ‘Soirée champagne’ – six courses starting with Carpaccio de St Jacques and finishing with moelleux de chocolat. We’ve been doing the prep for this for two or three days and it all went well, but I didn’t get out of the joint until gone half-past one this morning; the waitrons were still there when I turned out the light in the plonge, poor things.

I often wonder what waiters think, in the same way you wonder what your dog is thinking. I reckon it goes something like this: “Hmm, where’s my arse gone? I’ll have a quick look with my left hand….nope, nothing. I know, I’ll try my right hand…nope. Ah, I know! (light bulb pops up over head) – I’ll search for my arse with BOTH hands…nope, still nothing.”

Not that I’m trying to disparage waiters, you understand. They do a good enough job of that for themselves. Like, “Scrape the plates into the bin before you give them to me.” Last night I kept a 2.5 litre ice cream carton handy to dredge the bits of food and salad leaves and slices of bread out of my sink – just the ‘morceaux’ they’d left on the plates. How can you think you’ve scraped and stacked a plate when there’s a half-inch gap in the middle where it’s still covered with cheese, bread and mâche, lamb’s ear lettuce?

Luckily for me I had a stagaire assigned to plate removal duty; washing 800 plates is hard enough, but carrying them all back out into the kitchen as well would be impossible. And, for once, after a few kickings and repeated explanations (that’s right, dry them AFTER they’ve been through the dishwasher…) he did OK.

And luckily for me the Seconde de Cuisine and the Chef de Partie (entrées) came and helped dry the cutlery; 1,600 knives, forks and spoons take a LONG time to wash and even longer to dry.

It’s a lot of plates and cutlery because they all had amuse bouches, starters (two plates), main course (two plates), cheese and pudding (a plate and a soufflée dish, chef doing his special raspberry soufflées for pudding). Which means 100 x 8 = 800 plates plus all the batterie, the saucepans and what have you to assemble all this. Busy night for me. I was reading a restaurant review the other day where I was invited to have pity on the poor plongeurs who between the three of them have to do up to 600 plates a night (a fourth one does the pots and pans). Slackers.

The thing which takes most of my time is taking the cleaned pots and plates back out into the kitchen, especially difficult when the five cooks are working an assembly line to plate up those 1000 dinners and you can’t get by them but have to anyway because there’s simply no room anywhere in the plonge for the next load of stuff that’s about to come steaming out of the machine. Luckily chef and his seconde and the new chef de partie are all professional enough to take an armful of stuff out with them when they pass by, which helps a lot.

The stagaires don’t, of course. We have a new one who Knows Everything – he explained his recipe which he’d invented by himself and which was his recipe and he had designed it all by himself and which was his recipe (etc…) for a dish which involves slicing a choux bun in half, sandwiching in a boule of glace vanille, putting it on a plate decorated with a little creme anglaise, adding a few more similar buns and then covering them with hot chocolate.

The silence which followed the announcement of this Great New Recipe was broken by Chef saying, “So, profiteroles then?”

And then he insisted on speaking English to me all night. Very, very bad English, presumably on the grounds that my French is so appalling only everyone else in the restaurant can understand it. So when someone arrives in the plonge with a hot saucepan they normally cry, “Chaud!” to warn me it’s hot. This one arrived shouting, “Cold!” I thought he was trying to make a joke, but it turned out he thought “Cold!” means “Hot”. He has an English exam on Wednesday, apparently, and offered me €100 to sit it for him…

Anyway. So I finished late. And chef insisted I eat two of his soufflées which were, frankly, delicious. Choose them if they’re on the menu.


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