Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Bonjour Carolllll"

The woman behind the scenes, washing every plate and small dish that goes out of the kitchen doors and into the beautiful dining room at La Fontaine Aux Perles is one of the hardest working women I've ever seen.

Her name is Carol.

I wish I could explain in print how to pronounce her name because it's one of my favorite things about her...and I suspect I'm not alone in my sentiment judging by everyone's greeting to her when she arrives at the beginning of service walking through the chaotic kitchen saying, "Bonjour Carol!" or "Bonsoir Carol!"
Her name is always said with the greeting and every time with an amazing thick accent. I love how much they appreciates her.

Carol is a petite woman with jet black hair that she always ties back with a blue scrunchy, drives a scooter (yes, a scooter) to work, I suspect is in her 40's and knows absolutely no English. This girls tough. She never wears gloves (the water is scorching and when plates come out of the dishwasher they are an unfathomable temperature) and runs back and forth from the dish pit with stacked piles of plates weighing some ridiculous amount. When I had to fill her place when she was sick I couldn't believe how heavy the stacked plates were! To top is all off, Carol's been working at La Fontaine Aux Perles for 10 years. I suppose that's why the noise from service and screaming chef never seem to phase her.

Above all though, she is incredibly thoughtful. She won me over the first day of work when, during service, she came around the busy kitchen with a tray of espresso and offered some to Gina and I along with the other 12-15 people working. How sweet! The next day she had already memorized that Gina likes her cafe black and I like mine with a cube of sugar. Truthfully, I only want my coffee maybe 1/5 of the time, but I always tell her I want one when she offers and I'm always so grateful. It's really the small things in life, the random acts of kindness that make such a huge difference. I don't care if I feel like coffee or not when she comes around, I just love that she takes pleasure in giving us a treat and connecting with all of us on this unique level.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

An American Gift

(I dare say, I've grown to love the strange milk here)

Isn't there something so nostalgic about chocolate chip cookies?
Last time I was in the states I decided the crew I work with needed to taste a REAL American chocolate chip cookie because they just don't exist here in France. You can find a chocolate chip cookie if you look hard enough but they're nothing like the ones I make, the best recipe in the world, the one and only Nestle Tollhouse. I love 'em, I love 'em so much.
I have tried dozens of other recipes but always come back to this one like a faithful friend.

I arrived home tonight after work determined to bake some for the morning shift tomorrow with the ingredients I brought back in my suitcase and now I'm up late on a serious sugar high.

Worth it.

Whenever I make chocolate chip cookies I can't help but think of my college roommates and their love for under-baked cookies. I'm a serious stickler about having my cookies baked perfectly. Not doughy, too crispy or overly dry but with a crunch that lets me know they were made with real butter.
Despite my strong feelings on the subject I still have their voices looming over me every time I attempt a batch... I don't think they would be proud of the morsels I made tonight (actually that one pictured in the center looks semi-doughy/worthy) and you know what maybe they're right and everyone else likes them doughy and maybe the Frenchies would too but they're a gift from me and my strange neurotic like for "perfectly" baked cookies. I think they'll still be devoured tomorrow, or rather I hope? Who doesn't like a homemade chocolate chip cookie anyway?

(I just had a flash nightmare thought of the plate tomorrow untouched at family meal and everyone talking French under their breathe as to not let me know they hate them...)

No way, not possible.

Monday, January 25, 2010


I saw this door on my walk through town yesterday and it made me smile.

I love the unique color (most doors are royal blue in Rennes) and the little heart encircling the's perfect!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

France Fact IV


French Chefs and the French alike can't get enough of their truffles.

In the states you see a lot of truffle oils and flavored truffle items like butter and...well, oil. Come to think of it, in California I had only seen truffle in the form of oil and maybe once or twice whole.

At the restaurant here we get in little jarred containers filled with shaved truffle that's been soaking in oil, which is my person favorite. It's delicious and has the consistency of jarred jalapenos or kimchi. They use it seasoning soups and sauces by emulsifying it in with an immersion blender. It is also a main ingredient to one of my favorite dishes at the restaurant- a fried piece of brie with this shaved truffle, fried in a pastry layer.

Mainly though, we have whole truffles. Lots of them. Usually black that I shave and then slice up into little julienne strips to be garnishes. We also get in white truffles, which are so neat! In my opinion these don't taste like much of anything, unfortunately. While Gina and I were shaving them one day we tried a few thin pieces and all we could taste is what I can imagine a wet cave tasting like and dirt!

So for the record, buy white truffle oil but stick to jarred and whole black truffles the next time you're in the mood to make something decadent. Right, like I'm going to be buying whole truffles when I go back to the states for my dinner parties...well, I guess you never know...

FACT: Did you know truffles grow underground and are sniffed out by special truffle smelling pigs? How awesome is that? Even more awesome is that there are dogs that do it too. I read an article recently about some up in Oregon here.

Chef Gesbert shaving white truffle into a veloute

lots of wet, black truffles...they were put into a jar with raw rice to be held in the fridge.

white truffles!

they're loved so much they even put shavings on dessert!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Ultimate Maxim Potato

The Maxim Potato and I have become good friends over the course of my externship. Since day one we've been bonding, getting to know one another and finding out new quirks along the way, like how they only like a pinch of salt and how I start out some days not excited about doing them but am always proud of how beautiful they look out of the oven.

There has been a slow morphing of the Maxim since I've been working here in regards to one of the few ingredients in it. This ingredient, the fat, started out being clarified butter, which in my opinion is the best and most fun to work with since it tricks my mind into thinking I'm sitting at a movie theater eating buttered popcorn about to watch a great show. This fun game lasted about a month or so until Chef had a better idea.

Duck fat. I mean, we are in France right? It was used for the Maxims and is also being used for the rest of the dishes at the restaurant. Instead of ladles of crystal butter poured into saute pans there are big aluminum cans of duck fat lying around, on top of the stoves to keep melted and stored in the back room overnight. Gina and I were initially disturbed with the "off" smell and texture but I warmed up once I experienced the tastiness of the finished product.

This past week there was yet another change, but this time only to the Maxim. What could be richer than using duck fat you ask? Oh, just the simple drippings that comes off of the foie gras we bake in the ovens! Oh goodness, this picture I've posted doesn't give it justice. The color is bright yellow and the smell, oh the smell! I wasn't sure exactly what it was until I stuck my nose in it to find out and I seriously almost got sick. I venture to say it is worse than that weird bird door from my flat back in Brest. In its defense, I don't think it's meant to be smelled so deeply in such close proximity.

I wanted to write this post to get your thoughts on foie gras. I struggle with my dislike for it since I usually feel awkward and judged around other foodies. "What?" they ask, "you don't like foie gras?," like I've committed some culinary crime. I watch people eat it here with such enjoyment and it makes me wonder if I'm missing something. The other day, one of the cooks, Hugo, took a slice of baguette and put a couple heaping tablespoons of foie gras on top and devoured it without a flinch saying it was his favorite food of all time. I was amazed, shocked, perplexed.

There is a lot of controversy right now surrounding the subject and I'm almost positive it is being outlawed in California this year due to the "inhumane" practices that surround it's fabrication.
Do you love it? Hate it? Indifferent?
If you enjoy foie gras and are interested in knowing about a really neat farm in Spain where practices are quite humane and wonderful Dan Barber of Blue Hill gives a great talk about it on
Just one more reason I should embrace the delicacy.

And, if you're interested in making your own crispy potato garnishes at home, here's how:

Maxim Potatoes

-Clarified butter (or your choice of fat...I even think regular whole butter would be great)
-Russet potatoes
-Mandoline to slice the potatoes about a centimeter thick
-Tephlon containers to bake them in (I think you could put them on a sheet pan and use ring molds too)
-a round cutter to make potatoes look perfectly round and uniform before slicing them.

1. With a pastry brush, put a thin layer of butter on bottom of pan
2. Layer potatoes, overlapping one another, like pictured below
3. Brush another layer of butter on top and sprinkle with just a bit of salt
4. Bake in a preheated, 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until golden brown on top

Saturday, January 16, 2010

UN g-l-a-m-o-r-o-u-s

I want to fill you in on the main reason working here is not as fabulous as you may think. Don't worry, I know you don't want to hear me blab on about how living in France is just not that exciting...even my mother doesn't want to hear that talk. I just want you to have perspective.

Everyday, no matter what, twice a day, I clean the trash cans outside the back door. Drag them out there, empty the trash into one of the five big dumpsters, spray the gunk off with soapy water, give a decent scrub to the areas that need it most, rinse with hot water and then re-bag them.
(I secretly love this job most days since it means taking a break from the piercing voice of Chef and the heat from the stovetops and, trash in French is "poubelle"...cutest word ever)

I also, on some days, do the dishes. We have a dishwasher who is in charge of all items coming from the front of the house such as plates and glassware, but she doesn't touch a thing from the kitchen.

I put on my latex gloves and I get down and dirty with big brissely sponges, yellow detergent soap and loads of pots, pans, bowls, hotel pans, steamer thingies, ladles, blenders, bain-maries...and other delightful crusted on pieces of metal.

When it's my turn to take a stab at the pile of dish mess I always enter with a positive attitude and undoubtedly by mid-wash I go into a self-pity coma. I can't help myself. I've tried most everything you can imagine to wipe the disgusted/irritable expression off my face and take joy in washing so many dishes but in the middle of the washing, when I feel all alone and can't see the light at the end of the dirty dish tunnel my skin crawls.
I try to think of how I'm being a good servant and how Jesus reminds us that "what you do for the least of these you do for me" and that I don't always have to do them but it doesn't help. Even reminding myself that everyone takes a turn, even the sous chef, and if this were California and I spoke as mush English as I do French I know I'd be designated dishwasher still doesn't help. The only thing that does is having someone in there sharing the burden.

This person usually comes in three quarters of my way through the mess, unloads the dishwasher and runs dishes back into the chaotic kitchen and then I feel better. Less alone, less irritated and resentful; I slowly come out of my rut. Yesterday one of the stages Jeremy came in to help and wanted to sing American songs. No, I take that back..he wanted me to sing him American songs. His favorite: "I believe I Can Fly" by R. Kelly. How could you not laugh and be in a good mood when someone requests you to sing R. Kelly?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I Hope You Can Ice Skate

railing at the metro station after work...ICE

Yesterday it hailed, rained and the sidewalks of Rennes turned to ice. Not only the sidewalks but everything you can imagine. The hand railings, door knobs, light posts, car doors...even the walls of the restaurant had a layer of ice on them!

This morning on my way to work I dealt with the remnants of the hail storm walking from my flat to the metro and then the 1/2 mile walk from the metro to the restaurant. I literally ice skated. It sounds fun and seems like it should be an easier way to go about the town but it's quite terrible. My body gets real tense and I feel like I can't bend my knees or I'll eat it. The few times I think that maybe, just maybe the ground looks de-iced and suitable for a normal step forward I end up doing the reverse moon walk and regret the decision immediately.

The good news is I had an enjoyable show put on by my fellow stage, Baptist, last night who ice skated/busted mad moves under a street light outside the restaurant as if he were in a night club doing back-up moves for the late Michael Jackson. I guess when life throws you ice you should ice dance? Yes. Take that as a lesson.

(my walk to work this morning...the ground looks wet but it's actually one big ice sheet...yes, it fooled me too)