Potage, Potage et Plus de Potage
The first week has just whizzed past me. I’ve experienced various emotions during the past five days:
1. Anxiety: Monday morning I had a number of doubts going through my mind – Am I doing the right thing? What if I am totally hopeless with a kitchen knife? What if I wretch all over a €50 per kilo hunk of meat I’ve been given to make a meal out of? Will I make any friends?
2. Apprehension: Tuesday morning, after we got a full briefing of the curriculum I was worrying about whether my internship was going to be just like banking but worse (horrid hours, horrid pay) and if I could hack it. Also, would I pass this course with my limited meat knowledge? Some of my classmates are already experienced professionals in the industry, how would I catch up to that level?
3. Disgust: Wednesday morning we made our first potage, “Potage Cultivateur”. Carrots, turnips, celery, leeks, potatoes. All chopped up small and uniform and turned into a bland farmer’s soup. Even though the dish wasn’t one of the most exciting ever, the point of the lesson was to get us accustomed to peeling and chopping. Exhilerated by my new skills I rush home on the Ligne 4 Metro at 17:30, which I suppose is peak-time universally. All the carriages were packed in tightly except for the last one, which was completely empty. Aha! I get in and get blasted by a rancid stench. I spot a long, fresh, breathing, man turd on the floor near a seat, surrounded by what I believed to be pee streams. Before I could turn around and jump out into another carriage I got locked in by the doors all by myself, with a big piece of human $h!t (before anyone doubts me on my excrement identification skills, lemme just say that I think I would know the difference between human and dog poo). Yes, it was disgusting. What’s even more disturbing is that I wonder what kind of person has the guts to defecate on public transport during daytime on a very busy Metro line?
4. Optimism: Thursday morning we get to peel and prep lots of onions, shallots and garlic using different techniques – ciseler (finely chopped), hacher (bit less finely chopped), émincer (sliced thin), écraser (crushed). Lots of tears were shed, but luckily not much blood.
Chopping is therapeutic. My mind is focused on getting the veggies sized just so in repetitive and uniform knife strokes. I feel calm and content in my own space in the kitchen, and if there are moments like this in a typical work day then this is definitely what I want.
I’m also getting to know a few of my classmates well, and I may be quick to judge but I can sense the presence of the token over-bearing, over-confident, over-everthing megalomaniac in the kitchen but that makes the day more interesting. Overall, I’m glad I’m amongst people all day long that have the one common interest no matter all the other differences – Good Food.
Thursday evening my landlady gave me some great news as well: I can bring my ginormous sofa through the window as it won’t fit through the hallway. Soon I can watch Dexter on loop perched on the beautiful sinky-inny couch!
5. Relief: Friday afternoon we embarked on the usual peeling and prepping mission using a mandolin, and learnt how to make Potage Julienne Darblay (hot leek & potato soup with julienned veggies) and Crème Vichyssoise (cold leek & potato soup) in 5 hours. Those 5 hours felt like 40 minutes. The mandolin looked like an instrument of torture that was promising to émincer my hands but surprisingly it was lots of fun to use. Somehow, I was having way too much fun peeling, chopping and slicing that I took my own sweet time doing it all and before I knew it some of my classmates were already plating up. Yikes. So I kicked myself into super speed mode and nothing ever good comes out of Shmii’s super speed mode.
The verdict on my Potage Julienne Darblay was that the veg was done nicely but the consistency was too thin and it was underseasoned (this has been the same complaint for each soup I’ve shown him this week). I was pretty sure I was careful with adding the salt in gradually so that it came to what was a normal and healthy level. So when I got to plating my second soup, I had completely forgotten to season it enough and took a handful of salt and dumped it in before rushing to him. I was scared to look at Chef’s face when he tasted it, in case it went red and he fell to the floor. “Très bien.” WHAT?! “Oui, C’est bon.” Marvelous. Ratio of leek & potato to salt = 1:10.
Knowing that I’ve made a good decision for myself is such a good feeling. It’s a relief. This course is going to be more challenging than anything I’ve done before (including the crazy 17 mile crazy sea kayak trip, and my first year as an analyst working for psychotic hyena boss) and I’m enjoying waking up at 06:00 everyday for it. Who would’ve thought?