Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Saying goodbye to the Plaza Athénée

Just over a year ago, I wrote a blog post called "Finding the Masters." It was a blog post about how at that stage in my life I needed to find people who would essentially teach me what I needed to know.  



Back then, I was looking for a more intensive training, somewhere where passionate professionals would teach me a thing or two about the job.

I worked for six months as an intern in the pastry lab, working long hours and being taught by the very best.  I knew I was so lucky to have been accepted there and despite the hard work I was willing to put up with everything.  Every day was an adventure and every day I would leave either overwhelmed with inspiration or bawling my eyes out.  There never seemed to be much in between.   




In turn, I created a bond with each team member.  There were moments of love and care, laughter and joy, as there were also moments of anger and hurt, frustration and stress.  I don't think I have ever learnt any lesson more instructive than the one I learnt about there, which I'd like to say is cake, but is actually: humans. 


When I went to work as an intern, every day was difficult.  I was refused certain tasks because I was not quick enough at doing them.  However, I was allowed to make errors, and in the evening I would practice certain techniques which these pastry masters would teach me.  In turn, they would spend hours after work showing me how to make "rosaces" (rose shaped cream piping)
or "quenelles" (beautiful ice cream shapes) as well as advise me on certain pastry and cakes I would present them with.  I never realised that there were people out there who were willing to sacrifice their own time for someone else, over and over again.

After about five months of working as an intern, I asked my head chef Jean-Marie Hiblot if there was any way I could continue working there after my internship.  I couldn't quite believe how he offered me a job as a commis pastry chef.  At the end of the day, the work I had been doing (basically for free) had been in some way accumulated to offering me a solid position in the team.     


The kindness and patience that each team member had put into training me up to essentially, "be one of them" was enormous.  As they had accepted me all those months ago, they re-accepted me again.    

Working as a commis and working as an intern was a whole different story.  It was the same work, the same team, the same hours but what was expected of me was something that I had never been able to do before.  Not only work well, but also take full responsibility and show that I know this shit, not forget it, focus and do it not to the best I can, but to what was expected there.  The severity and rigidness of working to such perfection would sometimes drive me mad.  

I rebelled quite a few times about this.  I would go home and ask myself, "do I have to be an arsehole to be respected?" I asked everyone how you can be an arsehole? What qualities do arseholes have? Do they hate everything? 

Fortunately for many, I never became an arsehole, because I realised that the guys that are arseholes are actually the nicest guys, the ones that care enough to be arseholes? Hear me out.  If someone can yell so much about those utensils not being perfectly aligned,  it's not him being an arsehole it's because he genuinely believes that an orderly kitchen is VITAL to a sane working environment.  Blogfriend, I did not learn this overnight.  I think it took me over a year to process this information.

The last month working at the Plaza Athenee, I finally saw myself change for the better.  I think I kind of became a woman rather than a girl, and all of a sudden the respect that I gained got me confused about how to come about this new level of being.  I'm not saying I have become someone strict or rude, but more that I've become aware of the importance of responsibility, discipline and hard work.  

I'd just like to say thanks to those guys.