Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The land of the jockeys!

So, at École Lenôtre there lies a magical and insane kingdom, not unlike that of the Keebler elves, oompa loompas, or the jockeys. The noticeable difference is that the workers are all human, and also that they're not wearing silly outfits of any kind, unless you count hair bonnets (or chef coats for that matter).
I know this because we took a three-hour tour of the production facilities today, which is a labyrinthine array of walk-in coolers (unprepped vegetables, prepped vegetables, meat, fish, cheese, dairy... all of whose cooler doors have a color corresponding with various prep rooms), freezers, vegtable washing areas, vegetable pre-prepping rooms, pre-prepped vegetable prepping rooms (no joke!), beef butchering rooms, poultry butchering rooms, dishwashing areas, a chocolate wing including a showpiece area (with copper bowls the size of small countries in the melting/ tempering room), an entire viennoisserie room with maybe a dozen sheeters, the pastry baking area for both sweet and savory, sugar showpieces/ decor, an ice cream kitchen, blast freezers (-60), various loading docks, savory cooking, petits fours assembly, canapés assembly, canapés finishing, yet more walk-ins for finished product orders that are ready for transport, a bread bakery in its own building with not only deck and rack ovens but also an enormous (Llopis I assume?) rotating-deck wood-fired oven, and all the many proofer/ retarders and other equipment you would expect (and only oblique mixers, no spiral).... But the most amazing thing about the whole operation is the QUALITY. This is no dumpy operation that's pumping out thousands of units that look crappy, or even only mediocre, or even only "pretty nice." No, each piece that I saw looked perfect, and from what I was able to try it tastes as such. And the raw material that you see arriving accounts for much of this quality-- there's no transformation of half-assed product going on. In the fish cooler there was two speed racks of salmon sides curing. In the meat cooler there were partial sides of beef hanging (and did I mention that temperature and sometimes humidity is controlled in the various areas accordingly? And that the rooms are washable?). In one class we visited they were shucking live scallops and meticulously segmenting live little crustaceans (like crawdads but not..?).
By the end of the day I felt totally dazed. Feel totally dazed. It was far beyond my ability to take all of it in while simultaneously trying to understand what was being said. On that note, however, today I became suspicious that I may in fact understand (yet not necessarily speak) French the best of us non-Frenchies (who make up more than half the class), something I find surprising to say the least. I'm not totally sure, but that's the impression I get, which was reinforced by the discovery that two other women in the class speak english quite well and were asking me for clarification. And one of the French guys speaks english quite fluently too, so it appears my allies are growing. Not that I want to avoid speaking French, but it's nice to know.....
On an entirely separate note, Paris' public transit seemed to be running pretty much fine today as far as I could tell. Still don't know of course what will happen with the CPE...

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