Wednesday, December 27, 2006

From classroom to coalmine... oh, and happy b-day, Jeebus.

The collective meal at the awesome art squat Théâtre de Verre, next to Bonnes Nouvelles.

Gooey warm chocolate and Grand Marnier tart. Yes, it was as good as it looks. Hot and cold desserts class.

La Caprice: Oreo-coated black truffle ice cream with liquid cognac center and warm lemon madeleines. Hot and cold desserts class.

Yann Tiersen at Le Bataclan. My copine Christine is in the backround.

And the bow goes to.... !

And just like that, more than 8 months in Paris have flown by quicker than the blink of an eye. Spring, summer and fall have come and gone, Christmas has passed, and 24 weeks spent chez Lenôtre have blazed by in a sugary blur. My last week of class turned out to be my favorite, that being hot and cold plated desserts. Good desserts, ideas, and techniques-- and no superiority-complex jerks. All that remains as far as school goes is my exam, which I hope to pass in quiet solitude immediately after New Years. Naturally it's intimidating... especially given the fact that if I screw it up I have a quite narrow window before I return to the US in which I could redo it. Every single one of my other classmates have passed theirs, so hopefully I can follow suite with no major catastrophes.

I spent last week in production, where instead of sweating over a hot stove I instead froze slowly but surely to my core in a very cold lab as I put the finishing touches on a seemingly neverending number of bûches. The French take their jelly rolls seriously: designer bûches can easily fetch prices upwards of 100 euros, take last year's Lolita Lempicka, for example. This year Lenôtre collaborated with well-known architect Philippe Starck in creating a seemingly minimalist bûche, which was in fact anything but. I saw the (frankly quite unimposing) thing a few times at school, but not its fabrication. The labyrinth of production is extensive, and I was busy in my own world of red glitter-coated raspberries. I think a secret elite team took care of the Starck contraption. But as far as degustation goes, I actually had the good fortune to be able to taste a genuine homemade bûche out in La France Profonde with a clan of frenchies, at the end of a gargantuan meal that stretched until nearly 3 am. How did I end up in Denier? Grace à mon ami Benoît for inviting me, and of course the rest of the Lesieux family for having graciously hosted and humored a displaced americaine on Christmas Eve. Sadly, I was able to properly photo-document neither my personal record-breaking consumption of oysters nor the stark yet lovely countryside, as I lost my camera battery charger over a week ago (a regrettable occurence which I hope to rectify very soon). However, I have in the meantime been taking some pictures with my nifty fisheye camera, which I may be able to post eventually.

The distasteful task of preparing for the imminent trek back home is upon me. It's impressive how many things I have accumulated, not to mention all the stuff I plan to get before leaving, largely pastry-related. A substantial amount will likely stay behind, which is indeed practical but also a mind trick whereby I will be able to feel like I haven't left my life here in Paris for good.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Home stretch

As impossible and unthinkable as it may be, I am down to my last week of classes at Lenôtre, it being one of three plated desserts classes at the school (although I still have a week scheduled in production and then of course my exam). This past week I also was in plated desserts, which was excellent, despite a pronounced Genius French Man vs. Silly Foreign Girl group dynamic. Although not unusual, that divide was heightened this particular week by the mysterious alchemical ringleadership of the Hotshot Professional From A Certain Big Hotel... granted, this type of Jonesy exists everywhere in the world, but believe me when I say that they're that much worse when they're French. I would say the French culinary school breed of Jonesy can generally be identified by the following characteristics: consistent inability and/or unwillingness to clean up after himself partnered with the tendancy to make big messes, diminuitive stature (ok, that one is not always true), know-it-all attitude, and last but certainly not least-- thinly veiled chauvinism.
Anyhow, perhaps I'll expand on that note in a later retrospective on general French-American cultural differences from my point of view. For now I try to just roll my eyes and keep on working. Ya can't let Jonesy getcha down!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Happy Frenchgiving

Feasting on the bounty: Chris, yours truly and Benoît

Chris receives the medal for most food eaten, shown here with triumphant second helping of biscuits and gravy.

The green bean casserole.

Hannah, our Japanese contingent.

The dessert cart.

Let the last Sunday of November be known henceforth as Frenchgiving, and let it be good! And let there be a great overabundance of food in relation to the number of guests, and let there be many languages spoken among them.

The inaugural menu: green bean casserole (my way: haricots verts in a creamy mushroom sauce and topped with fried shallots), herbed stuffing (both vegetarian and with homemade pork sausage), buttermilk biscuits (yes, buttermilk can be found here under the name "lait fermenté"), gravy, gingery sweet potato pie (texture ended up a bit weird), apple crisp, assorted cheese, grapes, wine... and chicken wings that were to be in lieu of turkey but never ended up in the roasting pan. Sadly lacking was cranberry sauce or an analog thereof, though I hear it's available for a pretty penny at some expat-oriented stores such as the conspicously-named restaurant and grocery Thanksgiving in the 4ème. And I similarly missed the forethought to search out sage for the stuffing, a bit regrettable but forgivable nonetheless. Despite the fact that fewer people attended than had been anticipated, it was a success. We ate both excessively and well, which is after all the original act that knows no cultural boundaries.

All my photos of this momentous event in French history can be seen here.