Sunday, 21 October 2018

La Cuisine - Staging in a French Kitchen

Salut! Just another quick update from Narbonne. 

Chateau L'Hospitalet - Where I work and live

For my second blog I have decided to further focus on the work aspect of my time in Chateau L’Hospitalet. After being here over a month, I can finally say I am well settled into my little French kitchen.

The hotel entrance
You may remember I mentioned in my first blog that before I arrived, I had requested to spend my time here working in the pastry section of the kitchen. I had never worked in a pastry section of a fine-dining kitchen, so I knew it would be good to experience. I also hadn’t worked in pastry for quite some time, therefore I was eager to get back into what I first started out at.

A lunch special, Beetroot and Avocado dessert

One thing I will note straight away is that the hours here are pretty nice as far as kitchen hours go. We all work Tuesday to Saturday. We have split shifts, 9.00-15.30 and then 18.00-Finish. Finish can sometimes be as late as 1.30 am but the guaranteed long break really makes a huge difference.  We also don’t usually start until 5pm on a Saturday so we really have 2.5 days off. I think these hours really have a huge benefit on everyone in the kitchen. Nobody is ever burnt out and it makes for a more productive day and better end results.

Chocolate Dessert for an event

My accommodation is only a two-minute walk from the kitchen, so my alarm is never set too early. I start each day with a café & pain au chocolat at hand. The quintessential French breakfast. 
There is a different dessert every day on the menu for lunch so the three of us working in the pastry section divide the workload so that it all comes together before service, which begins at 1 pm. The head pastry chef is aware that I want to learn as much as possible so always gives me something new to try. This is something I absolutely love about the kitchen. No two days are ever the same. From brioche to ice-creams, there is always something to learn or a unique flavour to try. There are usually 30-40 covers for lunch, sometimes even less. It makes for a pretty relaxed service. We then clear up, prep any essentials for the set evening menu and head on break.
Apple Dessert

The evening menu never differs too much during the weekdays unless there is an event. In this case, the whole kitchen comes together to help plate up each part of the meal. Because there are many elements to each dish, it is usually quite time consuming. Many hands make light work. Events are most often kept for the weekends, with the highlight being a Jazz night every Friday. We have also done an outdoor BBQ, a canapé party and more. I always find it most interesting to see how different the menu is each time despite the larger covers when needed. There is never much repetitiveness.

Bergamot Dessert

Of course, nothing but the best of local ingredients and equipment (2 pacojets!) are available to use in the kitchen. It ensures the end result is always the best it can be. I have been lucky enough to have learnt many new recipes and techniques which I simply would never have seen in Ireland. And while it will take another few attempts to fully perfect my batches of macarons and cremeux, time and practice is all that is needed. 
I am also very lucky to be in an environment in which it is never a problem to ask questions or to admit I have absolutely no idea what I was told (The French can be a problem). And while there are days mistakes are made and techniques prove to be quite difficult it is a learning experience after all.

Plating up for an event

This style of food is something I have never delved into. I am a fan of simple, wholesome food, veggie if possible. Therefore, beginning work each day with tweezers as an essential was something I absolutely was not used to. It is however, something I have learnt to appreciate. The amount of time and effort that goes into creating the numerous elements for each dish is amazing. It really is an art. It is also great to see that as amazing as a dish can look, its flavour can always match if not better the appearance.

Crepe party for staff!

The staff are treated very well in the kitchen. Our meals are always pretty decent, and there are often spontaneous after-service wine tastings weekly. Perks of the job! Though I admit it can often be lonely living here due to the isolated location of the hotel, I always look forward to work. There is a family spirit in the kitchen. We often sit down and eat together or have mid-service crepe parties just because we can. Work is never something I overly dread, which is a huge difference to my past few jobs!

After service wine tasting

Alors, c'est ça! I am looking forward to learning and doing more over the next few weeks here. In my next blog I shall focus on what I get up to on my time off and what there is to do around the area, so stay tuned!

À plus tard,


A walk from the hotel


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