Let me paint you a story. Or better yet, a short film.
A girl, (me) who wakes up before everybody else. It is raining heavily outside on this particular day. She is unsure whether she should wear her raincoat or bring an umbrella. With her she has got two bags and her pastry kit. There would be no free hand to hold an umbrella. For breakfast, she cuts a slice of homemade brioche she made the previous day. She puts a cup of lavazza coffee that she made the previous evening for the morning in the microwave and looks in the fridge. She takes out the (homemade again) dark chocolate spread that she had left in a mug. Initially it was to use for hot chocolate, its intensity so fulfilling and trustworthy, but had reserved some of it in a mug to cool down and spread on delicacies. It is made of heated dark chocolate, cocoa and water. She is nervous, of course. She begins by sipping her coffee, but then downs it in one, realising that she is perhaps running a little late.
The bags weigh her down and her shoulders are tired by the time she reaches the metro so she sits down in the train. To make the time go by, she reads some of her notes on food technology and science. It is her stop, so she puts the volume up of the song "Rather Be" (feat Jess Glynne). It is the only song that manages to make her strut down the dark and dirty Parisian metro at six in the morning.
She is early for the exam. Almost an hour early. Unsure of what to do, she gets changed and sits on the floor. Her nerves are agitated by this point. She gets worried that there are some recipes she can't master, so she quickly googles some questions from her iphone. She smiles to herself at Claudia and Elizabeth's encouraging whatsapp messages and thinks about them fondly.
The examiners call the candidates in and the girl sits down in the room on a small desk. She is the only female candidate apart from a middle aged lady who has never worked in a kitchen before. The exam is easy: 16 pain au chocolat, 5 "chaussons au pomme" (apple compote filled puff pastries), a chocolate tart and a "fraisier" to decorate to the theme of the World Cup. The candidates are given a work timetable to fill out, so the girl writes each step of the work day in the half hour slots, finishing at six hours.
It is time to start. The girl cleans her work surface before measuring out her ingredients for the "pate levee feuilletee", aka dough for pain au chocolat and croissants. The middle aged lady shares the same work table as her and begins to ask questions. "Where do I find the flour?" "Shall I leave the butter outside or in the fridge?" "Can I store this here?" etc. The lady is fat and kind. The girl responds to her questions accurately, but with a tone that suggests that there will be no more questions.
The day runs smoothly, until she is called for the science exam. The examiner asks her "what are the components of an egg?" She feels small and pathetic when she responds "the egg whites and the yolk? the shell and..." the examiner doesn't look impressed. He asks her again the specific names and components of an egg. Her mind is blank and she can't help but want to kick herself for not having learned it. The examiner asks her a few other questions to which she knows the answer. He writes something in his notepad and tells her that she can go back to work.
"Half an hour before lunchtime!"is called and an examiner goes to ask the girl if she will be ready for the oral food technology exam. Whilst the girl is piping the apple compote onto her puff pastry, she tells the lady that her tart base is in the oven and she will take it out in five minutes.
The lady quizzes her on a variety of subjects, such as the material used in a pastry kit and all the different types of pastry and how they rise. This time the girl is happy because she knows the answer to every question. She runs back to the kitchen lab and puts her pain au chocolat to rise. She is not very fond of them, but doesn't give herself a hard time about them either. What's done is done.
It is lunchtime and she sits alone. She was going to go outside and talk to the boys who smoke, but was not allowed since she is still in her work trousers and shoes. She has a few bites of a ham and cheese sandwich but is not hungry. She puts it away and has a diet coke. She needs the caffeine, or so she thinks.
When she goes back to the kitchen lab, she makes a leaf pattern on the chaussons au pomme,
and glazes them with egg before putting them in the oven. She is proud of her tart base and starts making the chocolate ganache which she then ever-so-delicately pours into the base. It is neat and pretty, and she leaves it on the marble work space to cool before placing it in the fridge. The examiner comes over and looks at her tart and notes something in his book. With his plastic spoon he tastes he chocolate ganache. She knows it must be good by the look on his face.
She rolls out green marzipan thinly and places it over her "fraisier", the strawberry cake she made before the lunchtime break. She then rolls yellow marzipan, blue marzipan and a white marzipan. Her cake is the brazilian flag. She would not usually decorate a cake in this tacky way, but knows that this is what the judges want to see. She then makes another strip of white marzipan and burns it lightly with a kitchen torch. She heats up some chocolate, to which she pours in a little cornet, so she can write on the marzipan. She writes: "World Football Cup 2014" and then draws a little pattern around the border.
The boy opposite her asks her if he can use her chocolate cornet. She gives it to him, and he then starts asking her about where she is from and whether she prefers the UK or France. She smiles and tells him she is unsure for the moment. He continues by asking her why she didn't go and talk to him outside. She says she doesn't know, sorry.
The girl heats up some white chocolate and makes another cornet. The boy asks her if she would like to use any of his equipment for her decoration. She says no and makes a piping bag with some left over ganache and decorates the edges with a flower pattern. She then makes tiny white dots all around the edges of the tart and a few dots in the middle of the chocolate flower pattern, for the interior of the flower. The examiner looks at her and jokes, "you'd think we were at Cafe Poushkine!" She is happy to hear this, as Poushkine patisserie is one of the eldest and best pastry shops in Paris.
She is happy with her work, and carries all her products to the examiners judging table. She wishes she could take a picture but is not allowed for examination reasons. One of her teachers looks at her and gives her a wink and a little thumbs up to say good job. She feels a sense of relief and achievement.
The girl begins cleaning, and asks the lady on her work bench if everything went well. The lady is unhappy, but says that she can always do the exam again next year. The girl is curious and asks her why she is passing a pastry exam. The lady responds by saying that she wishes to open up a pastry shop in France's provinces. The lady says she does not want to retire and just live on a yacht. It is far too boring and she says she wishes to continue working. The girl smiles and says she would love to live on a yacht.
The cleaning lasts an hour, as the floors need to be scrubbed and everything needs to be perfect for the next days candidates. The girl is tired and can't help but notice that it is still raining. She goes to get changed and the boy asks her if she wants to get changed in the boys changing room. She kindly rejects his offer. She walks home and texts her friends and her sister about how her pastry exam went.