The title of this blog post may sound slightly sarcastic, but it really is not. It is a true declaration of thanks to Thomas, a young pastry chef who I work with at the Plaza Athenee.
I've been a little reserved when it comes to blogging about work and work topics. I always wanted this internet space to be for my personal experiences, food and pastries I made and thought of myself. But the time has come now that I hardly ever write because I simply don't have time since I'm at work all the time. So I figured, if I don't want my blog to vanish, I should write about my kitchen experiences as well, and talk a little about what we do and what it's like working in a "palace" patisserie..
Yesterday I stayed to work a few hours with the evening team to see what they get up to, and Thomas took me on under his wing so we could make "Le Merveilleux" together. At the Plaza, "le Merveilleux" is an entremet (layered dessert) consisting of a thin, moist chocolate sponge, caremelised hazelnuts, praline and chocolate feuilletine, a layer of dark chocolate crémeux and whipped tanariva (Valhrona's milk chocolate) chantilly cream. It is only made for special commands, for the birthday cakes people order.
My "work mode" had switched off after my shift had finished. It's a mode I switch on ten minutes before entering the kitchen lab, a mode that is not only important but vital to be alert enough for the mental (and physical) pace of these young professional pastry chefs. They send me running and creating at a pace I had no idea I was capable of.
Some of these guys are very strict, everything has to be perfect all the time so the smallest error will not go unnoticed.
The thing is, ninety five percent of the time, I don't make any errors. This is not because I am perfect at what I do yet, (far from it!) but simply because I don't allow myself to get into the possibility of failure or one of the chefs is watching over me to make sure that sugar doesn't get too hot or that cream gets boiled for long enough. It's all science, it's all a game of chemistry. Something I thought I got, but I actually don't get.
With Thomas, there were no chefs watching over me. He trusted me to make a few preparations for the layered cake and I feel like I let him down.
He asked me if I could make a crème anglaise, and I told him of course, and I started preparing all my measurements with the milk heating up on the stove. I added the milk to the egg yolks and the sugar and poured it back in the pan to cook whilst mixing with a whisk until 85 degrees Celsius. I realised at this point I was missing a utensil I needed to transfer the cream so I turned the stove off to grab it and when I returned to the stove, Thomas was whisking the cream. I told him it's fine! everything was under control! only to realise that rather than turn off the gas, I had put it up on maximum and the cream was bubbling away, many, many degrees above the temperature it is meant to reach.
I burnt the crème anglaise, one of the most basic creams a pâtissière should be able to make, (with her eyes closed!)
So I start again, exactly the same, and everything goes smoothly. At 85 degrees I turn the heat off, (for real this time!) and when I slowly start to pour the cream into the chocolate, I notice that the cream has already cooked a little too much and the particles are separating, the clue to whether a cream has worked or not. I call Thomas, to tell him that I really don't understand why it is already over cooked and he tells me that with the cream we are playing with seconds, you can't leave it even an instant. "Like pasta," he told me. "Once it's al-dente, you need to pour out the water but you can't turn off the stove and leave the pasta in, can you?"
I felt so ridiculous, but I was also thankful for failure. From the bottom of my heart, I felt so mad at myself for not being so unbelievably careful, but at least I failed.
From this life lesson, I say my biggest thanks to Thomas, who not only allowed me to fail, but didn't give me any stick about it. The lessons you learn from your own mistakes are the only ones that really stick with you.