It’s been a roller coaster of an experience, but I’m glad to say that I (successfully) completed my two month stage, especially because at one point I thought I wouldn’t make it. After working for one week I wrote that although the kitchen was harsh, I was still eager to go back the next week. I ended with, “Talk to me again in eight weeks and my answer may differ.” My answer sure as hell differs, so let’s talk.
The first three weeks were mostly smooth. Although the brutal jungle of a kitchen never stopped being crazy, the harshness and angry yelling never applied or was directed to me (except one insanely awful yelling tirade by one of the chef owners that left me scarred and scared of this lady for life. But that story I’ll leave for another day). When I did something wrong, I was told in a stern tone and the worst thing that was said about/to me was cochon. By the fourth week, I was honestly becoming complacent and a bit bored with what I was doing. The repetitiveness of the chocolates and packaging was getting dull, and since Easter was over things were getting slow. I should have seen the tornado coming, as there were clear signs (of course now in retrospect!) of a build up. My chef de partie was slowly becoming a little more aggressive and impatient. His tone still remained stern but I was hearing more comments about how I wasn’t doing a good job, that I wasn’t fast enough, and that my head wasn’t on straight.
It was at this time that they decided to change me and my other intern-now-friend to the morning shift. I was nervous about moving to the morning as that meant that I would be working with the other, meaner, chef de partie, but I was also excited about learning more about the actual pastries. The transition into this new shift was one of the most difficult things that I have ever done in my life! There was absolutely no learning curve or time to improve. I was expected to know and execute…with speed. Questions were annoying and help rarely available. Even if I wasn’t shown how to do something properly, I was expected to do it correctly. If I had done it once, I was already supposed to be an expert. When I struggled to deliver (literally after one day), they gave me (they meaning: my new chef de partie, my old chef de partie who for some reason now hated my guts, and even one of the guy apprentices who had absolutely no reason to be mean to me) ranged from: putain!, you’re disgusting!, use your fucking eyes!, faster! you’re fucking slow!, what the fuck is this!, uhhhhh, dddduhhh, bbbbuuhhh, and a number of other offensive noises that come out of the french language. The worst part was that for a period of time the verbal abuse didn’t stop at just my performance level, but became personal and continued even when I wasn’t doing anything wrong. The amount of emotional stress became so unbearable at one point that there was one day when I actually cried a little on my way to work, held back tears the whole day during work, and sobbed as soon as I left work.
In hindsight, I think it really had to do the fact that I was new to the job but not seen that way. The morning and afternoon shifts are entirely different. The rhythm and output are separate, but for some reason, because I knew one they just assumed that I knew the other. I think, or at least I hope, it was totally unconscious, to which I understand as to why they were so frustrated with me. I don’t think it gave them the excuse to treating me like a verbal punching bag, but I can see their point of view. On my part, I could’ve probably done a better job had I from the start: 1. Not assumed that I would be given learning leeway, 2. Focused more on the work and less on the yelling, and 3. Stopped worrying and been more confident. I eventually learned how to work out those first two points, but the worrying and confidence has always been a struggle for me. Fortunately, things did get better and by the last few days I wasn’t getting yelled at that much. The only person who was still being unreasonably mean to me was that one apprentice guy who never yelled (because he didn’t really have that power over me), but just gave me a ton of attitude and unnecessary critiques about my work (which by now was fine).
Despite everything, it was still very bittersweet to end. There were still a million other things that I wish I had learned, but never will (at least from this patisserie). I’ll miss some of the people, especially two girls that I became quite close to. Bitching with them and having other people who knew and understood the experience made it so much more bearable and tolerable. I might even miss my second chef de partie and one of the chefs, who both turned out to be like big teddy bears who sometimes turned into rabies infected grizzlies that just wanted to bite my head off (but who doesn’t have those moments). I’ll also miss being part of such a successful enterprise. It was such a cool feeling to walk through the shop and know that my hands took part in creating some of their beautiful cakes and tarts.
In the grand scale of my life, I don’t know how this experience will fit in. It may end up being the worst or even the best experience of my life, only time will tell. For now, I think I’ve come out a stronger person and still determined to continue my quest to somewhere in this insane food industry. It was a brutal glimpse as to what I’ve signed myself up for, but at the end of the day this is still what I love and what I dream about. If this can’t phase me, hopefully nothing else will.