Friday, 25 March 2011

Croissants and crumbs

In the 15 months since I took redundancy from my old career I have had moments of trepidation, joy, excitement and absolutely gut wrenching fear. Just a glimpse at  my bank statement is enough to send nervous giggles cascading through my body and give me sweaty palms. At times when I think back to my old income I think the only explanation for this madness is mid-life crisis. But then I remember how it felt to trudge to work for a job that no longer gave me any pleasure, in fact that actively made me feel nauseous. I recall crying on a Sunday night at the thought of having to face the misery again on Monday morning. And I remember that I am now free. 

So now I spend my days baking, butchering and basting. I spend hours engrossed in technical cookery books or swearing at the ragged carcasses of chickens. I survive college surrounded by youngsters at the very beginning of their careers and I try not to be too jealous. But still I need experience. If I am ever going to be in a position to set up my dream company I must first develop my CV by working in good kitchens in order to stand out in a crowded industry. 

My first work placement took me to Bluebird, Chelsea. The most important thing to note about Bluebird is the sheer size of the place. There is the restaurant and bar, which has been one of the most popular eateries on the King's Road for over a decade. I can well remember being taken there by an ex when I was a gauche newcomer to London. The unique quality of the skylit restaurant built on the site of the old Bluebird Garage still impresses me. As well as the restaurant, there is Bluebird Café & Forecourt, Bluebird Food Store, various function rooms and private dining facilities, a comprehensive wine cellar and a bakery that provides many of D&D London's other restaurants with fresh bread and pastries on a daily basis. The kitchens that serve this vast space are maze-like, efficient and for a first timer like me, daunting as hell.

Upon arrival I met the sous chef of Bluebird Café, Jasraj Singh, who had set up two days of fun starting with a full day in the bakery. My host was Marcin, who guided me through making vast quantities of laminated dough that we then gradually turned into croissants, pain au chocolat, pain au raisin and danish using industrial rollers and a bowl mixer the size of a smart car. Marcin was very sweet and while I suspect I slowed him down considerably he answered all my questions patiently, gave me really positive feedback and then said really nice things about me to the boss which I hope to turn into a lovely testimonial. The surprising thing about this experience is how much it resembled a production line rather than baking. The nature of producing such high volumes of pastry meant that the whole endeavour felt a little impersonal but I suspect that this is just another example of how naive I am. That said, I will never be afraid of laminated dough again and can happily churn out any number of early morning pain au chocolate without fear. Maybe not quite the same volume as I really don't think my little Kenwood (sorry Mum but did you really think you were getting Red Ken back?) or my wooden rolling pin would cope with more than a kilo at a time.

On the second day I was placed in the Bluebird Café kitchen for the lunch service before heading back down to the bakery. The service kitchen was very similar to other kitchens I have worked in: a surprisingly small area, two or three chefs covering the entire lunch service. If you happened to eat there on Wednesday it may have been me who made your seabass and risotto. Once again the chefs (Raffa and Sergio) couldn't have been more helpful and encouraging. Luckily it was a fairly quiet day and I was encouraged to involve myself in the service as much as I wanted to. I managed to make most of the dishes on the menu at least once. At 3pm as lunch ended I returned to the bakery where Marcin was getting on with the various different types of bread that would be sent out to his customers at various other restaurants. Again the sheer volume involved rendered the entire experience somewhat surreal but I can now form perfect baguette, focaccia and ficelles and have mastered the art of producing two perfect bread rolls (one in each hand) in under 10 seconds. And I'm determined to finally get on with developing a starter to turn my own bread making into a much more effective and personal experience.

Sadly I don't have many photos of the day as I was working pretty much flat out and as any good catering student knows, cameras are a contaminant and should not be wielded in a kitchen! But I certainly look forward to making some croissants and blogging them here in the near future. 


  1. It's fantastic and a testament to your talent and hard work that you got such a great opportunity.

    And what's the difference between a baguette and a ficelle?

  2. Man you read fast.

    Ficelles are very long thin baguettes. Like a fat ol' bread stick. I didn't know before last week either.

  3. If my daughters were older I'd make you come and visit them to show them a positive role model. You've been brave and tenacious and hard-working and you deserve this & I hope you're really proud of yourself. I'm still shocked by the speed, though, thinking of the low point of that *wrong* course. I think that part comes from talent.

  4. Thank you very much. That's a lovely thing to hear.

  5. Jane, you're so lucky (and hardworking and all those other things) - I am so envious!