What It’s Like to Cook with a Great Chef

I get more as star struck as anyone. Not by the crass Kardashians or silly Lindsay Lohan, but by great actors, writers, artists, and of course, superior chefs.  I have been really lucky in my short career to prep and plate alongside some pretty heavy hitters, such as Rick Bayless, Patricia Wells, Marcus Samuelsson, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.  Nicholas Bernard and Stephane Leroux, who are both MOF French chefs, have been my instructors.  (A MOF is the very highest level of chef you can be in France.  Only MOFs can wear the blue, white, and red bands on their collars. The exam lasts three days and is very, very difficult to pass.  Watch the documentary Kings of Pastry and you will understand why they are revered.)

So what is it like?  Certainly each person has his quirks.  (My apologies to Patricia Wells, but I am going to use the pronoun he in this post.)  I don’t want to name names when talking about personalities, but some chefs are real jerks.  For example, when we cook alongside them for a fundraiser, it is for free.  We are volunteering our time in order to learn from a master, garner some tips and perhaps new techniques, and add to our resume.  But one particular chef rubbed me the wrong way the whole 13 (yes, count ‘em) hours I cooked for him.  He was rude, condescending and this way especially to the female chefs, which at this particular venue added up to 4, including yours truly.  One woman asked him if we came to any of his restaurants, would he come out to talk to us.  He said no, he had no time to talk to anyone in front.  He did not like to do this.  She then asked if we went to the kitchen would he remember us.  He said curtly, “No, I will not remember you.  I will not remember any of you. ” Now I know and you know it was silly of her to ask these uncomfortable questions but she was really excited to be there.  That chef could have answered her in a kinder way, don’t you think?  Maybe he could have said, I will sure try!  I meet a lot of people, or I will try but I have a bad memory.  The thing is, this particular chef has a reputation for being super friendly and smiley, but it is all a ruse.  The moral is, a lot of famous people are media hyped and sculpted for a personality to portray; it is not how they really are.  To me, it was total disappointment with him.

On the other hand, some of the chefs have been very professional and actually rather humble for all their training and expertise.  Marcus Samuelsson was such a gentleman.  His flavor combinations were so dynamic and robust.  He was soft spoken, serious, but kind.  He has a diverse background of being born in Africa but raised in Sweden, you can only imagine the cool things he cooks and the recipes he invents.  Each one I have made = wonderful.

In the kitchen, when you bring a lot of volunteer chefs from different kitchens across town or at a class where people attend from all over the world, you can only imagine the egos and personalities!  It is a man’s world in the cuisine kitchen but pretty unisex in the pastry kitchen.  At one event where I volunteered at few years ago, I was the only female in the kitchen.  I would say that the men talked to me maybe twice the whole day without me beginning the conversation.  And there was a lot of testosterone flying, let me tell you.  A few were not fond of each other, and although only a few words were said under the breaths, a small body check now and then, sizing each other up at the beginning….. it was really uncomfortable at times. It was unnecessary as well.

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                    Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten et moi.  Class act.

On the other hand,  I notice the farther the people travel to cook, the more they are open to actually learning from the head chef and from each other as well.  Take my most recent experience at The French pastry School in Chicago.

The French Pastry School was started by an MOF and another chef who competed for the MOF three times before calling it quits.  (Again, watch Kings of Pastry.  He is the one who said it was going to be his last time to try for it, his wife was weary of all the months of prep beforehand, he was doing well, then his sugar sculpture broke at the last minute.  It was all over for him.  It was sad!!!) The both live in the U.S. now and are both very, very talented.   The FPS’s kitchen is far more up to date than Le Cordon Bleu, by the way. This is just background info, but I want you to get the feel of where I was.   I am in Chicago, it is raging hot and they turn off the air conditioning for the weekends and also every night.  So right away the chef, Stepane Leroux, an MOF who has come from Belgium to teach this class, is up against a hurdle, because this is a chocolate class and chocolate needs cool.  Ideally in a chocolate factory, the temperature of the room is about 68 degrees.  Our room had to be in the high 80s.  As a woman of a certain age, in my chef whites buttoned up to here and long sleeves down to there, I was about to croak off.  But Chef Leroux stayed calm and never broke a sweat on his well-coiffed tete.  He had the students assistants bring big industrial fans in and try to cool the place down.  The chocolate machine was too hot, so one was blowing on it too.  Chef’s accent was thick and his English was limited, so when he got at a loss for words, he just spoke French.   The interrupter, an instructor at the FPS, had only been living in the U.S. for about 4 years and his accent was thick too. When I say thick, I mean molasses thick.  Quicksand thick. The fans were blasting, the accents were flying, the temp was high, it was 7:00 in the morning, I was struggling to even hear them let alone understand what they were saying, and I thought, holy cow, I am definitely going to get my butt kicked this week!      

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Chef Stephane Leroux.  Note the striped collar.

 

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Making chocolate forms, with the handsome, young French chef from NOBU watching.  Chef Leroux did not get a drop of chocolate on him the entire week.

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The assistant chef.  I never really got his name.

What I learned from these masters, particularly the French, is the attention to detail.   Detail in all things, from the fit of their uniform to the precision of their cuts. They keep their tables clean and free of clutter, they stay clean themselves, and they have pride in all aspects of their work.  It is called working clean.  When you are finished with something, you take it away  and you wipe the counter frequently.  This is how we work at LCB or we get yelled at and our grade gets cut.  (we get a grade every d----- day.)  Spots and drips are unacceptable on your work surface. Everything is stored behind us.  Although I can never hope to be as organized and clean as they, I have come along way and we work pretty clean at la Dolce Vita.

Why is working clean important?  It keeps you focused.  It takes the ADD out of cooking, because there are not a million dirty measuring cups, spoons, and scraps of paper around, cluttering your view and distracting you.  It is also more sanitary.   In fact, when there are several of us working in our tiny kitchen in Roanoke, we will take the dirty dishes to the back kitchen to wash to keep the sink from becoming a catch all and piling sky high with dirty colanders, bowls and various kitchen vessels.

To me, these details separate the chefs from the cooks. I have toured many a kitchen and the best food comes out of the cleanest kitchens, where pride is taken in every step. Yes, I am one of those who ask to go back to the kitchen now and then.  But many kitchens of high end restaurants are glassed in or totally open for the diner’s view.  Such an example is the kitchen tour I got to take after eating at Grace in Chicago.  The kitchen is behind glass there.  They have nothing to hide.  When one can see the kitchen while the chefs are working, you know the standard is high.

Okay, back to the class at The French Pastry School. Chefs came to this class from all over the world.  Interestingly, to me at least, most were from Canada.  There was the head pastry chef from the Ritz, Ottawa. There was a physician from Canada, my partner, who had a side business called the Chocolate Doc.  

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My partner, Kerri, aka the Chocolate Doc, spraying our sculpture.  That was fun.

There was a mean, grumpy cake baker from Canada who worked at the table beside us.  She was the most interesting of the classmates because of her mercurial nature.  I think she was just unhappy, and she was bossy to all.  (We all knew that person in high school or on the job. Ewwww.) However, she was pretty darned talented. I will give her that!  Other classmates included the head pastry chef at The Ritz, Dallas, the head pastry chef at NOBU in Miami (but he was French), and a super nice cake baker from New Zealand.  The class was full; there were about 16 of us.  Lunchtime was a time to chat and get to know some of the other’s business ideas, their hopes for the future and their training.   I got to see their quirks and their desire for excellence.  Some of us struggled. (Okay, one of us  more than others as this was a chocolate sculpture class and I have never done a 4 ft high sculpture from chocolate.  I probably never will again, but some of these chefs, especially the large hotel and country club chefs, will do sculptures several times a year. )  Some got it right away.  But all of us learned and I think everyone thought they got great value for their money.  I would bet most take another class from the French Pastry School.  I know I’ll be there again.

Shaving my pitiful chocolate ring.  But my uniform is clean!  Well, almost……

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Chef’s shiny ring.  It was so complicated to make the white and dark chocolate, to make it round, to make it shine.  It’s really amazing what goes into all these beautiful things.

Some of my classmates, watching the MOF.

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Some petite gateaux we made….

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Whats New and What's Coming

A New Website:

I have been working on a new website with an adorable web builder who really "gets me" and what messages I am trying to convey.  I have been frustrated by the difficulty of posting on this on and its inability to change.  It should be up and running in about a month; the address will be the same.  It will have ever changing photos of events going on, more up to date info, recipes,  prettier and more user friendly.  At least more user friendly for me!

Beautiful Items for Sale in the Shop:

Please stop by and see all the wonderful things I am carrying now.  Some of them are: linens from France, linens from Belgium, the incomparable Le Creuset cookware at a price you will not get at any other retail shop, fabulous Seda France candles, and some beautiful enamel covered tin ware from Golden Rabbit, to name a few.  Also, my true love, food from Bella Cucina, made in Atlanta.  These delicious products do not have any preservatives in them.. They use only true, honest ingredients and taste so perfect you would swear you made them.  Everyone who has bought any buys them again and again!  Try some; you love them.

 

 

Late Summer Bounty

Some of us are mourning the end of summer (yours truly) and some of us are jumping for joy now that the kids are back in school.   Our son just went back to college and I had to borrow a gas mask from the Navy Seals to even enter his room to clean, so I feel your joy. 

Perhaps it may take a week or two to organize again, after all the pool-park-zoo days, but you are going to reclaim your refrigerator. And when you do, the produce is bountiful and waiting for you. Oh yes, I know we have all been eating the fabulous Indiana corn, beans, and tomatoes, but now you will have more time to make a few more intricate and grown up side dishes.  Don’t get scared, vegetables are never complicated; that is the beauty of them.  But you can combine and spice, cut and chop to your heart’s content. These are great ideas to go with the Summer Fete list of main courses I wrote about in the last article.  What, you don’t save them all?  I’m hurt. They are posted online at newssentinel.com if you need to reread anything.

 1. Potato Salad.  I recently ate (devoured) a version of potato salad in which I fell in love.  My mom made delicious potato salad and I always felt I must make hers or it wasn’t right.  But I am sure she would understand as I finally expand my repertoire, at this tender age. The new discovery had a myriad of colored potatoes and types:  purple (my fav), red skin, new, butter--- all with their skins on.  Also included were green beans, cut up in about ½ inch pieces. Red onion was in there as well.  So I was seeing color and texture, which translates to freshness as far as food is concerned.  When you make this kind of potato salad, where the actual potatoes are the stars, leave the skins on for color and also for protection from the boiling water, cutting them after they are cooled.   Cook until they are for tender, but no more because you want  them to hold their shapes and not be mushy when you cut them.  You are not making mashed potatoes, right?    In this salad, the green beans were very soft, but I would switch to haricot verts and have them crunchier in my version.  This dressing was more like a German potato salad dressing, with vinegar.  It was light, refreshing and yummy.

2. Asian Slaw.  I am all about Asian slaw this summer.  I cannot get enough. Google Asian Slaw and you will bring up lots of recipes.  I have a favorite, but I add a few things to it to La Dolce Vita it. I like a little bit of peanut butter mixed in the dressing sometimes, and sometimes not.  The key is using sesame oil and rice vinegar. Domestic vinegar and balsamic will not do. I know it is customary to use black sesame seeds, but your guests will fear that they will get stuck between their teeth, so use plain. They may still get stuck, but no one will know!  Purple cabbage is the key here.  So bright and fresh, it is a beauty to look at on your table or buffet.  We have all winter to eat a tossed salad (which I adore), so now is the time to amp it up.

3. Quinoa Salad.  Save it for winter.

4.  Watermelon Salad.  Big and bountiful, there is more to watermelon than just slices.  While I love the purity of unadulterated watermelon, there are some interesting, delicious recipes out there. Goat cheese goes well with watermelon.

5. Grilling it all.  Nothing is safe from the grill these days! Try grilling your corn, straight on the racks.  Oil your grill first to clean it, though.  Grill your eggplant, even stone fruit, like peaches.  And the baskets are ingenious for holding all your mixed, late summer veggies to grill.  But you knew that.

6. Foil.  I am still keen on the Boy and Girl Scout way of putting things in foil, brushing with olive oil and cooking them.  Ok, I know the boy scouts buried their foil-wrapped food in the coals, but we can adapt their ideas for a gas grill, n’est pas?

Here is my Asian slaw recipe. 

Asian Slaw 

1 Head Purple Cabbage

1 jicama

4 Carrots

1 Bunch Scallions

Cilantro 

Dressing

1 chili or jalapeno, seeded, and minced(leave the seeds and ribs on for more heat)

2” fresh ginger root, minced

1 garlic clove,  minced

2 T cilantro, minced

3T sesame seed oil

¼ C rice wine vinegar

1 T peanut butter

Lime zest

Toasted peanuts and sesame seeds for garnish

Chop the cabbage.  Peel and chop the jicama into thin julienne strips.  Chop the carrots into coins. Chop the scallions into coins, white and most of the green part, until it gets floppy.  Chop the cilantro.

Add these ingredients all together.

For the dressing, add the ingredients.  Toss the veggies with this and add the peanuts and sesame seeds.  This is super with grilled chicken or thinly sliced steak over it for a main course.

Please let me know your favorite way to use the bounty of summer.  I love new ideas.

When I am not in the shop...what am I doing?

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If i have heard it once, I have heard it a thousand times, " I stopped by your shop the other day and you weren't in there."  I looked in your window and you weren't in your store."  "When are you open?"

It is time to clear the air and get all of this straight!  It seems to me (and my husband) that I work all the time.  But if I am not physically there, what can I be doing?

I have never had a business before and had no idea of the behind the scenes time it takes to run one.  First of all, there is My Web  Site.  I say this with capitals because doing a website is a very frustrating and time consuming task!  Yes, I have a web company who built it.  But through the few years I have had La Dolce Vita, I have needed to make updates and change things.  My website is built so that I should be able to do all of this myself.  HAHAHA  It is not for the faint of heart!  To upload a photo, it first must be uploaded from my camera, or whatever photographic equipment I am taking it with and put on my computer.  Then it must be proportioned to size to fit the specifications of the website and loaded onto their (my) site.  It must be given a title so I know what the heck it is later when I want to add a photo, like I should have done more of here, to make this post more interesting.  Then I must write the post or class or whatever, using my "web editor" program and add the pics where I want.  This is what happens...I write the classes, and I think, "I could use a good photo of baguettes."  So I spend 1/2 hour searching my camera, uploaded I Photos, phone, I pad who knows what to find one.  (yes I have I Cloud, but you know as well as I do that not everything transfers.)  No luck, so I decide to get one off the web.  I try to put it in My Downloads, then transfer it to my website, but it is watermarked so it won't transfer.  So I start over.  now I have spent 45 minutes fooling around with a silly picture and the dogs need to be walked, a shower must be had, and I need to get my day going!  When I have a problem (when don't I?) making changes to the site, I must email them and  wait for them to contact me back.  I used to get a techno-language filled reply, which might as well be Mandarin, and had to write back and forth a million times to get a tiny answer.  Finally, I have my own web person who can actually speak English as well as Techno.  I recently hired someone who is reasonably priced to help me out and be the go-between.  I also write a column for the newspaper every other week.  The News-Sentinel has given me my very own byline, Drop Dead Culinary, so there!  My husband picked the title.  Isn't he super groovy?  To write a column takes quite a bit of time, actually.  Several hours for each one to be almost exact.  I really like to write and I am thankful they want to hear what I have to say.  I have also been doing several t.v. spots, which are fun but a tres amount of work!!!  The food must be made ahead of time and ingedients must be bought to make it again on air.  So each show requires double the amount of food.

 I spend a lot of time doing is talking with clients and vendors.  To plan an event for someone, we often meet in person and go over various ideas, china, linens, etc.  Then I write up a few menus for them to choose from.  They, in turn, choose this or that from each one and we tweak out a great menu for their event.  So if, say, I am doing three showers in one month, as I am in March, then many hours must be spent carefully planning these important days for the clients.  After I receive the guest list, I must hire the correct amount of staff for those days, order the food, shop for the other groceries at a couple of different stores, and begin planning on what day we will make what. If there are other events in the week, such as culinary classes, then those days are off the books and for prep, as they are given over to the classes.

And then there is Uncle Sam.  He must be fed.  Now it is all ONLINE,  Mon Dieu!  Another 45 minutes sitting in front of the computer, filling out forms.  And I must pay all those pesky bills, like water and electricity and vendors, to keep things in the 21st century!

Some recipes are very messy and spurty.  I am talking roasting chicken as an example.  When we made the 200+  chicken pot pies, we roasted all that chicken by hand. You know that pretty French oven in my shop?  It may be gorgeous, but it is not self cleaning.  So we roasted all the 120 lbs of chicken breasts in my home oven, so i could use modern technology and have it clean itself.  (Whoa, which it really needed, FYI!)  On those days, we were working, but not at the shop.  Sometimes if a party is going to be held at my house, and we have done that for certain clients, we might as well make all the food there, instead of transporting it back and forth.

Lastly, I have finally made the decision to carry home making products in the shop.  So to Atlanta I went with some fun friends, spending three days there deciding what to carry and having quite a bit of fun as well.  Now it is trickling in.  Some vendors are more communicative than others and often times I feel I am pulling my hair out to get them to hurry up and send the things I ordered almost 3 months ago!  Some of it is so fabulous!  I am super excited and hope to find out soon from a particular vendor if I am approved to carry something wonderful and lower priced than the Williams Sonoma prices!  I will be able to post about this in a week or two.

 

What a Chef Eats in the Hospital

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It is Tuesday night, the night after the horrible tropical storm/hurricane Sandy hit the east coast.  A raging southern storm that turned into The Perfect Storm, moving north, and causing devastation and loss of life.  All I could do was watch in sadness last night from my hospital bed as Sandy blew through New Jersey and New York.  Also I watched in  disdain as these silly newscasters stood in the street and got blown around, trying to hold on to their hats and keep their balance as they reported about the developing storm.  Does anyone else feel this is a little distasteful?  My apologizes to Anderson Cooper, as he is so cool, but it has been done enough!  Now it seems stupid.

I was in my warm, uncomfortable bed at Parkview Hospital.  For those of you reading this who do not live in Fort Wayne, Parkview has built a brand new hospital and the old one they now call Parkview Randalia, because it is on Randalia Street.  Makes sense. It is by my old house and I had two of my babies here, so I feel right at home.  Why am I here?  I had bi-lateral total knee replacements one week ago exactly.  My knees have been bad for 7 years, ever since I had an awful bike wreck with my dog, Chloe.  (Yes she was a Weimeraner too.  A beautiful long hair, thank you very much. They may not be the best choice for me!)  I was riding my bike very fast and she was running beside me.  I was holding her leash.  It was my way to get a good run in with her every few days.  All of a sudden, I was on the road, face down in a pool of blood.  I am guessing she took of after a squirrel or something and got her leash entangled with my wheels.  Anyway, I got a few cracked ribs, stitches, and a broken ACL.  That was the beginning of My Bad Knees.

About one month ago, my husband and I were going to take the dogs for a walk and stupidly did not spell the word walk.  Immediately, the dogs began jumping and chest high-fiving each other, and generally acting like goof balls.  I was walking down our long hall to get my shoes, which is 45 feet long and the dogs think it is their indoor dog run, when the youngest, Portia, rammed into my left knee at top speed. She knocked me into the air and flat on my back.  I lay on the floor, crying giant crocodile tears because I knew that I could not finish my degree at Le Cordon Bleu and had to face reality that it was time to fix these glass knees.  (I know I told you this in the last blog, but I am building my story again.  :) )

My Frankenstein scars...ready for Halloween.

So here I am, with brand new titanium and plastic knees, learning how to walk with them, learning how to go up stairs again, and strengthening them in physical therapy twice a day.  I have an AWESOME doctor who has healing hands blessed by God and great nurses.  I am thankful for them.  I have wonderful friends, bringing me chocolates, flowers, and smutty magazines.  I am thankful I was not in the storm that I watched last night.  And I have the bestest, handsomest husband who visits me every day, and three sons, sending me their love from miles away.  But there is something lacking....

Good food.   Oh, how I miss it! While I am was stoned from all the pain killers,  we are weaning me off of them, and I am getting hungry.  And what does one do when one is faced with meals that are bought from a food company and then cooked or warmed in a giant, busy kitchen.  By gosh, we improvise!  

Remember, it is not the strongest who survive, but the most adaptable.  So what I have been doing is ordering a basic breakfast of yogurt but not Greek yogurt, unfortunately. Sometimes I will have a hard boiled egg. For lunch, I order steamed broccoli on a plate. This is important because it is not as mushy as when they steam it in a bowl.  I order the chicken noodle soup and add the broccoli to it, so I now have veggie chicken noodle soup.  I can also add green beans and any other vegetable on the list because it is all fresh.  Well, actually, I bet it is frozen. but that is the next best thing to fresh, non?

I can do the same to the tomato soup, but have to pick my veggies more carefully then.  I tried a grilled cheese and it was not worth the calories.  So I just stay with the soup, which has quite a bit of chicken in it, the vegetables, and some fruit.  For dinner, I am not ready to try any kind of beef because Lord know what kind of mystery meat it is, but I discovered that the marinated chicken is a real chicken breast, not one of those nasty pressed cutlets.  So I order the spinach salad, the chicken breast, a hard boiled egg,  you get it, and make my own giant, chef salad.  When I actually ordered turkey chef salad on the menu, it was deli meat and very gross.  This is better although it is packaged dressing.   One must make sacrifices.


 I could be getting skinny on all this, but there are chocolates in the room that must be eaten. 

 

Not Forgotten

Dear Friends,

i have not been blogging, but you are not forgotten!  I have had a very full summer concerning work.  Besides the Farmer's Market, which we were too busy to participate in every week, unfortunately, I have hosted a multitude of private dinners for birthdays, anniversaries, and engagement celebrations.  Tonight I am doing all the desserts for a wedding and will stand by and cut the cakes and pass out the Madeleines as well.  I will take my camera and take some photos.  I am not great at taking photos and I know that is a huge part of blogging!  Will I ever get better? 

I am also working on posting the videos that are on YouTube for the Fort Wayne newspapers.  There is one every other week.  You can go to You Tube and type in Laura Wilson news-sentinel or Laura Wilson Drop Dead Culinary and bring them up!

The big news is I am getting bi-lateral knee replacements in about 3 weeks.  it is time.  I have been hobbling around for years and this year it has gotten so much worse.  Therefore, I will not be going to Paris to do Level III Patisserie until next year.  :(  It was a sad, solemn moment when this decision was made, although I knew it would probably happen all summer.  One of my beautiful, sweet dogs knocked me down in her glee to go for a walk, and just blasted into my left knee.  The ah-ha moment came then.  I actually held a 5 course dinner the next night, but called on Tony Ficaro to help as I was walking with a crutch. It was crazy! When I went to the doctor a few days later, the nurse practitioner said I would not really recover from this blow.  My dogs are super fast runners and she hit me almost at full speed. Here is her adorableness.   She is so innocent.

 

But with some very dear friends facing devastating illness or life changes, it is nothing.  So I am not going to whine....and I will keep you up to date on my healing process!  I plan to write quite a bit on a little cooking book I am working on and read the new-old book by Stephan King and JFK, The Kitchen Daughter, and the new-old book by Colin Powell.  I was a history teacher, so I do like these kinds of books.  Oh, and I also bought some beautiful books like the Houses of Veranda and ordered Carolyne Roehm's new book,  Flowers.  Although it is not out yet, I will get it as soon as it is!

XO,
Laura

 

Cooking with Marcus Samuelsson

I have been very fortunate in my short culinary career to cook with and meet some great chefs.  Last week, I got to cook for Marcus Samuelsson of the Red Rooster in Harlem and author of two wonderful cookbooks and a super autobiography, which I am reading now.

Chef Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia.  When he was a baby, he, his older sister, and his mother all had tuberculosis.  His mother carried him, and walked to the hospital, holding his sister's hand for 17 miles to the nearest hospital, where the line for treatment was very long.  Sadly, she died, but the children died.  A Swedish couple adopted them, so they soon moved to Sweden.  He became a very good soccer player and played on the national junior team.  All he did was go to school and play soccer.  All he thought about was soccer.  But one day, to his absolute amazement and disbelief, he was cut from the team for the new season.  It was because he was small, not because he was not good. Ethiopians are not a big people. Now he had to rethink his entire life's plans (at the tender teenage years), as his dreams were crushed.  So he went to culinary school instead of university.

That is a little summary of Marcus Samuelsson; I think he is very interesting.  He was soft spoken, well mannered, gentle, and had a perfect palate.  He did not arrive until past 2:00.  When he came in, he said hello to me first, as I was closest to him and shook my hand. It kind of took me by surprise.  All of a sudden, there he was!  He arrived with a small entourage: his photographer, his p.r. person, his sous chef, and someone who I had no idea what they did.  He asked a few questions of Chef Bin Lunn and Arron, the head cook, and then disappeared to autograph the books in the gift bags.   His sous chef stayed to guide us, but we did not see Chef Samuelsson again until right before appetizers.   When we were plating the appetizers, he suddenly appeared by my side.  He tasted one and liked the taste.  He watched us plate them and said nothing to me, so I guess that meant he approved but he did correct a girl next to me, in a very non-threatening manner.   A few friends came into the kitchen to say hello and some people came in and took photos.  It was really fun.

After all of that, things got serious, fast.  The kitchen is a quick paced, no-nonsense world.  We set up the plating tables in the front kitchen, which was really hot.  When Rick Bayless was there, we set up the plating tables in the back hall, which was spacious and cool.  But Marcus Samuelsson was not such a drama king and kept a lower profile.  He plated with us at the head of the table.  No dish left the kitchen without him looking it over first.  A few he gave back to us to do over.  All plates were cleaned perfectly before leaving with damp cheesecloth.   He always kept his cool, even when we ran out of plates or someone turned on the oven accidentally as the plates were warming in it, making the plates totally unusable.

After it was all over, we went out with him to greet the crowd.  That made all the hard work and the 14 hours worth it.  I was sooooo tired, but then I got pumped up again!

Here are some interesting and not so great things I learned when I cooked in the kitchen.  I don't cook in a conventional kitchen, so that world is always a big surprise to me.  Perhaps that is why all the kitchen competition shows are so popular.  It is such a foreign environment to most of us!  It has a definite hierarchy and women are still at the bottom.  You may look at your calendar and say it is 2012, but in a professional kitchen in the United States, it is 1812.  Here are a couple of examples from that night, but I could name many more from the years before and countless stories from other chefs, many of whom are men.  I was making the tarts for the dessert  and I was the only woman in the back kitchen. ( The other three were in the garde manger station). In that kitchen were some very healthy personalities, but no one really talked to me.  I still was enjoying myself, listening to all their antics and verbal sparring, and they were nice to me, don't get me wrong.  It's just that they didn't say, "hey Laura what do you think about this or that?"  Do you know what I mean?  Anyway, things were going along until around noon, when they realized they did not have two very unusual ingredients that Samuelsson's recipe's called for.   They called a few places.  I said, "why don't you try the Great American Spice Co?"  No answer.  They called a few more.  Nothing.  Again I said, "why don't you try the Great American Spice Co?  I bet they'll have it."  No answer.  I turned next to the guy beside me and said, "Am I speaking a foreign language?"  They called everywhere and no one had it. Finally I said, "I don't understand why you are not calling them."  Aaron said, "they don't have a store front, do they?"  I said, "no, but they will bring it here for this event or you can go get it."  He just started scrolling on his phone and ignored me.  So when Marcus Samuelsson returned, he asked why they did not use those two spices.  They said they could not get them.  I just  said nothing.  I feel that they did not try my suggestion  because I am a woman.

The other thing is that when we first began to plate, I was asked to get off the line because it was too crowded.  I was told I could wait and do the pastries.  Then a few men stepped in, making it very crowded!  So the next plating session, I stepped on the line and I said, "I am not moving from here."  There was no argument after that.   All of girls plated the rest of the night along with the men.

One thing I did love was meeting some of the people in Samuelsson's entourage, particularly his P.R. girl.  She was the epitome of class and I could tell that they were on the same wavelength at all times.  She talked to us, but not too much.  She talked to him, but only at the exact right time.  He depended on her, and she was there for him with the information, but never pushy.  it was the most perfect assistant I have ever, ever seen.  Several times during the night we were side by side and she small talked and she remembered little things I had said an hour or so ago.  What a memory .  He seemed so sincere and not fake in the P.R. sort of way.  That woman is the best thing he has on his team, in my opinion.

I liked meeting some of the other chefs.  I am going to donate la Dolce Vita for a day to the Boy Scouts for a cooking class through a chef I met there. It is a weekend long fund raier culminating in a cooking class taught by a chef they bring in from out of town. I met a private chef who works for three families in Chicago.   One family has 5 nannies and 3 bodyguards.  So it was interesting, tiring, and educational for me.

 

The First Farmer's Market

Ally and Caroline getting ready to make sweet crepes.

The Roanoke Farmer's Market season has officially begun.  As anyone who is not living on another planet knows, it is hotter than the surface of the sun in Indiana.  It was particularly hot in Roanoke on the 3rd of July, the day of the Patriotic Concert, and also on Saturday, the day of the first Farmer's Market.  Look at those cute girls above.  They are even hot, although you would barely know it!

So having these Equator-like temperatures in the Midwest where we are not even close to the Tropic of Cancer ( I know you are impressed with my geographical knowledge.  I used to teach geography and history in my B.C days.  Before Children.) is very, very tough on delicate pastries.  In high end restaurants, pastry chefs have their own kitchens to keep them away from the heat of the ovens, grills, fryers, woks and all those hot things that will drop a meringue faster than flipping it on the floor.  (You thought I was going to say something a little naughty.  Shame on you.)  In these pastry kitchens a feeling of calm prevails vs the frenetic, yelling, running vibe of a regular kitchen.  Pastry chefs are craftsmen and we are not screamers.  If we are, we better get to the other side. 

 Here is what happened.  Caroline and I were baking.  I was icing an anniversary cake that needed to be delivered that day and she was finishing up something.  A storm was a brewin', but we were not paying that much attention because I am not really a weather nerd.  Not until I saw Alice ushering people into a building and lots of stuff blowing.  I said, "Uh oh, things look bad.  Do you have the weather on your phone?"  She said no.  Then the almighty Roanoke police come out of nowhere, hundreds of them it seemed, and jumped into thousands of cop cars and start speeding off to who-knows-where.  We were like whhhhhat????  It was getting darker but we kept working.  Nothing was going to stop me from icing that cake!!!!   I went to turn on the dishwasher and all our power went off.  I thought oh no!  I blew a fuse!  I called Max, my builder who knows EVERYTHING,  and he said the fuse box was in the basement, which almost gave me hives.  It is scary and an old cellar.  Very dank and creepy.  It could be in The Hunger Games. But then Caroline and I realized the whole town was without power.  Now we knew we were in a jam.   We could not decide which would be scarier: to be caught up in a big tornado or go wait out the storm in that basement.

I finished the beautiful white cake by candlelight.  Caroline has pictures to prove it.  When the storm turned to rain and it became too hot to ice because our air was out, I went home and took all my stuff with me.  I thought Roanoke would get power back before my home did, because the police are there as well as the volunteer fire department.   We have a rockin' generator (thank you, Max) so I knew I would have refrigeration and I could continue with my icing and placing pearls all over it.  After I finally got home, driving through all the downed trees and branches, I finished the cake.  I put both of them in the frig to cool.  The woman for whom I was making them called me and said wait for a while as  she had a lot of damage.  This was crazy!

Later that night, we had to take an alternate route to her home to take the cakes to her.  By the time we got them and got some food for my husband at McDonalds which only had power because it ran off Lutheran Hospitals power and was PACKED and absolutely was selling out of everything, we decided to go back to the shop to see what was going on.  We drove back and by now it was 11:30 at night.  When we opened the door of the shop, I said, :wow, it is really dark."  Let me tell you how my mind works.  My husband and I work very hard and we get a lot done.  We have a lot of fun.  But we are not gizmo people.  We are not hammer, nail nor flashlight people.  Now it does not take a rocket scientist to know that if you are going to a place without power and there is heavy cloud cover you should take a flashlight.  But we would never think about such things.  It just would not enter our minds.  Especially mine.  So it was like a news flash when I opened that door and it was pitch black!!!  But Bill said, "I've got a light on my phone!"  So by the light of his cell phone, we pulled as much food out of the freezer as we could until he said he was done with this whole thing and wanted to go home.  I do not blame him.  He had been up since 4:30 a.m. and I had been dragging him all over the countryside, dodging fallen trees, taking cakes into the treacherous countryside, and now we were tripping over things in the dark, saving baguettes and cinnamon rolls. 

But know this.   A few hours of no electricity in a not-full freezer kills all yeast products.  When I pulled those cinnamon rolls and challuah out to rise for the Farmer's Market, they did not do one thing.  So I threw them all away.   Probably 100 hours of labor of yeast products gone.  So sad.

 

Love at First Sight

Last weekend, my husband and I were in Chicago to attend a good friend's daughter's wedding (so beautiful) and also visit our son, Jake.  (That is Jacques to you, mon amie.)  After all the festivities, we met up with our son, who is doing a summer internship with a company who helps larger companies complete all the paperwork for work visas to bring foreign employees over for short jobs.  He gets to do a lot of translating as he is pretty good in languages.  We had breakfast with him, then got ready to drive back home to cozy Roanoke.  But first we needed to take a quick stroll through Neiman Marcus, of course.

I had not stepped two feet into the store when my eyes laid hold of the..........most .......beautiful....thing......I ....have....ever......seen.  Besidesbabiesandsunsetsandpuppiesandstuff.   A light blue--the softest, most pristine blue--snake skin Chanel bag in the classic shape, with the perfect amount of Swaroski crystals on it and tiny, looping chains placed ever so delicately in the exact right spots which only the Kaiser or Madame herself would know where to deem appropriate.  This handbag was such a work of art that I swear I think I lost all concept of space and time and went straight to it as if in a trance.  Like Odysseus and the Sirens.  I was doomed.  My Neiman Marcus charge card was the rocks onto which I was to be dashed.  I went into the Chanel section and shakily asked permission to see it.  The  overly dressed man with the fake tan and the orange-yellow hair badly in need of a root touch up, looked me up and down over his readers to see if I passed muster, and then unlocked the case.

"Oh my gosh, I have never seen a purse this beautiful.  This is such a work of art,"  I stammered, breaking into a sweat.

"Beautiful, isn't it? " he smiled.  Crest white strips would be good here.  I did not like this guy.

"Let me just ask. How much is this?"  I pitifully asked.  Knowing darn well that he knows if I had to ask....well, you know the rest.

"$17, 000.00," he yawned, pulling it out of my deadlocked grasp and locking it back up before I made a run for it down Michigan Avenue all the way back to Roanoke.

$17,000.00?  Oh, I wish I had seen this before I had bought my last Birkin.  Perhaps I would have bought this instead," I lied.  I have never owned a Birkin, but I do know what they are and how much they cost.

"Yes, I am sure you do," he said.  Somehow, I do not think he believed me.  I believed me.  I thought I was very convincing.

What to Eat When You are Coveting A $17,000.00 Chanel Bag

6 Idaho potatoes, peeled and boiled

1/2 c. Plugra butter

1/8 c. hot milk or cream

lots of salt and pepper

caviar

Run your potatoes through a ricer or beat carefully and fast with a beater. Add the butter and the milk or cream.  Add lots of salt and pepper to taste. Don't whip too much or you will get whipped potatoes. Drizzle top with caviar.  Eat hot and think about the bag and how it could be hanging over the arm of your chair while you are eating this meal.  Now make a donation to charity and do good for the world.  If you are broke, go help your elderly neighbor with her a few errands or chores.  It is still okay to think about this gorgeous purse while you change her cat litter, bien sur.

 

When the Chef Gets Sick

I am not a sickly type.  I am a robust, midwestern woman.  That stems from being tall.  Back in the days when I was a teenager, I was considered very tall.  Of course you know, you cute smarty pants, that people get taller every generation, particularly in the US, where the lifestyle is good.  (Sadly, we are all getting fatter, but that is a topic for another day...And I think this will turn around)  

 As I was saying, I was very tall for my class, so I always had to stand in the back for pictures, be in the back of the lines, nothing fit, you know how it is.  Most of my friends were tiny little petite things, so people would put them in front, carry things for them, tsk tsk over them, and their boyfriends would always pick them up and they would laughingly protest.  They would say, "I'm a size 2 petite."  I would say, "I have to shop in the grown up section at age 10!"  I never had things carried for me, I was asked to lift and carry!  I was tall so by gosh, I could do it all!  What this all boils down to is that I can take care of myself pretty well.  I mowed my mom's grass, washed her windows, did lots of "boy" chores because my siblings were quite a bit older than I and out of the house by the time I hit high school.  So I consider myself pretty tough.  I now live in a house of men, (when they are all home that is), and have to put up with all the boys jokes, dirt and grossness that follows!

Last week, I had a very very big catering job preceded by a graduation dinner.  We were pumped up!  I was anticipating them and had been corresponding with the moms for months.  The days were drawing near and I grocery shopped, ordered the food from my guy and we began to prep.  We held a fun, festive sit down dinner for 26 at the shop, which went better than great.  I had commented that I felt a little dizzy, but soon it all went away as the excitement of the evening came on.  I love my job and am so happy when I do it.  The next day, I got up early, felt tired, but met my staff at the shop to load the car for le grand fete.  Driving there, my neck began to really ache and so did my head.  When we got there, the room felt so hot, although the windows were all open.  Within 15 minutes, I was so sick I could not believe it.  I knew I was in deep trouble.  Both of the people working with me, Chris and Carlton, were supposed to leave.  Chris had grad parties to go to and sadly, Carlton's father in law was dying in a hospital in La Grange and he needed to get there.  But I could not stay if I were vomiting!  I could NOT believe it!  How could this happen on this day?  I was getting so upset which made me feel worse.  Finally I turn to them and said, " I will give you more $$$ if you stay.  I have to leave."  I was sick all the way home and my husband had to help me out of the car! I could only make it to the couch before I collapsed.  I told him to take me to the E.R (he did not) that I was sure I had a huge, horrible brain thing going on.

Luckily, it was only the flu, as he got sick the next day.  Poor thing.  The point of this story is that when the person responsible for the party can't do it, it is not only worrisome for the host but awful for the chef.  I was texting everyone I knew (couldn't talk) to come and help the guys out!  I texted everyone, probably even you, my dear friend!  But no one could come, so my husband went to help out. I was in a state of professional hysteria!  But he went and did his best, although he swears he will never do it again, after discovering how long clean up really takes, even if I croak off.  He got out of his comfort zone and really tried. And that is why I love him.  Happy Father's Day, Billy.

Some Cookbooks are NOT so Yummy

I have not blogged for a very long time.  This entry is about good and bad in the culinary world.  A lot of it also runs in accord with money spent.

I recently read a blog entry about cookbooks.  Are some of them bad?  Do some of the recipes actually turn out poorly, even though the book is published by a well known author.  The answer to this is a resounding YES.  There are some bad cookbooks out there.  Like I used to tell my students when I taught history, just because you read something does not make it true.  Just because someone found a publisher and is getting paid, does not make everything that come out of their mouth sacred.  Unless you are talking about moi, of course.

I bought a very large pastry cookbook by the well known author, Dorrie Greenspan.  David Lebowitz loves her, so I thought I would too.  She has a large following and a great blog.  So I thought, "I will also love her."  I plunked down $45.00 or so for this massive tome and proceeded to bake a lemon tart.  it was not good.  I thought it was my fault.  After all, she is famous.  But I was worried when I saw how very, very thin she is.  A pastry chef is never very, very thin. The phrase "never trust a skinny chef" rang true.  At least for that particular book of Ms. Greenspan's.  So I made it again at another time.  No good.  One more try and now I know it is not a good recipe.  It is not lemony enough.  I made her brioche.  It was excellent.  (It is an American version of Brioche, a time consuming and fairly complicated recipe, made a little easier.)  Then I made her chocolate souffle and had the same problem as the lemon tart.  So for me, 2 out of 3 bad recipes  means I do not want to waste any more time or money time on her recipes.  Any of them. You know how long it takes to make a wonderful dessert, including the clean up.  If it turns out to be a disaster, that was time I could have spent catching on up the Real Housewives or something equally important.  Some authors who publish such massive works of "original " recipes are not originating all of them by themselves.  How could they?  It took Julia Child and her two friends years (6?) to write Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Ina Garten puts out a new cookbook now and then, but they are small.  I think she really does write all of her recipes herself.  (You know she tests them on all her happy Hampton friends.)  Her last cookbook, which I did not like, takes some of the old favorites of her past books and simplifies them more.  It was called, How Easy is That?  because that is her catchy little phrase she says in her show.  But too easy sometimes means not too good to me.  In fact, I don't really like David Lebowitz's cookbooks.  I know he is very famous and I read his blog.  I watch his little videos on his website.  I know he was a pastry chef at Chez Panisse for years.  But I do not think he is a good inventor of recipes.  He may be an excellent baker, but as for assembling ingredients that I want to go together, he is not for me.  I would like to be his friend, though! 

On the other hand, I have never had a Junior League cookbook that I did not love.  Those recipes are tested again and again. I also love all my Cooks Illustrated cookbooks, done by America's test kitchen.  These recipes are tested many ways, old and new, to get the perfect amount of ingredients and more importantly, to get the methodology down pat.  I like almost all of Martha Stewart's cookbooks, although she does not write all of her own recipes.  She has plenty of qualified cooks to do this and I think they really test everything well in Marthaland.  EXCEPT her crumb topping.  It is horrible.  Don't make it.   Believe it or not, those little cookbooks you get with your newly purchased kitchen gadget are really good!  So are all the Better Homes and Gardens., and some of the little ones you can pick up right at the check out in the grocery.  I have some very favorite cookbooks, that are as beautiful to look at as the food is delicious to serve and eat.  I will list them for you on my next blog, because some of them are in the shop and some are in my kitchen.  Let me round them all up so I may give you the exact names and I will let you know.  Please tell me your favorites at the end of this entry!

I do love my Le Cordon Bleu cookbook, which is written in English but measured in the metric system and weighed.  That is the most accurate way to bake.  Very precise and as I have said before, baking is all chemistry.  You remember me saying this, don't you?

 

Stop the Madness

This morning, I was awakening to a barfing dog.  She had been sick all night and had hit all the rugs.  Mind you, we only have 4 rugs in the whole downstairs, but she hit them all.  Portia gives no warning, so I could not hurry her outside  in the middle of the night.  I just find it later.  I think everything she ate for the last 4 years of her life was still in her stomach.

Why am I sharing this gross stuff with you?  TMI you might be saying!  I decided to make her dry toast and thought, "hmm, I think I'll have some toast too."  Then I began to think of all the things these health gurus would say about everything I might eat for breakfast.

Toast.........................no.  gluten

Butter on the toast.....no.  dairy

Jam on the toast........no.   sugar

Coffee.......................no.   caffeine

Orange Juice.............no.   eat an orange

Orange .....................no.   juice it in a $200.00 juicer

Cereal.......................no.    gluten and processed

Milk on cereal...........no.    dairy

yogurt........................no.   too much sugar, and dairy

Greek yogurt ............no.   dairy

Skipping breakfast....no    Bad to skip breakfast

So I had a cookie.

 

Catchin' Up

I have not blogged for several months...three to be exact.  We have been super busy at La Dolce Vita. January brought chicken pot pies.  That is always a crazy job.  We again roasted over 120 lbs of chicken, peeled and parboiled 100 lbs of potatoes and 50 lbs of carrots, and made I donotknowhowmuch crust.  I am not sure if I have eaten chicken since! The very week after that was completed, we made 5,000 cookies for a hotel in Indianapolis.  I have a sneaking suspicion that it had something to do with the Super Bowl that our fine state of Indiana hosted.  Now that is a LOT of cookies!  We got them all done in one week, if you can believe it.  We borrowed a huge mixer from the very generous Tony Ficcaro of Splendid Fare and I used all my employees, some very sweet girlfriends and my son AND his roommate.  Joseph Dequis across the street graciously let us store most of them in one of their AWESOME walk in coolers (I now have refrigeration envy) because my little freezer could barely hold a fifth of that!

February slowed down a bit and Bill and I took a great trip and ate, slept, and read all week.   But in March, I began Dinner With Friends.  This is to be a monthly dinner on the first Friday of every month.  I was so nervous.  Would it work?  Would people come?

Anytime I begin something new, there is so much anxiety involved.  But it was time to try this dream I have had for a year or so which was suggested to me by at least two people.  That night I served a pretty uncomplicated meal of penne in a red sauce with veggies, chicken and sausage, Caesar salad, garlic bread, and home made gelato and sorbetto.  I wanted to keep it under control and make only things I felt well versed in.  (For those who do not know me well, I love to try new menus on people and will even try them without a dry run.  So far it has worked out well, but I know it is risky.)  Well, the night was a huge success!  It was so fun and people came in all kinds of attire, which is what I had hoped for.  They ate everything.  They had second helpings.  They bought the sauce to take home at half the price I would normally sell it.  They laughed and signed up for the next one.  I was on such a "chef's high" that I could not go to sleep that night!  I could not have done it without my crack pot staff. I have the very best staff in the world!

I am not telling you anything cool, but now I will.  Here is one great, not well known culinary tip.   This week Time magazine had a full page article on using cast iron skillets.  The author sings the praises of this old fashioned pan and I am right there with him.  The sale of cast iron skillets has risen quite a bit in the past few years.  So why is cast iron suddenly cool again?  (or hot... tee hee).  Cast iron is a fabulous conductor of heat and stays hot a long time.  It is practically indestructible.  It is heavy so things do not tend to burn.  It can be used as a weapon.  But one thing this author left out, which I could not believe that yours truly knows and this fancy New York reporter does not, is that using a cast iron skillet will raise the iron content of the food cooked in it by as much as 15%.  And that is good for you.  We all need iron.   Iron supplements, if you take them, certainly have their unpleasant side effects, but now you can up yours simply with a $40.00 pan that your mother probably used all the time.  Perhaps we should all make our stir fry okra and our scrambled eggs in the skillet that has traveled the world and has been around way before they came up with stainless steel.

 

The French Version of Best Buy

The only Savories we got to make besides baguettes!

This will probably be my last entry on Paris Level II.  I think I have told you everything interesting except my exasperating experience at the French version of Best Buy--Darty.  As you know, perhaps you have read my blog faithfully, I dropped my camera the day Bill came and he dropped his that night. So I do not have pictures of the delicacies we made the last two weeks, unless a kind classmate took one and emailed it to me.

The service in France can be amazing and fast.  In a restaurant, the waiters are fantastic, or in boutiques the sales people really know their stuff.  Or it can be horrible, like the elevator company, the people who call the elevator company, some of the mercurial cab drivers who drop you off where it is most convenient for them, or the people behind the window in the Metros who despise you for existing. I thought I better buy another camera because I had so much time left in Paris and surely would have lots to photograph.   I walked over to Les Halles (where I swim, BTW) to the Darty store.  I thought the service might be a bit indifferent, but not like this!  

In I walked, where there were many people lolling around in red shirts of various fits.  By this I mean, some tucked in, some out, some unbuttoned, some wrinkled, you understand.  No one walked up to me so I walked around for a while, found the camera section, and figured out what I needed. Finally I went over to a small group of red shirts and asked if someone could aidez-moi? (Hopefully I said could you help me or aid me.)  A guy said Oui and I told him I needed a camera and I would like the Cool Pix that was locked up.  While I was asking him questions, he was looking everywhere but at moi, smiling at les jolie femmes, waving to his friends, checking his cell,  totally disinterested with me.  I decided to cut my losses and get out of there before he died of boredom.   He had to ring it up, but could not take money, only provide me with a form to take to the cash register.  On my way, I decided to pick up a scale, to see if all the patisseries were adding the kilos, but had to get a voucher for this.  Big mistake. Huge.  I go up to the cash register, wait in line for at least 20 minutes, although there was only one person in front of me.  She had an issue I could not understand and it took several people to help her.  Now, please understand, there were about 5 people behind the counter.  One girl sat and just stared into space, another woman was on her cell phone, a man of some higher rank was going up to everyone and kissing them on both cheeks, and ca va-ing all over the place. When it was finally my turn and the line behind me was growing at a fast pace, she slowly rang up a form, then told me I had to go to the BACK of the store to get my scale. I am not sure why they did not open another register the others, but they did not.   So I grumpily walked to the back of the store and waited in line again while several other people behind the counter kissed and greeted each other- maybe a shift change?-and caught up on a bit of news.  A girl finally came out from the back, got my voucher and disappeared in the depths of that back room for a small eternity before she presented my scale to me.  But, toute alors!, they had no bags, could I wait while they got some? Non.  I did not know if they would go to China to get them.

savories.jpg

The next day at school, I had a change of heart as my friend and I decided it would be ridiculous for me to use an adapter in my own country to charge a camera I bought in another.  You see, my old Cool Pix used batteries, but my nouveau Cool Pix is chargeable.  Darn you, Aston Kutcher!  I knew this meant another fun trip to Darty so I steeled myself for more wasted time. And I did.  Waste more time.  A lot more time.  I waited in line, while the woman  fooled around with two other customers, then she told me I had to go to the back of the store to get some form, then bring it back up to her. Aughghggh!  I knew what the back of the store meant.  It makes the DMV look like Disney World.  I stomped back there, only to wait in a very long line of irritated French people, while one guy filled out all the forms and many other counter guys lazily hung out.  When it came to my turn, after I had almost stripped to my birthday suit because it was roasting hot in there, he tried to get me to buy an adaptor.  He tried to get me to buy another camera. He tried it all.  But by this time I was tough and no amount of sucre parle would wear me down.  I got my form, went to the front, waited in yet another line and a new girl was totally freaked out by this return.  She must have been very new or else the French never return stuff. The boss had to come over several times to help her as he decided I should get cash back and not a charge card credit.  I would have taken dead monkeys just to get out of there.

From this very long story, you can learn:

  1. Don't buy small appliances in France

  2. Don't go to a big store like this if you want to do anything else at all that day.

  3. Smile instead of scream.  I cannot imagine how long I would have waited if I had acted the way I really felt.  I would still be there.

  4. Wear a bikini because the French have not quit got the whole temperature regulation thing down.

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Funny Times at Le Ralph

One would not think of Ralph Lauren as a rip-snorting, knee-slapping kind of guy.  He represents a type of Americana that is beautiful, rich, and refined, very wasp-y and hushed. Pretty cool and inventive for a poor Jewish guy from the Bronx; and he has made his mark here as well.  His store on St. Germaine is so beautiful. Drop dead gorgeous, I just want to lap it all up.  The outside is as stunning as any

hotel particulier

could ever be.  And beyond the courtyard that is lush with plants, old brick and weathered but comfortable patio furniture (and now with a million tiny white lights) is Le Ralph, his American restaurant that is packed to the gills with Parisians, longing for a real apple pie and not a wimpy tarte tatin.

Some of you might exclaim, "Pourquoi  go to a Ralph Lauren restaurant in Paris when you can go to the one in Chicago?!"  The reason is simple; it is beautiful, delicious and I long for a bit of home after 5 weeks.  Plus, the waiters are so cute in their TIGHT oxford cloth shirts, that it makes paying $60.00 for a Le Ralph burger less painful.

The first time I went during this trip was with my sister, Debbie.  She was seated in the plush banquette, surrounded by thick tartan plaid pillows. We were next to the roaring fireplace.  I was facing her, with my back to the restaurant. One gets the best seats when one dines at 7:00 instead at 10:00, like everyone else here. As we were talking, a tiny little mouse stuck his head out of one of the fireplace cracks. It as so cute and all I could think of was RATATOUILLE!!!  (Yes I know he was a rat, but please, don't ruin my story.)  I didn't know whether to tell Debbie or simply ignore the occurance, but now I could not take mon yeux  off that crack!  I tried to talk to Debbie, but my eyes kept wandering over there.  Finally she asked me what in the world was I looking at?!  I told her and we had a good laugh, but the rest of the dinner, she felt worried, like that little French mouse might come back and decide to crawl across her shoulder.  He did not.  I am sure he was ticking his head out, wondering when we were all going to leave so he could come and feast on the crumbs.  Or whip up something wonderful, just like in the movie...

Me, right before my killer cramp started...

A few weeks later, I went back with my friend Wendy, who is from Virginia and also a (very good ) student at Le Cordon Bleu.  We were eating our way through the menu and were seated to a sophisticated couple from Germany.  The woman was thin as a rail and dripping in diamonds, something one does not see here often in Paris.  (It is not proper to show off your wealth, unless of course, it is with your clothes or handbags.)  All of a sudden, I got a KILLER CRAMP in my left thigh.  There is a muscle that wraps around the inner thigh and goes to the back of your leg and is one of the biggest in your body.  You know the one?  That one!  I wanted to start screaming and rolling on the floor!  Instead, I jumped up, ran over to the bar and interrupted everyone, yelling quick, "Je suis a horrible cramp!! ( I am a horrible cramp) Do you have tonic water?"  The bartender looked up--no one hurries here unless you at Le Cordon Bleu, then it is full steam ahead--and he said, " Oui.  Le Schlepps?"  By now, I was starting to die and I blurted,"Oui!  Hurry!"  He gets the bottle, opens it, begins to pour into a glass, but I grabbed it out of his hands and chugged it!!!  Everyone was looking at me as if I were crazy.  I said, "it has quinine in it. It makes cramps go away...." Of course, they could not understand a word of what I was saying. 

 But that is not the end.  The combination of chugging such a carbonated beverage on a very full stomach full of Ralphie's food, made my stomach  expand like a balloon.  I ran-hobbled down the long spiral staircase to the restroom, bolted past the lady working there without so much as a polite bonsoir, went into a stall and almost barfed!  Instead, I must have let out at least 10 belches that would make any fraternity guy envious.  Yes, this is the woman representing the U.S. in Paris.