Memories and Inspiration for Food, Travel and Life
Blog was started to document my life as a culinary student at ESCF-Ferrandi and life in France…
It’s the 2010 holiday and next week I have to tell
my boss that I will be leaving and going to culinary school in Paris. In fact, my flight is on January 30 – one month away. I don’t have my visa yet or my passport back, but as long as that goes smoothly I’ll be learning cooking at ESCF-Ferrandi or Ecole Superieure de Cuisine Franciase. I decided that after all the traveling, the BA in Political Science from UNC-Wilmington and the two office jobs, that I wanted to do something I enjoyed and go back to yachting. Breaking off my engagement and meeting idiot after idiot has made me realize I am not willing to let any man be a reason to stay somewhere, work somewhere or do anything other than what I want. I’ve put my life on hold while putting boyfriends and their careers before mine for far too long. I guess I always thought I shouldn’t focus on a career, or I would end up married with children and having to put aside a something fantastic. Jokes on me!
So here is to almost 30, single and more excited about my future than ever!
Tomorrow is my official last day at work in NC. It is certainly bitter-sweet, as much of the past two years have been. While, in practicality, it was certainly the position that allowed me the creative time to learn so many new social media and marketing tools, it also officially got me through the last year financially. This was also the position that introduced me to a truly inspirational individual – my boss, Tiffany Crenshaw. I cannot say enough nice things about her and how her drive and dedication has inspired me to go on my own mission. If my disastrous engagement was what I had to experience to meet her, I can honestly say, I would do it all over again.
While her main company, Intellect Resources, was the core of my career, I was also lucky enough to work with her on CareerMoxie – a career management site that required me to learn social media and online radio show production. Listening to the interviews with career professionals really struck a chord with me. Essentially, everyone one of them alluded to pursuing something you love. Love what you do, and it won’t feel like work. So, between the charisma of my boss and the inspirational messages from the many guests I started thinking about what I really loved…
The sea. Eating. Traveling. Meeting new people and exploring new places. Being creative. Moving and feeling physically as well as mentally exhausted at the end of the day. Then I started really listening to my dreams. For four years, since leaving yachting, all I dreamt about at night was being at sea. The drama of crew politics and guests demands. These were dreams, not nightmares, and no other subject ever took their place. So what was I even doing sitting behind a computer and feeling my muscles atrophy and my mind wander?
Personally, I always saw my old stewardess role as a numbers game. While I love serving and caring for others, and find it easier to put their needs and wants before mine, it wasn’t a particularly healthy / creative outlet or secure position. Younger and hotter stewardesses came and went all the time, and 30 was usually the cut off. I had always loved cooking, going to the many foreign markets (don’t miss the Mercato Orientale in Genova), and sharing conversations over a meal. In fact, that may just be the best part of travel, in my opinion. Eating what and where the locals eat with great political or philosophical debates for hours, with plenty of wine.
So, here is to the last day at what may be my last office job ever but to which I have everything to thank…and to whatever culinary school in Paris may hold.
What was Culinary school like in Paris at Ferrandi? It was amazing. I really loved the other students in my class, and I’ll be honest I think we are all really lucky we were in the same place at the same time because I know other classes didn’t have the connection we all had. For the most part we were from English-speaking countries like the USA, Canada or Australia. And for the most part we were college educated and leaving our blue-collar careers for this big unknown world of cuisine. Granted I wanted to work back in yachting, but a lot of people didn’t know where this would lead them, maybe restaurants, maybe their own business, maybe no where and back to the drawing board.
We had kitchen courses with all 11 of us in one big kitchen and our professor, Stephane Gabrielly. Chef Gabrielly was a larger than life character from the SW of France with a strong personality. He was incredibly hard on some and generally ran the kitchen with fear, asking ‘What you doing?!’. It was really intense in the moment, and then afterwards (over a beer) really funny. I guess that’s what I’ve always thought of kitchens, a bit bi-polar…with the act of insanity defended by those involved. It is so far from the calm and regulated office spaces we had come from. Luckily, I had been in yachting before which was another sort of militaristic working environment and generally the yelling didn’t bother me, nor did the ‘long’ hours or the expected team work. Overall it was a great preparatory for our stages in French restaurants, especially our dinner services where we were actually cooking for a restaurant associated with the school but open to the public.
The school also includes wine classes which are great, with the very animated and passionate Agnes. I can’t tell you how welcome those classes were if they immediately after a kitchen class. We also had the (very)occasional French class, which was interesting. Maybe my only complaint was this. You have a group called the ‘anglophones’ coming to a school in Paris to learn cooking and are taught in English. French is not a requirement to apply. And then, bam! Youre thrown into a French kitchen where the chefs only speak French! Bit crazy, but I guess in the end it works.
My favorite class had to be the regional meal, every two weeks we were given a menu from a certain region in France and as a group made this amazing 5 course meal. It was great because these also generally coincided with our French geography course so we learned why these dishes were cooked through ahistorical context as well.
This year started out at a country house in France with a big group of friends which included a delicious dinner and champagne. It was amazing. I was remembering the year before sick on my parents sofa and felt so blessed to be where I was, with great people and most of all the greatest love of my life.
I finished my stage at l’Akrame where they threw me a really thoughtful going away party with a cake make by the talented pastry chef, Sebastian, and I was given a stunning pen to write my recipes with. It had been a really hard yet rewarding time in my life, and while physically I was ready for rest I knew I was going to miss the team and learning.
After, I immediately planned for my trip back to the USA to visit my family, finally! A whole year was way to long to be away from all of them. The sad part was my little sister wasn’t going to be there but at least it was because she had moved and was experiencing life on her own in Texas. When I got home in January, it was so sunny and warm in North Carolina, it felt like summer compared to Paris! The first thing I wanted to do was sleep, and have Carolina BBQ. About two weeks later Julien came and met my family for the first time and I took him on the tour of NC from Wilmington, to Chapel Hill, to Asheville. I’ve never done so much driving in one week! But it was worth it, we got to see the NC beaches, a UNC basketball game, Reynolda Village and the Biltmore Mansion…and ate at Manna in Wilmington and 12 Bones Smokehouse BBQ in Asheville (apparently Obama likes them as well).
After coming back to Paris I got to help a few days at l’Akrame and was even offered a job, but seeing as I didn’t have the proper visa and couldn’t get an appointment at the Embassy in Atlanta until May, it didn’t work out. Which was OK. Because in March Julien asked me to marry him at the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany (home of Anne of Bretagne), in Nantes where he was born. We had an amazing dinner afterwards at l’Embellie and went home to tell his grandparents. It was the best day of my life. I cannot believe how by trusting my instincts and following my heart I ended up living my dream. I’m so sad when I think about people who are working in jobs they don’t like, living places that make them sad and worst of all marrying someone who is just ‘OK’. I cannot believe I found him, but I never would have if I hadn’t had faith in something stronger and bigger than I was living.
Anyway! Now I’m in the middle of planning our wedding at the city hall in the 15eme in Paris, so we will see how that goes! I’m overwhelmed more emotionally then with the actual planning. Even though, finding a place for the reception, trying to get a cake, organizing friends and family, has all been challenging in a foreign country…so I’m curious to see how it all turns out! We are having the reception at a wine bar called Chez Jolie, and a fellow Ferrandi alumni named Diane Anthonissen is going to be making our cake. Only two more weeks to go!
Today is Julien’s 30th birthday, and we decided to have a quiet night at home since he is flying out to Barcelona tomorrow morning. Ellen and Eddy have been here and we have had a lot of fun. I’ve lived away from my family for most of the past decade but it’s always fun to reconnect and realize there is someone else out there who really understands you and knows you. It’s also amusing to see the bizarre commonalities. We have been to Cafe de l’empire for dinner, spent a big night at Le Cavern, had an amazing lunch at Ze Kitchen Gallery and cocktails at La Famillie. I think about my aunt Barbara and my mother and how they have always hung out and been close, their kids (my cousins) growing up together. I really hope that’s how we can be.
Julien went to Barcelona for work and is meeting Ellen and Eddy and our friend Tyler. I definitely wish I was there, but I’m also just tired of not working and being alone when Julien goes away on business trips. It’s been a long three months not working and stressing about weddings and visas and life plans, plus having bills come out of my bank account with nothing rolling in. I’m so ready to work. And then I think about how Julien is going to feel, like I do right now…but then agin maybe not. He has his friends and family here so I’m sure it will be better. The wedding is in four days, I keep thinking something needs to be done…hummm.
Amazing. Finally the day came and it wasn’t stressful, I was just ready to get it done! We were supposed to have the apartment for just the ladies but that never really happened so there were about 7 of us trying to get ready in our small 30 square meter apartment. In the morning we went to pick out the flowers, which I bought at Le Jardin at 56 Avenue La Motte Picquet, 75015 Paris. It was so much fun picking out the soft pink and purple roses, white accents and peonies…but then I asked to make a bouquet and they said they would only make it with all the bunches of flowers I had chosen, which wouldn’t leave any for hair or accents. But, I wasn’t in the mood for arguing so they did and it was beautiful. Then my mom, who had said she would buy my flowers, handed me a 100 USD bill. I think the whole wedding was stressing her it so much she couldn’t think properly, because she’s been in Europe before and know full well that they take euros, not dollars. So I bought the flowers and picked up my white jacket from the dry cleaner. I knew I’d need it with my overly optimistic summer dress I’d chosen (from BHLDN).
Then I went for my hair appointment, and this was where I should have thought about it more but really didn’t think it would matter. I went just to the closest place possible and was thinking I could explain the soft and voluptuous hair do that I was looking for…with accents of flowers that matched my bouquet. So I got there, and explained, but I should have brought a photo. I almost wanted to cry when I left because my hair was absolutely nothing like I had pictured in my head. it was tight, sprayed back and had ends flying out everywhere! But, I just rolled with it. Back at the apartment we started getting dressed for photos before the ceremony. All at once with the men there as well. I’m hoping my religious ceremony next year is more organized because that apartment was chaos! Imagine four women trying to get ready in a closet, that’s what it was like. With three men watching.
We had some photos in the park across the street and then headed to the mairie in the rain. I’m sure anyone who says it good luck to have it rain on your wedding day is just trying to make you feel better, because it’s actually crap! But, living in Paris it wasn’t too surprising so we took a taxi the three blocks to avoid being soaked. It was really stressful waiting to get into the room at the mairie because I wondered how my French would hold up. I had watched on YouTube as many wedding videos as possible, all I had to say was ‘oui’ at the appropriate time. I could so do this.
Slowly we all filled into the room and sat waiting to listen to the ‘fast’ ceremony. Well, it was sweet, but the ceremony took 40 minutes because they knew we were not just a French couple. They asked me where I was working, in French. Was this a trick question?! I don’t have my working papers! They tried to engage me so much that my brain hurt from concentrating! I felt awful because I knew this was a really nice thing, but when it was finally over I was so relieved! I was getting flushed with everyone watching me try to speak French…it’s not a pretty site, except maybe to my husband. (BTW- at the time to get married in Paris you need to be living in the arrondissement for over a month, have proof through rental contract, electricity bill etc., choose your witnesses who will be there at the ceremony, be legal and have photo copies of passports for all those involved and bring the French prenuptial agreement if you are having one. As an American I had to go to the American embassy and get papers stating I was not married in the USA and marrying freely. The French embassy website is very helpful. Any paper from the USA embassy needs to be translated into French through a valid translator which can be found through the mairie of Paris website)
The best part, was after we exchanged rings, we turned around and everyone was waving American and French flags. I had dreamt about that but it didnt seem like it would happen. Thanks to Juliens good friend Mags we had the flags, petals thrown and bubbles blown when we exited, and music playing. She really made it perfect!
Our reception was at Chez Jolie on rue Dauphine in the 6eme, and despite my fears, everything was perfect. The food was amazing. Shrimp and cauliflower salad, the best stake tartare I’ve ever had, house made fois gras, cheese plates, charcuterie, mini ile flottants, cakes, and more! The champagne, beers, wine flowed for hours. The service was kind, generous and accommodating. I really had nothing to worry about. They made space for Diane to finish our cake and decorate. We just had such a wonderful time dancing in the downstairs cave and chatting until 2am. There were only good things to say after the ceremony and reception.
We had 65 guests, drank 60 bottles of champagne, 240 bottles of beer, canapé for hours, our cake, flowers and all for under 3,000 euro. I spent weeks looking for places to rent, decent food, a cake and it was just adding up. Many cakes for 60 people in Paris are at least 7 euro per person, which for us was too much. Finding someone you know who is happy to do your cake first or close to cost is a great way to save. Also, going to places that might not be used to receptions but that are willing to work with you. Buying your own flowers, doing your own makeup and finding a friend to do the photography saves a fortune. We will be spending all of this next year, but in all honestly, I would be content with our Paris mariage civil and vin d’honneur being our only celebration. It checked all my boxes!
I will say, if you are planning on standing for hours and have heels on, please bring a pair of flats to the reception! You’re feet will kill otherwise!
At the end of it all, Julien and I didn’t really feel any different. It was just like having the best day ever with close family and friends. I hope that’s how it feels after the religious ceremony in Wilmington, NC next year!