By Justin Chao
I learned a lot in culinary school in Paris, but the bulk of my culinary training began when I left the safety of Bellouet Conseil (my culinary school) and started working at Le Meurice. I won’t lie: working in a French kitchen was difficult. The first day I walked in to the kitchen, I was absolutely clueless. I made all the rookie mistakes like using my apron as a napkin. I even spilled a whole pail of pastry glaze on the floor. I’m pretty sure I looked like a fool, mostly because my co-workers didn’t hesitate to let me know. While my French was good enough to get around Paris, it wasn’t good enough to communicate in a fast-paced environment. I remember being really stressed out and that people were yelling at me. One guy even slammed a knife down on the counter right by my head. Even though it was really long hours and physically intense, I kept going back because I was learning skills that I could not learn anywhere else. From the first day, I was making desserts that were going out to customers who were expecting the world-class quality. The level of care and skill that went into each dessert was mind-blowing, and I have not seen that level of craftsmanship since I’ve left Paris. I decided to stick with it and work really hard. If there was a skill that I could not master at work, I would go home and practice.
By the end of my internship, I was just as fast as my co-workers. More importantly, I had gained their respect and friendship. Having worked at such a highly regarded kitchen, I feel like I can work anywhere and thrive. Taking the first step to work in a kitchen is hard. Luckily for me, it worked out and I continued to have a career in the field. Looking back, I should have tried working in a kitchen before I moved to Paris and invested a lot of money and time in culinary school. I guess I was lucky that it worked out. For anyone who is interested in going to Paris to learn about pastry, I highly recommend Bellouet Conseil. One of the best parts of going to Bellouet Conseil is that you have a choice of where you would like to work in Paris. I would also recommend taking advantage of any internship program that your culinary school offers. Staging (interning) is an intense experience, but the confidence I gained by working in a high-intensity environment is invaluable.