Called M. Alleno – as was instructed – but he was on the other line – so left a message with his assistant? Assistant? Since when did chefs have assistants? Usually it's the sous-chefs – or at least the higher ranking chefs de partie – that answer the phone – and take messages for the chefs. But M. Alleno's assistant was very nice and said that she would tell him I called. I said that I would call back.
Also called M. Piege at the Crillon – my Chef de Cuisine at ADPA. This was a harder call. The last time I'd talked to him I hadn't had much of a chance to talk really – he'd just told me that the opening was very difficult – and that I'd need to call back at the beginning of March.
Called M. Piege and finally got through to him.
When he'd left ADPA, he and the guys who went over had taken a week off. They then started at the kitchens in the Crillon – but secretively. In fact – if you called – you were told that M. Piege wouldn't arrive until the 14th of February – that was a decree handed down from the chef. It took me a hell of a time to get through to him before then.
Even now it takes a few transfers before you get to talk to the chef.
He seemed much more relaxed. Asked me if I had everything. I told him that I didn't understand. Asked if I had my Convention de Stage – the official French paperwork that allows students and professionals to stage. My heart sank.
I want to work for you Chef – I said – I know that I'd said that I was only staying until the end of February but I want to stay in France – to work for you.
Silence on his end.
Fuck – I thought.
Come tomorrow at 19:15.
"Oui Chef!" I said, "Demain a 19:15! Oui Chef! Merci!"
I did not have a good feeling about this.
Yes, the chef had invited me over to work. But yes, at the time I'd said that I was staying in France only until the end of February. And yes, the stage paperwork would have just gotten me in the kitchen a the Crillon right away – and then I could have been paid on the side as an extra – but Cordon Bleu could not extend me another stage – they're limited by their private school category by of the French government.
Fine, I'd meet with him tomorrow – having flashbacks of the emotional roller coaster of first getting my stage at ADPA.
In the meantime, I had to go to Spoon. I'd called the sommelier last week to ask for help in choosing a gift of wine for M. Moret – for his extraordinary generosity in our dinner at APDA.
The sommelier suggested that I come in and discuss the wines.
Here's the thing that sometimes endearing and frustrating about the French – they like face to face meetings. Rather than emails or phone calls or letters or faxes – let's have a rendez-vous! Need your gas and electricity or phone hooked up? Phone call? No way! You have to go down to the office in person!
So rather than just tell me which wines over the phone, the sommelier suggested I come in. OK – thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule – I say gratefully through gritted teeth.
So off Karli and I go.
We walk up Bosquet – to the river – take a soft right – up avenue Montaigne – past the Plaza – a sharp left at L'Avenue – the Costes brothers café at which I always snicker to myself "Why bother?" – half a block up to Spoon.
I'd been there once before – meeting with M. Bellin – the new chef de cuisine from Spoon Tokyo – who took over when M. Moret went over to ADPA.
I've never belonged to any clubs – not any in which I've had to go to meetings or meetinghouses anyway – but – how can I explain? Having just been watching old episodes of The Sopranos – it's a lot like that – you know what I mean? I don't know these guys at Spoon – but because I worked at ADPA – I'm part of the family. It's not the same vibe as when you're labeled a journalist – not at all. When you're part of the family – there's an understanding – an unspoken understanding.
So I go in – they invite me to sit down – they offer me coffee – and not only bring me coffee but a small rectangular plate of three chocolate chip cookies and three oatmeal raisin cookies. But please – let me be a bit more specific – three of the best goddamned chocolate chip cookies and three of the best goddamned oatmeal raisin cookies I've ever had in my entire fucking, cookie-eating life – anywhere in this goddamned world. So good – that at first thick, crispy, chewy, buttery bite – I wanted to run back into the kitchen, pound down the stairs to patisserie, knock aside bewildered pastry people, and grab fistfuls more. Damn-they-were-good.
But back to the wine.
I took the wine course at Cordon Bleu. I know how to taste wine. I know generally how to pair food and wine. I know terroir, AOC – a few other wine buzzwords here and there. But in this world I feel that I know nothing – so I defer to the sommeliers.
Apparently M. Moret likes big, robust reds. The sommelier makes a few suggestions – to which I just kind of smile meekly – whatever you say has become my mantra here.
That and I'm still so fixated on those cookies.
He goes off and does some wine stuff while I wait.
Spoon is basically an uber-hip coffee shop – at least the one in Paris has that vibe. While there are a few around the world, they're all different. The one in Paris concentrates more on modern French and Asian fare. You're offered a warm washcloth – a la sushi bar – upon arrival – but sent home with a bread loaf-sized meringue on departure.
When the sommelier gets back to me, he's still asking me what I think about the wines. I finally lay a hand on his arm – you have my trust. He finally gets it. While I know something about wine, the French learn how to pop corks in nursery school.
Karli and I head up to the Champs-Elysees and swing a left to check out the new Publicis Drugstore – with a brasserie and bar by M. Ducasse. I don't remember this place that well before the renovation – I'm thinking it was a 1950s Manhattan coffee shop but I'm not sure. Now it's crazy swooping clear glass and curved metal supports. The Publicis Drugstore shopping bags are the new coveted item in town. It's everything from newsstand to gourmet grocer to the new hot tables to state-of-the-art movieplex - oh yeah - and drugstore.
I peer into the ground floor brasserie – and step in finally – prepared to be amazed – but stopped at the door because Karli's too big – only small dogs allowed.
So – what do I keep telling you – Paris is not perfect.
SPOON food & wine
14 rue Marignan
01 40 76 34 44
133 avenue des Champs-Elysees
01 47 20 39 25