The French Laundry
Through gaining the William Heptinstall award in 2006, one of the places I chose to stage was The French Laundry. I first heard of the French Laundry when I was 16 back in 1999, so visiting there in the summer of 2007 was like making a pilgrimage.
My first day I was introduced to all the chefs and shown around. The kitchen was immaculate not a speck of dirt or clutter in sight. The fridges were organised with military precision. I had the menu explained to me and how it changes every service. One of the sous chefs spoke to me about my stage and how I would move around the sections depending on how I coped with the work and what I intended on getting out of the experience.
After a couple of weeks of mis en place and helping the chef de parties set up their sections, I was allowed to get involved during service. The jobs I could do were limited as service is strictly organised but I got involved as much as possible and jumped at any opportunities offered to me. The service was so well organised that it always seemed to go smooth no matter how fast the checks came on or if any mistakes were made.
It was fascinating to see such a well oiled machine in operation, they way the menus were changed everyday amazed me. Cory Lee’s was chef de cusine when I did my stint there and it was great to hear his ideas and philosophies on food. I never went there on a recipe hunt and didnt come back with many. For me it was about learning their systems, ideas, and how and why they do things.
A few days into the stage I was thrilled to meet Thomas Keller and have a conversation with him. It was a pleasure to meet someone I’ve looked up to for so long. What he has built up is an amazing achievement.
Whilst at The French Laundry I also had the great pleasure of meeting Michele Roux Snr, he was celebrating a family birthday and chose to eat there as it is one of his favourite restaurants.
Towards the end of my trip I spent five days working alongside Claire Clark on the pastry. She was very trusting and let me get on with many jobs. I enjoyed working with her as she was very helpful, friendly and extremely knowledgeable about her craft. I was also very privileged to help her test out some of the recipes for her cookbook that came out towards the end of that year.
Napa valley is a beautiful part of the world consisting of hundreds of wineries and vineyards. As a stage or employee of The French Laundry you get to taste wines for free at the local wineries. I visited as many as possible and sampled some fantastic wines, and on my days off I was regularly tipsy strolling in the hot sun down the silverado trail picking strawberries, and nearly stumbling into the road!!
On the last day of my trip I was invited by Cory Lee to enjoy a meal in the kitchen (eating in his office) whilst observing the service. They treated me to a 15 course meal with a different wine at each course. The food was ten out of ten without a doubt. I got to enjoy some special wines as well. They served me 100 year old balsamic vinegar with air dried Japanese Wagu beef. With my foie gras course a selection of salts, one of which was around four thousand years old. I got to taste the classics like Oysters and Pearls, egg custard, salmon cornet, and coffee and doughnuts.
Napa is well worth a visit it really is a beautiful part of the world, and if you cant get a table at The French Laundry then Bouchon which I visited 3 times is also fantastic.