Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Living in wine country

Some of you may know, and some of you may not, but I have finished my classes at culinary school, and now I am on my externship at The French Laundry. Culinary school finished well, and I learned so much. It was a lot of work, but 100% worth it.

The externship is a requirement of most culinary schools. Basically, what you have to do is find a job at a restaurant and work there for three months, to get real experience. Some externships are paid, many are not. In my case, it is not, but I am working at The French Laundry, in the Napa Valley in California, and learning so much.

This is an incredible restaurant. The standards we follow are probably some of the highest in the industry, and it is an intense place to work. After working here for three weeks, the best word to describe it is intense. It is a beautiful restaurant, from top to bottom; showing the hard work and attention to detail that has been put into this place. The detail that I have to put into everything I do is so incredible, and I can imagine that it shows when one comes to dine here.

I have a lot of things to say about this place, and hopefully in the next few weeks I can shed some light on what it's like to work here, because being here is an incredible experience. The people I am working with are some top notch people. Everyone in the kitchen is so knowledgeable and intelligent, especially when it comes to food and working in the kitchen.

Here are some examples of the atmosphere I am working in:
  • Under every clock there is a small plaque that says "Sense of Urgency"
  • There is a live video feed of the kitchen in the sister restaurant, per se in New York
  • There is a plaque in the back prep kitchen that says, "When you acknowledge, as you must, that there is no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it, then the real purpose of striving toward perfection becomes clear: to make people happy. That's what cooking is all about."
This last quote is from Thomas Keller's "The French Laundry Cookbook." This is the motto of the restaurant. It gives purpose as to why I am picking through five pounds of arugula to find the 100 most perfect leaves. It gives purpose as to why every egg shell I trim has to be perfectly smooth where it is cut. It gives purpose when I am straining stock at least three times. It gives purpose when I am cleaning mushrooms that every single speck of dirt is gone.

Everything is in incredible detail, and it is a very intense atmosphere to be in. Every day I am being pushed to produce the best product possible, pushed to do my best, by the people around me and myself.

I don't have any more pictures of the restaurant, or the food yet, but here are some pictures of Napa Valley in December, around 62 degrees.


chris said...

you're alive!? i was starting to worry about you.

the french laundry sounds amazing. i'd love to hear more about it.
i'm really enjoying my internship. i too am loving working with people who are so knowledgeable about the items we're working with and all that goes along with cooking them.

hang in there.

Andy said...


Congrats on getting such a great externship! I had a chance to dine at the French Laundry a couple years back while working in the Valley and was really impressed by the incredible quality and presentation of the menu and the impeccable service.

Have you had a chance to get out and explore Napa or Sonoma at all? I spent 3 falls down there escorting wine tours for a cruise company and really missed it this year.

Anyway, hope all is well!

Andy Compton