The Mesturet Novel: The Life of Passions

Article publié par Le Mesturet le 02/09/2011 à 11:33
Catégories : The Mesturet Novel
Tags : The Mesturet Novel

Chapter Two : The Construction / part 1

Within a few days, Pierre had gotten into the role of the model apprentice. His work wasn’t any more interesting but he had to learn and Charles had warned him that he would start at the bottom. The chores piled up, Pierre tackled them one after another with a certain amount of pleasure and a certain amount of surprise. 

The vegetables that his mother peeled in front of him and prepared according to the recipe were, here with Charles, still vegetables, but each process had a name: peel, blanch, cut, steam, braise. Pierre was learning a language he hadn’t even know existed. For fun one evening, before going to bed, he had counted the number of new words he’d learned. Outrageous : one hundred and fifty words and expressions! The pots had names too. One day, right in the middle of a service, Jean had shouted, “Pierre, my sauce is oxygenating, bring me a russe!” 

A russe? [literally “a Russian woman” in French] Pierre imagined a Russian woman in the kitchen… But what was she doing there?

He turned to look at Albert who pretended not to see him. As for Germain, he looked up at the ceiling, maybe to see if one of the neon lights was burnt out.

So Pierre was the alone in the search for the russe in question. Jean came up to him.

“Come on kid, it was a joke. Come with me. Hurry up, we’re serving, we don’t have a lot of time. You see, all these pans have a name and you have to learn them. Here, here’s your russe.”

He passed him a pot, an ordinary pot. Pierre was going to ask him why that name. Jean didn’t give him time.

“Don’t ask me why it’s called that, I don’t know. Although one day I should find out… Maybe when I retire.”

Another day, Pierre looked for a mandoline, which actually wasn’t a small Italian guitar but a metal instrument used to cut raw vegetables in a variety of different ways. He didn’t get tired of learning the terms, the vocabulary, every day. He felt he was on the right path. But so he wouldn’t be surprised by the colourful vocabulary, he asked everyone questions. In spite of how busy they were in the summer season, each and every one took the time to answer him whether it was in the hotel, the restaurant dining room or the kitchen.

Charles, who was watching his protégé from a distance, liked how the kid, as he and Jean called him, was doing.

Two questions, though, had to be dealt with quickly. The first was about going back to school, because for Charles, Pierre had to do his apprenticeship with a view to getting his CAP certification, BEP, if possible.

The second question, was the hardest one for Charles: military service. To have Pierre gone for an entire year, would be terrible. One year lost and he had so few years to give the boy. What to do? How to get around it? He thought about it every day, he had to find a solution.

He went to the Clermont-Ferrand barracks without telling anyone, even Jean. He went to see his old friend Paul who had joined the First French Army under the command General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny in 1944. Now, at the end of his career, he was in charge of the barracks and the region.

They hadn’t seen much of each other for the last thirty years, but the resistance, the danger, the sacrifices and the lives lost had created indissoluble bonds.

Charles didn’t like commemorations or other gatherings that reminded him of those difficult years and sacrifices, his parents and Marie. Paul was invited to them all… and he went to them all. Charles, not a single one.

Paul received him in his office. Visibly happy to see him again, he offered him a seat and a coffee – the latter brought by a young conscript.

“You see, Charles, how I’m ending my career. I often get bored and remember our wild years. I don’t regret anything, I’ve been all over the world, fought with conviction and done things that weren’t always above board and other things that were full of glory. It’s difficult to go out like this. I’m often restless.”

Charles listened to Paul. If he’d known how he’d end up!

“Well, Charles, you don’t usually come to see me. What do you want to talk about? You don’t have any problems, do you? Jean’s well too, I hope?”

That was Paul. He hadn’t changed. He spoke without knowing what the person he was speaking to wanted. Charles knew that he had to wait a little and that Paul would listen carefully to him later. First, Paul had to pour out a flood of words then he listened carefully and always looked for solutions.

“Paul,” Charles said. “I have a kid in the kitchen that I’m training. He’s going to start his apprenticeship at the end of September and it’ll go on for at least two years. But there’s also his military service and I’d like to avoid him being away from the restaurant because in one year, you forget a lot of what you’ve learned.”

The last thing Charles wanted was to talk about his real reasons in front of Paul. Paul frowned.

“You don’t imagine that I’m going to advise you to have him declared unfit for service, I won’t help you with that.” He thought for a moment. “Here’s what I can do: he can do his three days in his military region. I’ll call the head of the region; I’m sure I’ll know him. I’ll ask him to send him to do his classes not too far from here. Then, after a few weeks, I’ll bring him here to work in the officers’ mess and I’ll manage it so that he can be free to see you and work a little at your place. But that’s the limit. No one’s going to get me in trouble now!”

Then Charles and Paul went over the details and how to organize everything. Pierre had been born in 1958, so he would join Paul’s barracks in two years after a request for an education postponement. Paul was quite satisfied as that would be his last year before retiring.

“I hope your “kid” will make me some “Quiet Volcano” dishes.”

Charles smiled.  Then, they talked about the past for a long time. Paul invited Charles to stay for lunch and Charles surprised himself by not saying no. Maybe it was the last time that he would see Paul. He felt like spending time with him. He called Jean from the barracks to tell him that he would be staying in town, not to worry and that he would tell him all about it.

On the way back, Charles had the feeling of a job done. He’d have to tell Pierre’s parents, which he’d do when he arrived, and Pierre, of course. Charles realized that he hadn’t yet asked his future apprentice if he wanted to stay with them. Deep down, he was afraid to ask the question. What if the answer was no and Pierre left?

He had to think of something else because he was making himself sad for nothing. He also remembered that Pierre didn’t want to go to school anymore. It wouldn’t be an easy discussion as Pierre had a strong personality.

Two days later, Charles asked Pierre to come and see him in the “Gergovie” room after the lunch service. Charles acted more like a cousin than the Great Chef. He wanted to ease the tension atmosphere and make Pierre comfortable so there it wouldn’t get heated.

“So, Pierre, you’ve been here almost three weeks already -- how’s it going?”


“You’re still working in your street shoes.”

“Uh, yeah.”

“You know it’s against regulations. You’ve seen the others, they have their safety shoes.”

“Yes, but where do you find them?”

Charles laughed.

“You buy them! Well, you won’t have to buy them this time.”

While he was talking, Charles turned and picked up a box from the table behind him and held it out to Pierre.

“Size 43, you said.”

Pierre was happy, he was always sliding on the kitchen floor but he didn’t have enough money to buy the shoes. It was a real godsend.

“Tell me, do you like it here?”

“Yes, a lot.”

“You want to stay with us?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Good, so you’ll stay?”


“For the apprenticeship, I’ve found a high school not far from here, one week…”

“But I don’t want to go to school. I’m through with that.”

“Pierre! First of all, don’t interrupt me. Secondly, one week per month isn’t a big deal.”

“I get bored in class. It’s not interesting.”

“It has to interest you. Anyway, you know that cooking is good, I already explained the job to you. Alongside that, you have to work on your general knowledge, develop other interests, learn a foreign language. You know, the world is changing and you won’t get ahead just staying in the kitchen. You have to reach out to others, talk, listen, find things out, understand the why of things. All that, you have to get into the habit of it now. A week at school breaks up your routine with the restaurant. I leave the restaurant often, I read, I think, I meet with friends and I come back with random new ideas or solutions to business problems. You, when you spend a week at school, you’ll come back with new ideas, things to talk about and you’ll feel even more like to working.”

Charles accompanied all that with gestures that emphasized what he was saying but also showed an exuberant friendliness.

Pierre understood what Charles wanted, but it was so hard for him to go back on his decision not to go back to school. Pierre wanted to say that he couldn’t, that he didn’t want to, but something in him said, Don’t do that, keep going, say yes, you like this work, don’t stop here, not now.

Pierre looked at Charles affectionately and said, “OK, I’ll go to school. It’s hard, but I’ll do it.”

He wanted to add: because I really like you and I like what I’m doing. But there at that time, he couldn’t say it. He didn’t have the words or he simply didn’t have the strength to say it.

Charles had won, but he had to be modest in his victory, so he didn’t show his relief.

After that, they talked about the second subject: military service.

Charles explained to Pierre how he saw things. Pierre was relieved too. He knew very well that his military service would arrive one day, but his knowledge of history and current events in general made him think that it was a bit of a wasted year. So Charles’ solution seemed to him the lesser evil. Pierre felt calm around this man. He hadn’t felt that in a long time, not since the time when his father took him in his arms before he went to sleep. When he was seven or eight years old, he’d leap towards his protector, his father that he always found in the same place near eight in the evening. Standing, his back against the sideboard, facing the television. He’d jump with all his strength towards those reassuring arms. He’d spend five minutes, his father kissing him on the neck, when nothing bad could happen to him. The years passed and of course those moments of affection disappeared and couldn’t be replaced. Who was to blame? Was it him or his father that didn’t know how to talk or make affectionate gestures – too embarrassed. With Charles, he refound this lost affection, nothing bad could happen to him.

At the beginning of September, everything was straightened out. Pierre’s parents agreed completely with Charles and a Christmas visit was planned. Pierre was a little disappointed that he wouldn’t see his parents and sister before then, but schedules and one thing and another interfered. He missed the feel of home, he pined a little for his mother, his grandmother, his sisters and, in the end, his father too. But that was the way things were and he knew this was part of the test. Being far from those you love strengthens the affection that you have for them.

Autumn started and one fine morning, a young girl full of life came into the kitchen. She kissed the cheeks of Jean, then Charles, and sat on the pass table. Plucky girl, Pierre thought. Brown hair, green eyes and a smile that lit up her face. Pierre thought of Patricia, but his mistake was shortlived.

“Pierre,” shouted Jean. “Come here. Everyone knows her here, it’s better if you meet her too. This is Elodie, my youngest daughter. Elodie, this is Pierre, Charles’ cousin. You’re almost the same age.”

The two young people said hello but their eyes did more than that. They mumbled a few words and Pierre went back to work. Albert and Germain, who missed nothing, yelled out at Pierre:

“Damn, you’re all red!” laughed Albert.

“Shit! You’re gonna to explode!” added Germain.

“Brilliant,” answered Pierre.

Charles, of course, had seen it. He looked at Elodie. Like two peas in a pod, she looked like Marie thirty-five years ago. The same casualness, the same quiet beauty, but you remembered it forever.

Charles thought that Pierre had fallen in love. He wanted to tell him: don’t do it, you’re taking the chance of suffering a few days or a lifetime. But then, he said nothing. Pierre had to go through the storm, if it came, by himself. Love is unique, it appears only to the one who feels it. Pierre, like him, would one day count the defeats and victories of his heart.

The End of Chapter Two/The Construction/part 1
The next week: Chapter Two/The Construction/part 2

Translated from the French by Bodega Designs,

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