The Mesturet Novel: The Life of Passions

Article publié par Le Mesturet le 14/09/2011 à 17:27
Catégories : The Mesturet Novel
Tags : mesturet novel
A Life of Passions
Chapter Two: The Construction, Part Two
Pierre started school at the end of September. He had built it up into something of a “mountain”, but he quickly realised that everything was simple and easy and that his initial reticence had been out of proportion. By the end of the second day he was even enjoying taking the bus to Clermont-Ferrand. This enjoyment stemmed not only from wanting to go to school, but also, and perhaps mainly, from the presence of Elodie, who also travelled to Clermont twice a week at the same time. Such was her timetable in her final year of school. They of course sat together, and, despite Pierre’s natural shyness, the conversation flowed easily. Each wanted to know where the other was coming from or going to, what their habits were and what they liked and disliked. The half-hour journey passed very quickly and when they both got off at the same stop they said goodbye almost sadly. Elodie kissed Pierre goodbye on both cheeks, which surprised him, as he was not used to such displays of affection. He set off for school feeling agitated, his heart beating hard. He didn’t understand, he wasn’t in control. He could not wait for the next Friday, because he knew that they would once again find themselves travelling together. As he walked he tried to come up with a way of seeing Elodie more often. It was with these pleasurable thoughts running through his head that he arrived at school, and he remained preoccupied by them all day.
In his class, not all the apprentices were as “spoilt” as he was. Some of them found the learning process very hard. Others did not really know what they were doing there, which made Pierre feel better about his own motivations.
One evening he returned to his room, did his homework, and then, instead of reading or going to watch television in the small common room, he put on his uniform and went down to the kitchen to see what he now considered his “second family”. Jean saw Pierre come into the kitchen and head towards Albert without any surprise.
“Can I help?” asked Pierre.
“What are you doing here? You’re at school now, aren’t you?” answered Albert in surprise.
“Yes, but you know that in the evenings, after I’ve done my homework, I prefer to stay here with you. It’s more fun.”
What Pierre did not admit is that the hunting season had already started, and that the Quiet Volcano was renowned for its game dishes. The hunters often brought Charles some choice items, either for the restaurant or for their own meal. Jean and Charles made a note of these deliveries in a game record book. 1975 was a particularly good year for game and Pierre, who had been born in the city, was very curious about it. On the day of the first delivery, the smell, the sight of the blood and the still-warm animals had shocked him at first. He had never seen anything like it. Charles and Jean took charge, along with Max, an experienced assistant chef.  Albert and Germain were not yet allowed to handle these products. Cutting up and plucking were special techniques. And as for the Quiet Volcano’s famous “hare à la royale”, it was mysterious, even esoteric. Anyway, Pierre had seen two magnificent whole hares being delivered, and had seen them again, almost-whole, but much more mouth-watering and ready to be eaten by “customers who paid a lot of money and came a long way to eat this dish”, according to Monsieur Imbert, the restaurant manager. From the preparation up to the serving of the hare, the team acted as if they were handling gold. Their gestures were calculated, their words carefully weighed, their voices solemn, even reverent. Pierre was taken aback. He even started wondering about the mental health of the kitchen staff, Charles included, when he saw all the cooks leaning over a wooden crate as if over a baby’s cradle. Pierre had peered into the “bassinet” too, and almost burst out laughing when he saw the misshapen black balls.
“What are they?” he asked.
“They’re black diamonds, kid, or tuber melanosporum, if you prefer,” replied Charles.
“Truffles,” added Jean. “Perigord black truffles. These are the first, can you believe it? The very first!”
Pierre returned to his work feeling slightly disappointed. What with these hares and these truffles, he was out of his depth.
One cold November morning he bumped into Charles in the hotel corridor. It was his week at school and he was heading for the bus. Since it was Thursday, Elodie would not be there...
“All right, kid?”
“Yeah, not bad. Can I ask you a question, chef?”
“I don’t really understand what happened with the hares. I saw them arrive and then they disappeared. When I asked Germain and Albert about it they told me it was the chef and Monsieur Jean’s business. And those truffles, what are they?”
Charles looked at Pierre, his eyes shining.
“Ok, listen: it’s half past six. Come and have breakfast with me in the kitchen and then I’ll give you a ride to Clermont, I have to go there anyway. That will save you three quarters of an hour. So that gives us forty-five minutes.”
Charles entered the kitchen. It was empty and completely dark. Pierre loved the moment when the light blazed suddenly and illuminated the stage; everything shone: the saucepans, the stoves, the work tables. The room was not yet engulfed by heat. Only the aromas lingered. He imagined Charles as a handsome prince, gently waking a sleeping beauty with a kiss.
It was completely silent. Anne, the girl who made breakfast, would not arrive for another half an hour, and the cooks would not be there for another hour. Pierre was savouring this moment alone with the man he already considered his mentor.
“Coffee? Oh no, you take hot chocolate,” said Charles, then added:
“Go and get the bread from the office, the night watchman puts it there when he arrives in the morning.”
Pierre came back with three bags, two containing bread and one filled with croissants. The smell of the bread and pastries filled the kitchen.
Charles pulled up a chair and sat down in front of the pass table.
“Sit down, you can’t stay standing up. Ok, so we get the hare from the hunters and of course everyone can make it. It’s an expensive recipe, but the team are solid and I could trust them. But the hare, it’s mine and Jean’s “thing”, we like to do it together. It’s a team effort. When I took over the restaurant I didn’t have any money and we didn’t have many customers either. I could have sold up, but I wanted to get stuck in, to fight: for my parents, for me, and for the job I love – love like a man loves a woman. I’m telling you this because these days everyone comes to me, they bring me lots of things and I wouldn’t even have to go to the market, but I like to do it. Anyway, at the beginning, me and Jean went to see various people. Sometimes we paid, sometimes we paid in kind, with meals or bottles of wine. We had a few friends for game. We went to see them, to get some good stuff. Sometimes I would cook for them. They enjoyed it and we could sell the rest. One day, right at the start, when things were difficult, Jean brought in this magnificent hare. I was getting ready to tell him that I had decided during the night to sell the restaurant. Not enough customers, too many outgoings. It would have been an uphill struggle. I had started to tell him when he showed me this splendid hare. 
‘Do you see that? Marcel gave it to me.’
‘Oh right,’ I said.
‘Hmm, someone didn’t sleep well’, he said, looking at me closely.
‘So, what are we going to do with this hare?’
I looked at Jean: his smile, his desire to work, to get to grips with that hare. I didn’t say anything. I took the hare, hung it up and started to cut it. Jean walked up to me and said: ‘We’ll do it à la royale’.
‘Not a bad idea, but with some Gevrey Chambertin 1937...’
‘What? But that was your...’
‘My father would have drunk it or done the same thing.’
I said to myself: in for a penny, in for a pound – let’s go crazy and enjoy ourselves.
By the end of the morning, I felt a force taking over. Jean was beside me, solid as a rock. Cooking was part of me, its past, its present. I was at home, I was strong. This job was made for me. It was all in me. I had to struggle every day, with problems, with suppliers, banks and the rest of them. My job would be my struggle. So there you have it, kid. That’s why only me and Jean prepare the hare à la royale, and we’ll carry on doing it as long as we can. A gesture, a look, a few shared moments and you can change everything, start over. Always look around you; people reach out to you, encourage you. When you’re as low as you can get, when everyone thinks that you’re finished, remember this story: a gesture, a look... and your job. That hare made me what I am, and made the Quiet Volcano what it is. Me and Jean look forward to doing it together each year. Two nights ago we ate some, just the two of us, with a 1969 Gevrey: good lord, it slipped down like the baby Jesus in velvet pants! Excuse my language.”
“Could I eat some with you one day?”
“Only me and Jean, kid, only me and Jean!” replied Charles with a smile.
Charles decided that he would eat with Pierre and Jean one day. He could already picture this meal, see himself calmly sliding the keys of the restaurant to Pierre and saying :‘There you go, kid, it’s all yours’. But he was dreaming; his illness would not leave him enough time to enjoy that moment.
Pierre interrupted his reverie.
“And the truffles?”
“Ho, well, the truffles are something else. They’re really expensive and really good. They’re rare so the price is high. The ones that you saw cost 4500 francs per kilo [$686]. They smell of the earth and the forest. When you smell a truffle, you’re plunged into the earth, underground. Even the way you look for truffles is magical – using a pig, a dog or even flies.”
Pierre’s eyes widened. Charles smiled.
“We use them to find the truffles, and once they locate them it’s a human that collects them. You only need a very little to give a lot of flavour. We do a pumpkin sauce with truffles here. A quick flash of the grater and that’s all you need. I put some in the hare à la royale, too, it’s one of my secrets, but not enough to overwhelm the flavour of the hare meat.”
Charles added: “You see that big jar of eggs on the shelf? Bring it to me.”
Pierre hastened to obey.
“Look at the bottom of the jar.”
Pierre saw a magnificent truffle underneath the eggs.
“It will give its flavour to the eggs, for my truffle omelette.”
“Give flavour to the eggs?”
“Yes indeed. The shell is porous. It absorbs all the flavour. And then, a quick flash of the grater and voilà! Come on, Pierre. We’d better go.”
They passed Anne, who was surprised to see them at this hour.
They left for Clermont on time. In the car, Charles said to Pierre:
“You’ll spend your life learning new things. In cooking, it’ll be every day, and every day is new. In a week, we’ll start getting ready for the holidays. It’s an important time for us.”
It was only the beginning of November, but Pierre was already looking forward to it.
The End of Chapter Two/The Construction/part 2
The next week: Chapter Two/The Construction/part 3

Translated from the French by Linguaspirit


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