In preparation for my move to Paris to attend ESCF-Ferrandi’s Intensive Professional Program in French Pastry, I recently completed an internship at the pastry kitchen of Jean Georges. On my previous visits to this famed restaurant as a customer, I’ve passed by its open kitchen a few times and admired the little busy bees buzzing around…
But now, I’m on the inside.
Where the magic happens!
Desserts at Jean Georges are intricate ensembles of many components. Take this butter milk panna cotta, honey dew sorbet, crispy sesame for example.
Note these little fruit balls.
Yes, these are scooped out one by one, morning and evening, to ensure freshness. My first task at Jean Georges was exactly this – to scoop out perfect little rounds of fruit balls: red watermelon, yellow watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe, and cucumber. I’d say this is a pretty big leap from what I was doing before as a corporate ladder climber.
Couldn’t help but have a little fun while the chef was not looking. Shhh.
Other than the typical ingredients used to make panna cotta, the recipe at Jean Georges also includes lemon and lime zest, which I find particularly refreshing. Each plate is measured out exactly using an electronic scale, then put in the fridge to set.
Sesame tuile, baked to a buttery, crunchy crisp.
Then there’s the making melon sorbet from fresh honeydew and sorbet syrup, a combination of water, glucose, trimoline, sugar, and sorbet stabilizer.
Combine all of the above with a lemongrass soup (also made from scratch, of course), and you’ve got the panna cotta down. Another task that I did quite often was lining layers and layers of filo pastry sheets with brown butter (which smells heavenly, by the way), powdered sugar, and almond powder. It’s a time-consuming process that requires a lot of care as the paper-thin filo pastry breaks very easily.
Bake in molds.
Fill with apricot compote and chocolate souffle.
Bake, et voilà: Apricot Filo Tart, Chocolate Souffle, Ginger Ice-Cream.
With so many desserts on the menu and each composed of so many small parts, how do we keep track of what needs to be done everyday? Basically, we refer to the task list written by the chef, divided into morning shift (8am~4:30pm) and late shift (3:30pm~midnight). It’s an awesome feeling crossing them off after each is completed!
So what are some of the perks of working in a pastry kitchen? I get to taste EVERYTHING. More on this later.
Devour all the leftovers that we can’t use. This chocolate sacher cake is only a small part of one of our dessert offerings, but it’s absolutely a delight on its own as well, and I could freely eat all the trimmings…
Observe how things are done, and eat the finished products fresh out of the oven, of course. I hope you are seeing the trend here?
Being surrounded by top quality ingredients. Heaps and heaps of them!
Enjoy special treats from the chef, like this truffle & lobster pizza.
Other than the two desserts mentioned above, here are a few of my other favorites from the dessert menu, starting with the Cherry Sundae, a beautiful cup of cherry chocolate ice-cream, black pepper ice-cream, sour cherry sorbet, sugar nuts, cherry compote, and vanilla cream.
Crème Fraîche Cheesecake with berry sorbet and mixed berry compote.
And of course, the famed Jean-Georges Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice-Cream.
I’m not sure how other kitchens are like, but people in Jean Georges’ pastry kitchen are surprisingly friendly and helpful – definitely not what I expected after seeing episodes of Hell’s Kitchen. Here’s Seani Lin, the pastry chef at Jean Georges, who kindly took me in. Taiwanese by origin and trained in New York’s ICE, Seani previously worked at Jean Georges New York and Daniel before she moved to Shanghai in 2004 for the opening of Jean Georges Shanghai. Very petite, very cute ;)
Some of the friendly folks I worked with in the kitchen.
Here are a few initial realizations and random thoughts:
- Being on the feet for more than 8 hours a day is tough.
- It’s extremely slippery in the kitchen. Good kitchen shoes are essential, and these also make standing long hours easier.
- All that churning and heavy lifting really do build up arm muscles.
- Yes, it’s pretty easy to get injured in the kitchen. Burns, cuts, you name it.
- The pastry kitchen is way cooler (literally) than the cuisine kitchen. I especially love working in the chocolate/ice-cream room which has extra low temperature!
- Every time I go fetch something from the giant walk-in freezer, I have the fear of being locked inside and freeze to death as the door snaps shut on me.
- I smell like butter and sugar everyday :)
…to be continued.