For ten years I had wondered what a madeleine would taste like.
I knew that they were like cakes
I knew that they were like biscuits.
I also knew that they were supposed to be dipped in tea
and that Proust adored them.
Pretty shell shaped sponges; they
reveal hints of honey, lemon and butter
and fail to trigger memories.
I am a madeleine virgin. And I am searching for lost tastes.
It is said that the folds of a toque blanche (chef’s hat) is indicative of how many different ways the chef can cook eggs.
If that is the case, then I deserve no less than ten folds.
I crack three eggs and whisk them with a fork:
they form into a yellow pool
and coagulate on a hot
pan of melted butter.
I eat them in my underwear and singlet.
Omelettes should be eaten bra-less
On a Sunday
Or Monday morning —
Whichever you consider to be the beginning or the end of the week.
A crisp asparagus breaks the lining of an under-cooked yoke and makes it runny.
I cannot poach an egg without the aid of cling wrap;
it’s like using a condom, in a way.
You admit that your first love has nothing to do with baking;
that you wanted to be
like Louise Bourgeois, like Tracey Emin,
like Virginia Woolf, like Sylvia Plath
before you wanted to be like Julia Child, like Nigella Lawson.
People ask you why you quit University In order to slave away at a hot oven.
Didn’t you learn about feminism?
Why do you choose to wear an apron?
As far as I know, a chef is predominantly a “man’s job”, and the professional kitchen is no place for a woman.
As far as I’m concerned, a man who insists that cooking is a man’s job
is the sort of man I am only too willingly happy to accept.
How does one describe bread made with butter and eggs?
One mistakes it for a cake.
If you happen to be a French philosopher called
Rousseau, you crave it with wine and
write all about it in your autobiography.
Revolutionaries read Confessions (1769), and presume the “great princess”—who advises those who have no bread to instead eat brioche—to be the last Queen of France.
The hairdresser of Marie-Antoinette powders her extravagant bouffant with wheat flour.
The flour is supposed to add volume to the hair, in the same way proofing the dough makes it more capacious before baking it.
The people of Paris are starving. An
uprising known as “The Flour War” begins.
I make a Croque Monsieur out of brioche. I do not treat it like a cake.
The only iron that I own is a hair straightening iron.
It sits on top of a plastic storage box, next to some rose-scented pink garbage bags.
My first lesson in Pâtisserie is how to tie a cravat. It must first be folded into creases in a manner which is not dissimilar to the process of lamination. Butter is used to laminate puff pastry and croissant dough.
My neckerchief of cobalt blue is steam-pressed into five tapering folds.
According to Zola, French laundresses in the late nineteenth century were pretty, coquettish labourers. Her linens were always freshly ironed to mask her weakness for dancing and alcohol.
A pâtissier is no less a whore than a laundress, I learn quickly: we tempt with beauty; and we sell decadent and empty pleasures.
My boyfriend does my laundry.
He irons and folds my chef whites like thin Origami paper.