The name we gave to the man with his back to the camera.
The high priest of garde manger. The rigour of his work and the detail in his presentations were like nothing I'd seen before.
He was also a misanthrope. I did not take his disdain personally. The half dozen young French male commis working furiously in his station received the same treatment.
One day a week, he made terrines. The preparations began in the morning. Creamy white lobes of fatty foie d'oie—the size of capon breasts—bobbed in a stainless-steel sink of milk. Dégorgé.
During afternoon break, he did the assembly. The kitchen was quiet, and there were no prying eyes: just him and the craft.
After a few weeks in the kitchen, I stayed behind to watch him. I don't know if he was that happy with the arrangement. But I had a hunger to learn everything. I also felt that passing on his mastery would have been a great offence.
It was clear he did not want my help. I stood on the sidelines, drawing pictures and scribbling notes. For a couple of hours, there was silence between us.
The smile on my face was for the man behind the camera—Bjorn from Oslo. (The photo was taken in the calm before service.) For six weeks in 1993, we were a team. Two foreign stagiaires flung together in a kitchen in Cannes, France.
We needed each other for different reasons.
Bjorn landed in the kitchen two days ahead of me. He didn't speak a word of French and had strolled in wearing a chef's jacket with his name embroidered on it. The story of his first day was hair raising. He came to understand that only one chef in the kitchen was known by name. On break, Bjorn scrambled to buy another jacket to cloak him in anonymity.
My arrival in the kitchen was a bit of magic for him. I'm not bilingual, but I had enough French to know what was going down.
He helped me too. In Norway, women worked in kitchens. Having a female peer was no big deal. He set an example.
Bjorn got in the service elevator with Stress Man on a busy day during the film festival and pushed a button for the wrong floor—just his presence would make you do stupid nervous things. The yelling started before the door closed, and about three minutes later, the elevator door opened again, and Bjorn was spat out on a stream of French expletives. We lost it—howled with laughter.
During one afternoon break, Bjorn and I returned to the kitchen on the sly. Two bandits in a low-stakes heist. We both wanted something that hung on the wall of the saucier station—a handwritten list of the master recipes. Both of us were sweating the thought of getting caught.
I was the scout, put on watch. What would I have done if one of the cooks had come into the kitchen? It seemed to take forever to carefully peel the object of our desire off the wall, remove it from its plastic protective sleeve, photocopy it in the hall, and put it all back in a way that passed notice.
All these years later, I'm betting there were cameras in the kitchen.
We were committed to working hard for the team.
One night during the film festival Jacques Chibois rounded the corner in the kitchen at about 1:00 a.m., where we were finishing the prep for a function the next day. He was stunned to find me there. Drove me home in his older classic Mercedes Benz—the front end was so long and the seats so low I could hardly see the hood ornament or the road in front of us. It was the kind of car I could imagine Escoffier driving.
After the festival, we were invited to a staff barbecue. The chef de cuisine called me at my small studio apartment on a day off. The show of respect and appreciation—my heart was like golden beeswax.
But I wasn't turning up to a Cannes beach party wearing only a bikini bottom. Going topless alone or with friends was not a problem. Baring my breasts to the men in the kitchen. No fucking way.
The Côte d'Azur saltwater and sun, the charcoal-grilled burgers, meeting their wives and children—all the small details of that afternoon were perfect.
The thrill of being accepted.
Bjorn left two days before me. I watched his send-off from the sidelines. They emptied a bag of flour, a bag of paprika and dry mustard over him and then threw him in a tilt skillet full of water. I can't imagine the walk back to his apartment or how he got the pasty mess out of his hair and clothes.
A pack of young men gleefully participated in this strange and animalistic hazing. All that was missing was a fire and spears.
I missed Bjorn. Terribly.
On the last night, I had dinner in the restaurant—the long tasting menu with stunning wine pairings. I sat next to a couple from San Francisco. We made good company (my currency was behind-the-scenes knowledge).
My departure was quiet. There was no ritual for sending a woman off.
I made that dream happen—staging in a Michelin Two-Star kitchen for a man Gault-Millau had christened France's chef of the year.
Ambition, chutzpah, and a whole lot of talent—I had it.
Do you know how many women around me were doing that? Very few.
Young, beautiful, brave, free-spirited me.
James D. G. Dunn and John William Rogerson feel that the Bible portrays Delilah as "a doubly dangerous woman given her apparent independence," noting that she is not "identified by a male relationship - the wife, daughter or sister of anyone" but simply "appears in her own right." Wikipedia
"In her own right."
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