A Stagier view of Noma - the worlds best restaurant

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th February 2011
By @alexw

A great insight into the life of the Stagier, which is an outstanding opportunity to work at the worlds best restaurants - often unpaid.

 Be prepared, for those of you that think you'll be saucing on the Hotplate with Rene or working the larder with Ferran - think again

 The Stagier is a vital role in this hugely labour intensified beacon of modern cuisine kitchen, and here's a preview into the worlds best - Noma.

  A Noma away from home. A brief experience and advice to potential stagier. I won't start this article with the bog standard Noma intro, most of you reading this will know the etymology of the name, and at the very least a little of what 'the best restaurant in the world' is about. If not I apologise, Google it, there are many, better written descriptions than I could possibly come up with. As some of you will also know, I had fun back November creating and serving canapés for the book launch of Noma, a time and place in Nordic cuisine, I had the great pleasure of meeting with Renè and his development Sous Chef Torsten, during the time I had this great idea of asking if it would be possible to do a stage at Noma, now to my first piece of advice, don't think you have to get someone else to introduce you to get a stage, you don't. Find the number of the operation that you wish to visit, call it offer your services, sure they may insist you do a month or even more, but they need you, not the other way around remember that. They simply cannot function at their level without the use of the stagier. The restrictions on time are beneficial to both, they need to train less often, leaving their team to do their jobs properly with much less stress, and for yourself, you will see more, learn more, and gain more respect from the team than short termers like me. Anyway, I got the stage, I could only do a week, family simply couldn't handle longer. This is where you need someone on the inside, or convince the man himself, like I said one week, Noma normally insist on one month, and after my week I understand why, which will be explained in more detail shortly. When I did my stage some time ago at the fat duck in Bray, the stagier insistence was one month, my then head chef was quite good friends with Heston, and a phone call was made, the stage was set up at my convenience, I managed only 3 days due to the constraints of my paid job. Oh but what a 3 days, I left after some 48 hours in the kitchen with an invigorated, inquisitive renewed obsession for food, you can't avoid it with Heston, he is infectious to get chatting to and working alongside. At this time I was the only stagier in the kitchen, so I worked my way around each section as I wanted to, prepping the donkey jobs of course, I'm a stagier, but every couple of jobs, moved on to a new chef, new section asking questions all the way. Crazy learning experience, and just as they received the 3rd star too. Of course it's nowhere like that now, many stagier assist each chef, structured, rotating, and many of them, not the leisurely section wandering I was allowed to do. Which brings me to my time at Noma, when I thought about the stagè, I thought of my Fat Duck time, not really thinking how things have moved on. And it wasn't till I got a text from my pastry chef, Gareth Henry who went a couple of weeks before me that I began to get concerned, he commented on over 25 stagier?! 25, 25???? What do they get up to? Suddenly the personal approach I was hoping for was dissipating quickly, and I'm beginning to wonder now what would face me. Anyway, a brief run down of what I had to do on stage, for a more detailed run down, you will need to check my blog, but so you are all aware of what you could be likely to face as the unpaid kitchen skivvy, sorry I mean stagier. Just as a brief explanation of the working area at Noma, it is broken into many areas. Downstairs is the main kitchen and this is where the service runs from, upstairs is the main production kitchen (pictured), and just off from the production kitchen, was the AM kitchen, storage and overflow, also the private dining room, serving the same Noma Menu for up to 15 guests. Also upstairs is a vast room where the main vegetable storage is, the chefs desks and the staff dining room. This could also be used for overflow production when there simply is no space left. Then outside there is also the grill area (basically a small B&Q BBQ) outside where the pears for the pine dessert are cooked to order in all weathers, and also the boat where all the new dish development happens. This is just a breakdown of the areas you would encounter as a stagier, so you know where I'm on about next. We arrived and were changed for 8:30 at the latest, the AM shift had already got in and had been there since 6am as they are every morning, their first aim is to get the kitchen up and running, in reality it what that meant was you were you're actually fighting for space, containers, stove space, from the minute you arrive. Ah well adds to the fun I guess. I started by peeling and melon balling (tiniest Parisienne scooper you can get) lots of cucumbers, finely chopping parsley and tarragon, doing weigh-outs of laurum (bleak-fish roe), peeling fresh chestnuts, building chestnuts, rolling napkins, weighing grains into 55gm pots, cleaning floors, washing up, struggling to keep hold of/find containers, steal paper and c-folds, and my personal non-favourite, was to have to climb up over the range and clean the window overlooking the restaurant before lunch service. Then was time to have a quick pre-service briefing (you get to introduce yourself on your first day), then upstairs for production jobs (I didn't see a single service by the way, but this is not a negative for me) up in production it's another bun fight, but this time for space, as is pretty much everywhere else. In production which is the other 12-13 hours of our day we did such fun jobs as peel beech nuts (don't get me started) to layering perfect bone marrow slices, to shelling and freezing 40kg razor clams, to picking an inordinate amount of herbs (very good luck to the summer stagier, we only had a choice of 8 odd herbs to pick from), peeling walnuts, chestnuts, and what seemed to be my job for the week, picked veg tubes. 7 different veg in 7 different pickles, each vegetable tube in layers in 1 litre tubs about 6 hours each day on these. Quick note: when you think you have a day that doesn't stop, think again. That quick coffee, that quick fag break, that's stopping that is. Here, no such luxury, no stopping everyone doing the same thing, it's push, push push! You stop at 5pm, a huge amount of staff food is put out with good reason. Fill your plate, you have 30-40 minutes to eat your only meal of the day, sit down for the only time you have, and boy does everyone fill themselves up. I will also point out, that the staff meals provided by chef de partie James and his AM team were bloody lovely, something to look forward to each and every day. After break and evening briefing. It's back to it, but with a slightly different tack, jobs are the larger, more chef/more long winded such as perfect discs of marrowbone, and the bane of each stagiers existence chervil stems, the idea you pick perfect leaves of chervil off the stems, then bin them, leaving behind the leaf-less chervil tree, thankfully on my turn at this job, we only had one bunch of chervil and 5 chefs to do it, so done in a short order it was. Once the service downstairs was at a certain point, a runner was sent up to tell us so, the production sous would then call the time remaining and you had to be containered up, labelled and fridged by this time, a full deep clean (the 3rd of the day) then ensued, the idea being that when the service chefs were finished, we were finished, this was approximately 11pm, there was then a chefs meeting where the following days guests would be discussed, at this point, if there were any last minute helping jobs to be done we did them, otherwise the chef de parties would sort the last of their ordering and prep out and we would turf out anywhere between 12 and 1 am. The jobs changed, but that was the routine mostly all week, with the exception of Saturday, the last day of the week. Minimal mis-en-place (which by the way is still enough to keep 20 odd stagier busy all day) was done to start Monday, and plans were made for the following week, the last job was to lay out blanched parsley and lovage to air dry over the weekend, pretty much leaf by leaf. Many chefs, a couple of hours. The meeting as usual was held a little later, and then 4 chefs scuttled off to present their 'projects' this happens every Saturday night, each section is tasked with doing a new dish, unlikely (but not impossible) that it will make the menu, but to keep the creativity in the cooks alive, and whilst everyone around me was totally cream crackered, the energy was high as chefs presenting and the support of the team kept everyone going comfortably until about 3, at this point there is the opportunity to sample some of the left over wines, I passed on this as I hadn't packed and had an early flight, so I had my goodbye conversations and stumbled wearily into the very cold Danish night. I had achieved what I wanted from the stage, however I have been doing this for some years and was not out to gleam all of Noma's recipes, something you would really need to put in the month for if not more, I wanted to see the ethos, the technique, the detail, and whilst I saw no service, I was given the opportunity of a table for lunch on the Wednesday which I relished, outstanding food and service throughout, some of the pics you will see here on the staff canteen, but for my true thought and the answer is it the best restaurant in the world, you will have to pop over to my blog.  I hope it gives a small insight into the expectations of a stagier, the work is very demanding, and if you are not used to Michelin kitchens then it will be a shock, but it is rewarding with new ideas and techniques, conversations with some extremely talented chefs as you plod through very mundane tasks that are essential for the business to deliver what the guests expect. They are very grateful to the stagier who help, but you must push with the team, it's the only way you will earn any respect. But remember you are also there for you, so make sure you ask the questions and are either very quick with a notebook or have a very good memory and get from it what you want. Just don't be afraid to ask, but do time your questions, no good asking "how do you make that" when they are dishing up a 10 top. If anyone has any questions on this, or my blog posts, either PM me or drop me a tweet. Thanks for reading Alex http://www.esenses.org/

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th February 2011

A Stagier view of Noma - the worlds best restaurant