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About my Internship…
I’m loving my internship at the Sainte-Barbe Hôtel et Spa in Le Conquet! Find a recipe in this newsletter 👨🍳
Many people have asked me how my internship has been going - and it’s been amazing! Aside from being in the middle of nowhere, the work and the team are absolutely amazing, and I love it. While I’m not a big fan of plated desserts, that’s the reason why I chose this internship, so I can get better at these pesky things. The staff at the hotel are also super hospitable, a general trait of the region, but not overall of the French. I’m looking forward to continuing my time here as an employee beyond the internship!
The region of France that my internship is in is called Bretagne, or in English, Brittany. It is in the northwest of France, bordering the Celtic Sea to the north and east, Normandy to the east and Pays de la Loire to the west and south. Bretagne is where the famous crêpe comes from and the land of salted butter (the rest of France often prefers beurre doux or unsalted butter). In short, it is everything I love - including using the words pain au chocolat instead of chocolatine for a ‘chocolate croissant.’ Bretagne is also the Celtic part of France, where the original Celtic inhabitants lived. They shared the same ancestry as the Celtic people of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and many more areas in the region. Their traditional language is Breton, which is displayed as a secondary language on all signs in the region, though there are only about 213 000 people who spoke it in 2018, so French is still the dominant language spoken, just with a slightly funny accent, though I’m sure they think my Canadian accent is funny.
The hotel that my internship is at is in a small town called Le Conquet (in Breton, Konk Léon), about a thirty-minute drive from the nearest city, Brest. While I did think I would be a lot closer to Brest, being far enough away that it takes a one-hour bus ride to get to the city does save me a lot of money. I have already found an independent tea house, an independent cheese store, a cafe, and a vegetarian restaurant that I frequent often, along with an Indian cafe where I have had a few dinner parties with the owner! I enjoy Brest a little too much, though it is very ugly. During WWII, Brest, along with the Breton coast, was occupied by Nazi forces and under heavy fighting to be liberated by the American and other Allied forces. This led to almost the entire city being destroyed in action. After the war, there was a quick effort to rebuild the city, so all the buildings are made from concrete and are all, I mean all, rectangular. This also leads to cell signal being virtually inaccessible from inside a building. You can read more about the Battle for Brest in the link below.
When I first arrived in Brest, after my Southern French vacation with my parents, the city was on strike, so I had to pay 60€ for a taxi to take me to Le Conquet. Once I got there, I was astounded by the coast's beauty and the hotel. The rest of the city, I would say, is just a ton of rock buildings. The hotel’s staff is wonderful and very hospitable. Everyone is always smiling here - and I don’t blame them with the view they have out the windows! The hotel has a restaurant where I am completing my internship. The restaurant, La Corniche, is headed by Chef de Cuisine, Kevin Léon, and his second-in-command, the Seconde de Cuisine, Jade Allenbach. They are both extremely nice, and Jade makes a great effort to practice her English whenever possible! Often when she speaks in English, she’ll throw in some French words she doesn’t know the equivalent of in English. Last week while cleaning the floors in the staff area, I heard her yell, “be careful, there’s so much javel that it smells like the piscine!” (be careful, theres so much bleach it smells like the pool!). It can be quite entertaining at times 😆.
The pastry team is headed by the Cheffe Pâtissière, Margot Braun, a talented pastry chef who takes all the traditional flavours and desserts and flips them upside, turning them into something wild and modern. While I’m not a big fan of plated desserts, Margot makes them fun! There is also a pastry cook, Ethan. He is just a few years younger than me and recently finished his apprenticeship in pastry under Margot. I feel like he’s the complete opposite of me when it comes to pastry; he loves plated desserts and hates anything to do with pastry doughs or tarts and cakes - the very things I love! It’ll be fun with the two of them moving forward because it has been very fun thus far.
When I first arrived, of course, I was doing a lot of small and repetitive tasks. The second day I worked, I probably made a good 50 crêpes for the breakfast bar. Then I probably made 100 crêpes for the breakfast bar on the third day. This continued until the fifth day when I got a one-day break from the crêpes. I was ecstatic! Then more came after. I knew the Bretons love their crêpes but didn’t realize it was this much. Good thing I trained well with my mom, making crêpes almost every weekend growing up with her! Traditionally, crepes are made with buckwheat flour, or as they call it, blé noir or sarrasin. They are also not called crêpes; they are galettes, which probably inspired what we call the galette in North America. Now, you’ll find many restaurants that differentiate between sweet and salty galettes or crêpes by associating the name galette with salty/savoury options and crêpe with sweet options. I often find myself using these associations in my conversations in French.
While I loveeee the galette au sarrasin, I exclusively make the wheat crêpes, which also work great for savoury flavours as they do for sweet flavours. The recipe I use is inspired by a traditional recipe from a traditional wheat crepe recipe used in Bretagne. I also add a little bit of honey, which is not traditional but allows a really amazing browning, some additional flavour, and keeps the crêpes softer longer. If you don’t have buckwheat honey, you can use normal honey or just omit it if you prefer.
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250 g/2 cups all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
200 g/4 ea medium eggs
500 mL/2 cups whole milk
5 g/1 tbsp butter, melted
20 g/1 tbsp buckwheat honey
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Create a well in the middle of the bowl to fit all the eggs.
Place all of the cracked eggs in the well. Using a whisk, break the yolks and whisk the eggs together. As you whisk the eggs, you will start to bring in some of the flour on the sides into the egg mixture. Keep whisking like this, slowly bringing in flour. This prevents lumps from forming.
When the mixture starts getting a bit thick, about 1/4 of the flour should be mixed in; start gradually adding the milk to loosen the batter. Continue slowly incorporating the flour and milk into the batter until all has been incorporated.
Add the melted butter and honey and whisk. Cover the bowl and place it in the fridge overnight. This allows the batter to settle and for any lumps to head straight to the bottom of the bowl.
The next morning, heat a pan over medium-low heat and lightly grease it. Mix the batter to homogenize the separated levels.
Scoop the batter onto the pan, about 1/4 cup. Tilt the pan in a circular motion to coat the pan with the batter. Cook for about 1-2 minutes, until the edges start to turn golden.
To flip the crêpe, slip a knife under the edge to loosen the crêpe and use your fingers to peel the crêpe off the pan and flip it. After about 30 seconds to 1 minute, the crêpe should be cooked. Transfer to a plate and repeat steps 6 & 7 for the rest of the batter.
Serve hot with a filling of your choice! My favourite is maple syrup or raw cane sugar with a drizzle of Amaretto.