Stage Story: Sam Daigle

As his first professional experience in Europe, Sam immersed himself in the kitchen of Restaurant A.T in Paris, France. Upon completing his two month stage, he felt like part of a tight-knit family.

What interested you about Restaurant A.T, and why did you choose to stage there?

Before staging at Restaurant A.T, I knew very little about it other than what I had seen on social media. The website doesn't give much away and there is nothing too revealing anywhere. I did know that Chef Atsushi was Japanese with a French and Scandinavian cooking background, and that the restaurant itself was small in size, but with goals to reach the Michelin Guide and Worlds 50 Best - goals that I share personally.

I had never been to Paris, let alone Europe, so I was excited about experiencing something new and unknown. I knew I would be challenged with the language barrier and different style of service. I looked forward to being submerged into a place or culture that I was uncomfortable with - a trial by fire.

Can you describe what you did during your Stage at Restaurant A.T?

I have seen two types of stages: the first, where you pick herbs with intense precision and stay quiet while people are kind, you get fed some of the well-known food under the table while the chef de parties are prepping. It’s a nice experience, but you know once you finish that employment there is a slightly different beast.

The second is the restaurant that feels you out and then fully trusts you and you become a responsible member of the team.

My time at Restaurant A.T was a stage of the latter.

Day one: I arrived in the morning to find Chef Atsushi and one other cook (Leo) along with the Front of House manager (Thibout) in a small kitchen that was seemingly unorganized and cluttered. The dishwasher is on vacation, I find out, so we need to keep dishes going through on our own. Leo explains to me that I will be working the garnish station hands me a list of 5 tasks. He would show me once and expect me to learn quickly. The day continues like this. Lunch service begins and I am handed some sort of hot sea urchin dish to run to table 6. “I don't speak French.” “No problem” they tell me. As lunch service nears completion, I find myself wondering, “Where is the dinner crew?” I would soon find out, we are it. We cleaned the kitchen after lunch and again began mise en place. Leo asked me what I needed to order for the next day, I had no clue - I didn't even know what the whole menu was yet. I was a Chef de Partie day one and on. We would clean up again and head home after dinner service would complete nightly. This would be my schedule for the two months. I would grow to love this restaurant.

Once the dishwasher returned, I soon found out that he is one of the most important employees at the restaurant. He was responsible for making most of the sauces, cleaning all the fish, mussels, cockles, lobster, and kept up with the dishes as well! I came quickly to respect, enjoy, and learn a lot from him.

My third day was a Saturday and fully booked for both lunch and dinner service. At the end of the day, I feel that everything was crazy and it’s hard to comprehend what just happened. The staff sits down and several bottles of open wine cover the table. We unwind and talk about life and food as much as the language barrier allows. Everyone is smiling. After asking why there is so little staff, Chef Atsushi explained that while many hands make light work, we have so little space that it gets cluttered quickly. “We want to be ninjas not koalas.” We need to work quick and accurately instead of being lethargic and unorganized. It makes sense the longer I am there. He would become the best friend I have made in years.

What stands out as some of the lessons that you learned during your experience?

Everything was new to me at Restaurant A.T. From the sudachi lemons and peppercorns I had never seen or cooked with, to something as simple as using a thermomix and an induction stovetop. I did not allow the new ingredients and unknown equipment to hinder me, but instead I used it as a chance learn more and grow. In addition, the wine list is comprised of 100% natural labels, and while I did not know what that meant exactly, I knew it was unique. I would come to find that natural wine is amazing when it comes to freshness and drinkability, but is very challenging if you are looking for something that is exactly the same every time. I personally thoroughly enjoy the idea of naturally fermented grape juice with no additives and sulfites. I really think the mindset of those vinters can play a huge role when translated to the kitchen and is very inspiring.

Being involved in the service aspect is something I have a little experience in, but cooking something and running it straight to a table is very different than a traditional service style. It can get very hectic and requires a lot of concentration and resilience. Sometimes I would explain a dish in French, not well, but I did it. Times like that would be a big confidence booster.

Overall, what would you say you achieved through this opportunity?

Restaurant A.T is not one of perfect brunoise and exactly clarified sauces. Chef Atsushi is after something more rudimentary, something more natural but refined, that is delicious and intriguing. Eating at Restaurant A.T, you find that things are not always as they appear. I learned to play with texture and plating. Hiding ingredients within techniques.

After Leo left, I took over his pastry section. This is my least experienced area in the kitchen but I really enjoyed it and learned a ton. Bringing savory elements into desserts is something that I am excited about and naturally makes it a little easier for me being a savory cook. Chef Atsushi did this with a beet focused dessert. I would work this station for 4 weeks learning new techniques to build plates complex in texture and temperature. While the staff on my last day was almost entirely different than my first, it didn't seem like a lot of turn over. I learned that it was the end of a long stint for some of the other cooks. Through this entire experience I learned patience, persistence, and understanding.

Photos from Sams stage: