It wasn’t so much the 31 breakfasts that wreaked havoc on my nerves. It was the cleanup after the 31 breakfasts – in the middle of which I had to dash to the market to pick up the cheese I had ordered – that turned my mood sour. I don’t serve breakfasts alone, I have one of the femmes d’étage (one of the young women who make up the cleaning team) to work with, seating hotel guests, taking orders, serving, cleaning up and washing dishes, but as breakfast service winds down, as guests have gone back to their rooms to pack and have returned to reception to pay and take their departure or leave the hotel for work or visiting, she leaves me to finish up alone as she heads upstairs to the rooms.
Breakfast had lagged and it was approaching eleven or so; Sunday morning and clients had dawdled, as they should on a Sunday morning. A long, leisurely breakfast means that they feel comfortable, feel at home.
31 for breakfast meant using the huge electric silver urn, the electric coffee pot filled to the top with steaming coffee, an urn that easily holds coffee for forty. 31 for breakfast meant plugging in the huge electric milk urn, seething away, to fill small ceramic jugs for café au lait, for making pitchers of hot chocolate. With the beautiful weather turning to spring, we had the usual number of couples who had come out in the sunshine to play, tourists, yes, but at the hotel for a romantic getaway as well. And we had a family of 13, adults, teens and small children, in Chinon for a reunion, and another group of seven visiting the area, chattering away in Dutch. The dining room was filled to bursting, all the tables and chairs filled and overflowing into the bar. Service was rather easy; Ophélie joined Nathalie and I in the kitchen halfway through breakfast and then we were three. The sink piled high with dishes much faster than we could run them through the machine, but we weren’t far behind. No mistakes were made with the hot drinks and we filled and sent out the breadbaskets in a steady rhythm.
It began to wind down yet few were leaving. I watched the clock, knowing I had to be at the market before noon to pick up the cheese we would need for the hotel for the next several days. And still no one was moving. The clatter of coffee cups against saucers, the tinkling of cutlery against porcelain, I offered more coffee, freshly brewed and hot, and Ophélie and Nathalie left, the cleaning of the kitchen as advanced as possible. I drank a cup of coffee and nibbled at brioche as the guests finally began to head back up to their rooms. A mad dash it was for me, clearing the dishes off the tables, rinsing the dishes, teapots, cups and saucers and filling, emptying, and refilling the dishwasher in a steady stream, a blast of steam hitting me in the face each time I yanked open the door to heave out and up the load. Wipe and stack back on the shelves. Once all the dishes were done, I slipped into my coat and my pink Chucks and ran to the market, just in time, the church clocks striking noon.
Well, let’s leave the dirty work, the behind-the-scenes activity for a moment; for spring has sprung at the Hôtel Diderot. I am out of the kitchen by lunchtime every day and I head out into the courtyard and watch the flowers bloom. This is our first springtime at the hotel, in Chinon, and we feted by choosing and purchasing our first rose bush, a stunning Meilland climbing rose, an André Le Nôtre, named for the 17th century royal gardener who created the gardens at Versailles. Our new roses are feminine and blowsy, layer upon layer of petals, compact and lush, the centers a lovely apricot blush fading out to delicate pale pink, the roses heady and rich with perfume. We placed it in front of the Pavilion rooms, behind the yellow blooms of a Graham Thomas, whose arms are already stretching, reaching, twining up and around the trellises.
The lemon trees, now heavy with bright, fragrant fruit, have been pulled out of hibernation (Room #21) and placed on the terrace. This morning, Nathalie and Christelle brought out the remaining plants that had stayed indoors (Room #17) until the last of the chilly days had come and gone. The magnolia now bears gorgeous, deep magenta blooms and the banana trees, pitifully barren and brown throughout the winter, mere ghosts of themselves in the winter’s mist, are now sprouting bright green leaves, like fresh, colorful flames shooting straight up out of their trunks, or silly hats in time for Easter.
I scoot across the terrace, under the balcony, ducking underneath the fronds which bend over the small tables, between the rattan chairs awaiting the clients (drinking coffee and tea in the morning sun, sipping glasses of Chinon white or red late into the afternoon) and spy the birdcages and the little metal birds, art imitating life, nestled among the green and the early blooms. The fat blackbird with the bright yellow beak, bold as brass, who apparently has lived in the bushes in front of Rooms #18 and #19 (opening onto the terrace) for as long as anyone can remember. rustles the leaves and bursts forth suddenly at my feet to scurry and hop across the walkway, as busy and important as ever.
Sunny days are interspersed with rain but I am warm and cozy inside the hotel, making breakfasts for my guests in the morning, silver pots of coffee, ceramic pots of tea, basket upon basket of fresh, warm baguette and brioche, buttery croissants and addictive loaves of brown bread studded with grains and cereals just begging to be smeared with fresh goat cheese (the perk and the downfall of owning a hotel and running breakfasts: fresh baguettes and croissants but shhhh don’t tell anyone). In between guests, I sidle over to the fireplace and warm myself in the blaze. Day in and day out, in the warmth of the waning fire, guest after guest eagerly asks if the jam is for sale. And I have to say no, there is just enough to serve the guests year round. Crestfallen faces and imploring eyes, yet some take away a copy of Laurent’s jam cookbook (one day I will rewrite it), taking pleasure in the fact that they will have something to bring home and remember their stay, their breakfast at the Diderot. And maybe some will try their hand at making jam.
I rushed back into the kitchen to pick up where I left off, cleaning up after those 31 breakfasts. I begin pulling spoons out of the twenty-five or thirty jams that had been scattered around the tables and realize that I still had the coffee urn and the mil urn (milk fats now congealed onto the inside canister) to take care of and my anxiety and anger began seething up inside of me. Until I realized that I had made it through my first crowd, my first breakfast with a full and overflowing dining room. Together we – my little team of three – had perfected our little kitchen dance and made 31 clients very happy. And outside springtime had arrived.