Genny, Our Cocoa Coordinator…

Madame Chocolat’s Blog:

My Beloved Chocophiles,

Nope, we are not open, yet – update to come this week!  So close, I promise!

I wanted to take a moment and introduce you to my valued team. Because Chef Genny published her “School of Mom” entry last week, I will start with her. Genny is my kitchen manager, aka PL&C’s “Cocoa Coordinator”.

By now, because of this silly blog, you are probably thinking that I run this show all on my own… ha! Hardly! This huge chocolate endeavor could not have happened without oodles of planning and a few wise decisions made along the way, in addition to a little destiny…

I met Chef Genevieve Fetherston, a few years back at a small pastry shop in downtown Louisville. At the time, I was finishing up my formal culinary education at the Art Institute of Colorado. An internship of 20 hours a week was required in order for me to graduate. I thought the best way to get the most out of this fantastic opportunity was to work at as many places that would have me. So, I dedicated four months of my culinary education to voluntary internship positions at various small baking and pastry businesses throughout the front range; all scheduled at about two-week increments each. I viewed this as a sort of “speed-dating” process in the hopes that I would get as much experience as possible in a short amount of time and, just maybe, I would find a good job in the process. 

An internship, I figured, would also be beneficial for my future employer because, unlike a traditional job interview, they would get to work with me for two weeks. From the very beginning,  it was not just about skills for me. What I wanted to learn most, was a better understanding of how these types of small businesses operate and what makes them successful. I specifically focused on businesses that had been around for five or more years – the “survivors”. I knew that someday I would have a place of my own. 

I met Chef Gennevieve Fetherston at a quaint little pastry shop in Louisville – A Grand Finale Patisserie. I offered to work for her and the owner of the shop for free to gain some practical experience. At the time, they were opening a second shop in Lafayette and were somewhat understaffed. They accepted my offer. It was one of those rewarding experiences where I really felt helpful! It was truly a wonderful experience for me and I will forever be grateful!

I had hoped the owner would hire me beyond my internship. As it happened, she did make me an offer, at the end of my tenure with her and Genny, but required me to take the position right away. I wasn’t quite ready to “settle down” and I already had an obligation with The Saint Julien Hotel and Spa that also seemed promising for a longer employment term beyond my internship position. So, unfortunately, I declined her offer at that time.

However, I should also mention that I enjoyed working for Genny so much so, that I did extend my internship with her and decided to forfeit my next scheduled 2-week internship at Le Bakery Sensual in downtown Denver. I wanted to stay on and help Genny out – she was so enjoyable to work with and not only did I really feel needed, but also, that my skills were appreciated. I loved how she called me “Intern Sarah”. In my scant few weeks with her, we had developed a mutual respect and sense of gratitude for one another.

Yes, staying on with Genny meant passing up an opportunity to work at Le Bakery Sensual, but I have never regretted it.  My original internship plan would have had me working and wearing lingerie LBS on that Valentine’s Day – Le Bakery’s employees uniform of choice for that special day of the year! Maybe that is one small reason for LBS’s formula for success…? John Spotz, the owner of Le Bakery, has been in business at 300 E 6th Avenue for over 20 years creating fantastic works of edible art and wildly creative cakes! Anyway, I decided to keep my chef’s coat on and help dearest Genny out… one of my wiser decisions, indeed. Le Bakery Sensual was tempting though! Ha!

Valentine’s Day, as you can imagine, is rather crazy for pastry shops – thank-goodness for sweet sugar celebrations! I felt such a camaraderie when I worked with Genny. I was so very impressed with her leadership and managment abilities! Her commitment to perfection and ability to remain calm under the stress of heavy production was infectious to all that worked with her. She was able to delegate and correct me and several other employees without annihilating any one’s self esteem. She cultivated such a great team mentality and I was so hoping that I would get to work with her again someday when my “official” internship had ended. I remained impressed and thought of her often, long after I had moved on to other adventures.

Those were such good times, and Genny and I found that we also had a lot of things in common. One day, as I was trying desperately to pipe out cold ganache, I had commented how this had to be a good forearm strengthening exercise that would surely improve my racquetball game. She leaned around the corner, her beautiful blue eyes afire with excitement, and practically shouted with enthusiasm, “You play racquet-ball, too?!?”

Things were so busy there at that tiny shop and Genny hardly ever took a break. Even as she gulped down her cold cup of noodles for lunch, she would be standing in the back kitchen always peering around the corner to make sure she wasn’t missing any customers. One of my fondest memories of those times was when I made her lunch – nothing too fancy – just my old stand-by of roasted beets, brown rice and an egg. She was so appreciative as she exclaimed, “I LOVE beets!”

There were so many things about Chef Genny that I just couldn’t forget! I remember that she wouldn’t let me touch the petite fours. She had a disdain of culinary students with their thermometers in their sleeves, forgetting that I was one of them. I was so impressed at how she implemented cost-control measures at every point during production. Because of this, in my journal I was required to write for my internship, I nicknamed her, “Genny Penny, my Fru-Gal”.  I also marveled at how she treated customers, making each and everyone feel special.

During my last day working with her, we were both so emotional. As I was cleaning and wiping down the tri-comp sink, she teared up and said “Your killin’ me here! You know how to clean a sink properly, too!” and she further expressed how grateful she was for all of my help. She gave me a pan of brownies that she and her son had made together and a very nice thank-you card I still have on my desk to this day that reads, “What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything”- Vincent Van Gogh…

We met a week later on the racquetball court for our last hoorah together and I found myself at the mercy of her “Fetherston Chopper”. I had returned her brownie pan and I filled it with roasted beets as a momento of our time together. Being both mothers and career women, we were busy and fell out of touch.

When I began to choose my leadership team for my chocolate shop, I knew I needed highly skilled and professional people. I could not have imagined a better kitchen manager, then Chef Genevieve Fetherston.

On a more personal note… There are so many other endearing qualities about Genny that I would like to share with all of you. She is very tall and of Scottish heritage. In fact, I think she looks just like Annie Lennox, formerly of the Eurythmics. She is married to a big, shy and sweet Irishman from New York City. Her favorite band in high school was Duran-Duran.  She is witty, upfront and direct tempered with the greatest sense of humor and positive attitude!

Also, Genny loves to wear pink and adores all sorts of “bling” in addition to a good pedicure. Don’t be surprised if you find her wearing princess crown with her chef’s coat. Genny’s family takes priority in her life and her home is a testament to that. She and her family make a yearly spring roadtrip to her grandmother’s house in El Paso, picking up her cherished mother along the way. Genny loves dogs! And, she has endearing network of long-time friends including Elvis… really!

When I first asked Genny to join me, her reply was, “Chocolate is good, but it is not my favorite thing.” Did I mention she is direct and upfront? Ha! Not a beating around the bush sort of gal, let me assure you!

Chef Genny started her very own pie company a few years back and pie remains one of her primary pastry passions. I urge you to ask her advice on the making of any pastry – she is such a pro! She made a caramel sauce for my Thanksgiving party that was an oral-gasm! There was a great apple pie that went with it, but my memory has been engulfed by that caramel sauce she made!!!

I know a lot about chocolate and Genny knows a lot about everything else pastry. I will surely learn so much from her… I know I already have!

I am grateful and tickled pink that Genny has decided to join me on this chocolate adventure.

Yup, I’m a lucky boss, indeed!

Thanks for letting me share, my friends!

Warmest OO’s & XX’S, Sarah