A (free) lunch with a view in Nouméa
Earlier this week, my son and I dined on a 3-course meal, complete with a cocktail, wine and coffee (okay, I had the cocktail, wine and coffee, while my son reorganised his Pokemon cards). The rooftop restaurant looked out onto the lagoon and my fellow diners were as quiet and as sophisticated as any self-respecting introvert would hope for. Participating in a real-world training exercise for the waiting staff, we enjoyed such atmosphere and fare for the price of “gratuit” (free). The only condition was that we spoke English.
What in the world am I talking about, you ask? Well, I was as surprised as you may be to learn about a programme at a “pedagogical” restaurant, one of the professional training programmes in New Caledonia. This particular institution trains hotel and restaurant staff to become professional waiters and waitresses and young adults to become chefs and cooks. Every few weeks, the staff are put in real-life situations where they must prepare and serve 3-course meals to living and breathing English-speaking clients, as part of their programme. This exercise has been going on for the last 5 or so years (it made me wonder if they do this in Paris – if they aren’t, they should!).
Sounds a bit like interns and starter beauticians, right?
Even better. The only thing we were told before arriving was that we should speak English (this week they had to serve in English, next week they’ll have to serve in Japanese), that our waiters and waitresses would have to welcome us, present the menus and take our orders in English. And that it would take, all toll, about an hour.
We didn’t expect near the quality of the food, nor the ambiance that we received on the day. I took my 7-year-old son along as practice (seven is a great age for learning about eating “outside in”, when to place our cutlery in the centre of our plates, how to hold a wine glass) in a safe environment. Everyone would be “learning”. And indeed the staff was obliged to speak English the whole time, to attend to our every question and concern, to always serve on the right, to sweep away the bread crumbs before dessert, and so on. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought us in a starred restaurant. The greatest attention was made to each detail (as the director said more than once, “They’re not in a brasserie! Standards, people!”)
The food was excellent, I must say – with a starter of a raw tuna and cucumber salad (almost like a fish tartare) , followed by orange-roasted pork, potatoes and ratatouille, and a choice of desserts of one or more (puffed pastries, cherry tarte, fruit custard). I was offered a “Blue Lagoon” cocktail, wine and coffee (and a second coffee was offered on my way out).
All in all, it took 2 hours, as we were not rushed. I felt for the waitresses who, in some cases, were learning to serve wine and slice dessert pies for the first time in front of clients. They had their speaking notes tucked in their hands and at times, smiled and went to their English teacher for confirmation that they had understood my latest question. I kept being called “Missus”, which was a bit of a shock (had I been teleported to the Southern United States all of a sudden?), but as our waiting staff were Melanesians, and I know them to be timid and reserved, I did all I could to encourage them (rather than correct them, which seemed to be the incessant job of their director).
I was so happy to participate in this training event and hope to do so again. I was told that they’ll be opening the doors again in June and will be looking for 4 couples of 2 for a lunchtime service. I would definitely recommend going along – you’ll be doing them a great service and will spend an excellent 1-2 hours. If you would like to participate in June or another time (for those of you who know Nouméa, the restaurant is located above La Coupole), drop me a line in the comments below or by email, and I’ll put you in touch with the organiser.
We might just see you there one day!