Week in the Life, Michele singer, caterer: Woman who knows strange tastes of Eurocrats

MENTION JULY'S disastrous opening week of the new European Parliament building in Strasbourg, and Michele Singer buries her head in her hands. As the woman in charge of the parliament's catering she recalls the moment when, not realising three restaurants were at their disposal, 300 MEPs converged on one dining room demanding food.

The week was, she says, une catastrophe, reliving the moment when one parliamentarian made front-page news by describing a pizza as like cardboard. The teething troubles over, Ms Singer is emerging as the unsung heroine of an operation that delivers thousands of meals and gallons of drink in three restaurants, five reception rooms and four bars.

The European Parliament meets only one week in four in Strasbourg, spending the rest of its life in Brussels. When the MEPs are out of town Ms Singer and her team of 18 arrange the eating, drinking and banqueting for the next session.

In a "Strasbourg week", such as this one, things reach a pitch of intensity.

BETWEEN 6am and 6.30am on Monday Ms Singer leaves her home in the village of Meteor, 30km from Strasbourg. Arriving at 7am she hands the lists of scheduled lunches, and dinners to the senior staff and, until the first bar opens at 8am, there is an eerie calm.

"Then," she says, "it starts. `Michele the staff haven't arrived', `Michele, there are too many people to be served, give us some for help', `Michele we need to set up a breakfast for the president of the parliament tomorrow'." She leaves work at 8pm.

ON TUESDAY, arriving at the same time in the morning, Ms Singer spends a big chunk of her day making contact with the staff. Such is the size of the parliament, this is no simple matter.

"Every day I walk, walk, walk," she says. Just to say `hello' to my barmaids takes one hour." This will be another long day, including a banquet after which, at midnight, Ms Singer leaves for home.

WEDNESDAY FOLLOWS a similar pattern with another series of receptions to supervise as well as the normal round of restaurant and bar meals. Today, a Portuguese MEP has invited colleagues to a wine tasting and a colleague is hosting a dinner.

THURSDAY IS destined to be another long day, with a private dinner for the parliament's president, Nicole Fontaine, among the highlights. Not until the meal starts will Ms Singer discover the guest list but she has to be prepared to serve Europe's most senior political figures. Each Strasbourg week the European Commission president and his 19 commissioners are in town. Then there are the invited guests. Next month President Jacques Chirac will pay a visit and discussions are already under way about what he will eat.

One item on the menu will be choucroute, an Alsace version of sauerkraut and a Strasbourg speciality.

ON FRIDAY, the exodus from Strasbourg begins and the first bar shuts at 2pm.

At around 5pm, when everything else has closed, Ms Singer has a celebratory glass of wine with staff before the paperwork comes in. "You are so proud to have done another week and so excited if you can say that everything went well," she says. By 7pm her head is spinning and she leaves for the weekend.

During Strasbourg weeks, Ms Singer is so rarely at home that she communicates with her husband and two teenage sons by leaving pre-dawn notes on the kitchen table. She enjoys the job none the less. "If things go badly I am the only one who can take the blame so the job can be difficult psychologically, as well as physically. But if the president of the parliament or the secretary general says, `Thank you, that went very well', it is a beautiful feeling." At this point we are interrupted by a parliamentary official: "Michele," he says, "my reception at one o'clock, is everything all right?"

"Yes, no problem", she replies quickly, adding as the official disappears into the distance, "I think I'll just go up there and check..."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor