Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Progress at last!

Practical Day 3. Menu 4: Poached Filet of Sole, Chicken Consomme Julienne, and Duchesse Potatoes. Your mission, if you choose to accept it (like you have a choice!), is to properly poach the sole using the shallow poaching method, create a clear chicken consomme with some julienned veg as garnish, and properly pipe Duchesse potatoes into pleasing shapes to serve with the sole. This menu will self-destruct in 3 hours and 30 minutes...cue fuse and funky MI theme music!

I was bound and determined that I would approach Day 3 with a more calm and serene attitude than Monday's practical. This is cooking, not rocket science. I've worked with rocket science before, and it really is harder. I understand the principles for these practical menus, I practice them at home, plus I've been cooking for years and surviving on it quite nicely (as evidenced by the bathroom scales), so I really shouldn't be wigging out as much as I have been.

Chef gives me my protein portions, and of course I get the dreaded pairing of Moby Dick and Nemo for my pieces of sole. I'm quite sure he does this on purpose to see how we'll handle this. Fortunately, I was prepared for this eventuality, and realized that I needed to cook ol' Moby a little longer than Nemo. This strategy worked well, and I was rewarded by Chef telling me "not bad, not bad" when he tasted my fish. The vin blanc (white wine) sauce was a bit problematic at first, because it would not thicken up no matter what, so I added a little arrowroot slurry to it, which fixed it right up.

The potatoes looked pretty good. You may remember them from a previous post where I may have referenced the fact that they looked like poodle poo rather than the pictured finished product, but I did manage to pipe out a fairly decent rosette. They browned up nicely, but they got a little tight from sitting in the oven a little longer than I planned...things with Moby and Nemo were getting out of hand, so I had to ignore the taters for a little while.

The consomme was the bane of my existence today. To properly create the chicken consomme, you have to start with stock and a clarification mixture. The clarification mixture involves ground chicken, white mirepoix (onion, leeks, celery, parsnips), egg whites and some seasoning. You mash the ingredients together and put it in the stock. As the stock simmers, the mixture forms a "raft," which attracts all the nasty bits floating around in the stock and helps make it clear (clarify).

The trick with this raft thing is to not break it when you remove it from the stock; otherwise you really have to work at the clarification. Of course, part of the raft broke off and disintegrated back into the stock before I could even begin to try and retrieve it. I did manage to get the stock pretty clear, but it wasn't crystal clear and fat-free as it's supposed to be served. Chef said it had good flavor (yeah!) and commented on the less than clear appearance, and was comiseratory when I explained I knew why it was cloudy and that a piece of the raft had broken. I think my understanding the how and the why of it went a long way.

I did get my grade for the day (80!!!) and for the past 2 practical days (75 for both), which if we are going on the scale that Chef doesn't ever give an A, but a B is like an A and so forth until you get to D and F, which are D and F period, then I'm batting okay. I'm still having problems with the whole idea that you cannot make an A on practical stuff, because "if you made an A, then why would you need to come to culinary school?" That philosophy sounds like so much bullshit to me, because I really feel like if a student has stretched him or herself and performed to the best of their ability and achieved the gold standard of something, then s/he deserves an A. Although, at this point, I'll take whatever I can get to pass!

I have a feeling that the next practical task will be the knife cuts and mother sauces, so you can guess what I'll be doing this weekend...torturing some poor carrots and potatoes Jack Bauer-style!

As a little reward to myself, I went to the Dining Room instructor and asked if he had any open reservations for lunch today, because I was hungry and I wanted to try those damned Cherries Jubilee. He invited me and a fellow Principles sufferer to have lunch at our cafe, and we had a rare opportunity to observe things from the other class. What was immediately evident was that our Monday-Tuesday class functions much more as a team than this class. When one of us is refilling tea or water, we always stop at other tables to refill, no matter if it's in our section or not. This class didn't really back each other up at all, and that is a part of their grade. We'll be graded individually on our progress, but there will be a team point or two factored in as well. We may still be making some of the stupid mistakes that the Wednesday class makes, but at least we've got each other's backs right or wrong.

I do feel a bit for them, because on their last day of service tomorrow, they will have 57 guests in the restaurant. They are having to moving in banquet tables in to accommodate everyone who is coming. It's going to be pretty ugly in there tomorrow, and I don't envy them one tiny little bit.

Speaking of ugly, I was talking with one of my classmates last night, and she confessed that she's been getting some smack from folks in other classes about her hanging around the kitchen and Chef so much. Ah,'s an evil and ugly thing. These commenters have gone so far as to make mention that she has Chef's eye and ear and is his special pet because of her looks. Her initial response is "have you seen the uniform?", and I tend to agree that the Stay-Puft Dough Girl look is not very attractive, but if anyone can carry it off, it's her. But that is totally besides the point, and that vein of thought trivializes her accomplishments. The real point is that she has that vaunted "passion" that Chef keeps talking about, and she's really found her calling, so she wants to learn as much as possible about being a chef. I have no doubt that she is going to be a great chef and have a fabulous restaurant someday, and I admire her for taking the necessary steps to further her ambitions. If I were 20 years younger and 50 bajillion pounds lighter, I'd be doing the same thing...practically living at school, signing up for every volunteer event, etc. However, I don't have the feeling for it that she does. I have no burning itching desire to be a chef in a restaurant and/or own a restaurant (total insanity, that is!). My goal is completely different. I want to become a better cook and be able to cook well for people as a way to make a living (sorry if that's bursting some rosy bubbles out there, but it's the honest truth). I'm not going to be the Next Big Food Network Star or appear on Top Chef (because I would knife one of those annoying twits and end up as a prison cook, and that uniform would be even more unattractive). I want to be someone who makes peoples' lives easier and better because they have tasty and nutritious meals in the freezer...and get paid handsomely for it.

The thing that these naysayers don't get is that they could be doing exactly what she is doing and become better cooks and better students for it. Chef is extremely willing to share his knowledge about food, techniques, procedures, etc....everything but his recipe for chicken salad, which he guards like the formula for Coca-Cola, and I say bully for her for steeping herself in it. The funny thing is, I don't think that anyone in our class feels this way about her, and we live with it all the time. Chef tends to ask her to do extra things or relies on her to get stuff together for him and assist him during demos--it's just an accepted fact with us, and we pitch in to help her when she needs it. It probably looks like she is his favorite and teacher's pet, but it just takes some of the heat off the rest of us and we are grateful for it. This reliance could also work against her, because soon Chef will start to expect more out of her than the rest of us average bears, which is something else the nasty nellies don't realize either. Bah--who has time for this crap? I barely have time to sleep much less worry about what the hell someone else is or isn't doing to curry favor. Speaking of which, isn't it nap time already?


Anonymous said...

Go LB! Congrats on the well-deserved grades (well, you deserve better, but given the nobody gets an A policy, you're obviously scoring at the top).

Your story about how you saved your vin blanc sauce ("I added a little arrowroot slurry to it, which fixed it right up") made me think of Ron and Harry's experiences in Potions class. Chef isn't like Snape, I trust?


Kim said...

Congrats on your good grade. Sounds like you saved your sauces:o)

It is true that the more dependable you are the more responsiblity you get, so hopefully the others will figure that out and lay off your classmate.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sending me the link to your blog. This is fascinating stuff! It's making me hungry of course. -JTig

Erin said...

"Curry favor" - Mmmm, all I could think was, I LOVE curry!

I love to read about your chef school exploits, it's like living vicariously! You never did tell us if the Duchesse potatoes ended up looking like bits of poodle poo, but I'm assuming from your grade that they didn't.