I know my people from home are checking my blog hoping to hear about culinary school, and so far they have been sorely disappointed. The thing is it is really intense and busy, and I just haven’t been able to say anything intelligent about it yet. I probably still can’t say anything intelligent, but hopefully you’ll settle for coherent. Also, we aren’t really supposed to take pictures in the kitchen, so I only have the occasional iPhone snap. I expect you’ll forgive me.
There are 96 people in the class. We are broken down into 6 sections of 16. Each day, we spend half of the day in a demonstration room for a combination of lecture and cooking dems and tastings. The other half of the day is spent in the kitchen. We share a workbench with 4 people and work in a surprisingly small space. There is a huge emphasis on organization and multitasking. We are expected to keep our workspace tidy and clean as we go. We are generally expected to make service times and often to serve multiple dishes at once at the correct temperature.
Before we go into the kitchen, we are expected to create a timeplan mapping out exactly what we are going to do. Basically, you re-type the steps in each recipe being made, and then re-sort them into the order in which they’ll be done in the kitchen.
The past two months have been a seemingly endless cycle of those three activities. See something demonstrated. Write a timeplan to make it myself (with 2-3 other recipes thrown in for fun). Execute the whole thing within 3 hours. Repeat. For 9 weeks. Except that it is all jumbled up. By the time we are cooking the stewed lamb from the dem, a week has gone by and we have seen a dozen or more other recipes. We have had a few tests. And a few cooking challenges, like cooking a buffet for the rest of the class. Is it like those reality TV chef shows? In some ways yes, except we all paid tuition, so we get to come back each week even if we burn the chicken…
Below and again over my next few posts I’ll run through the main types of food covered in my first term.
Beyond the Basics (Part 1)
What have we been making? A few things, like pastry and chicken, over and over and over again. Then many other things once or twice.
Starting with pastry, I have a whole new appreciation for butter, flour and eggs. When combined in varying ratios, these three basic ingredients are transformed into an astonishing array of delicious food: pastry for savoury quiches and for sweet tarts, shortbread, scones, cookies, cake, cheese puffs, gougere, profiteroles, to name just a few. We make a lot of pastry. We make it by hand. One of the great pleasures of Intermediate term will be that we are allowed to make pastry by machine.
I think pastry is one of those things that is better taught then self-taught. It is important to know how the dough is meant to look and feel. A recipe can only convey so much with words (“rub in” til it looks like breadcrumbs?) Even photos only get you so far. But for me, a long time pastry-phobe, it was invaluable to have someone tell me how to actually tell whether to add more water and when the pastry is getting too warm and needs to pop back in the fridge. Also I cannot understate the value of making pastry twice a week since September. Practice makes perfect, people.
So now I am taking comfort in the very things that used to intimidate me. If I measure carefully and love the pastry (rather than fear it or resent it or hurry it) it turns out lovely. Not always perfect, but consistently really good. This is important, because in so many ways I feel like I am a worse cook than I was three months ago. I am painfully aware of my slowness and sloppiness and mistakes. I must remember to love the food I am making and to practice until I can do it cold.
I’ve also come up with the best use for leftover pastry. First, you save it in case your pastry case cracks and you need to plug a hold. Assuming that doesn’t happen, roll out the remaining pastry and cut 2 1/2” circles. Pop those into a typical muffin tin. Fill with baking beans and blind bake at 200C for 10-15 min until the sides are set. Remove the beans and return to the oven until the bottom is dry. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Give to children and let them fill with sweetened cream cheese or whipped cream and top with fruit. My children have excellent food styling skills, if I do say so myself:
More later. Cheers!