Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Curtain Falls on Level II

Last night we had our two exams, our last evaluation by Chef and a discussion about what to expect in Level III. I was nervous as usual, on Sunday I wanted to practice quartering a chicken so I headed over to Stop n’ Shop to get some groceries and a whole chicken. I was caught up in studying and getting myself ready for the work week and the clock ticked away. Before I knew it time had slipped away and I found myself practicing my knife skills at 10:30 PM on this over-sized roasting chicken. It seems every chicken presents its own set of challenges – so I carved my way around the bird and set the pieces in a marinade for later consumption.

Monday arrived bright and early, it is always very hard for me to wake up since I sleep like a dead person. I almost never hear the alarm clock and somehow my own body clock forces my eyes open just so I have enough time to shower, shave and get out of the house to catch the train. Ok, so I’m not a morning person – I blame it on my Sleep Apnea!

Anyway, I grab a cup of coffee at the Fleetwood train station – the coffee is damned good – don’t know what exactly he grinds for beans but I savor every sip on my quick trip into the city.

After working all day, I get ready to head to school with a nervous stomach knowing that I have to do well on two exams that night. I’ve studied and concentrated on the things I know we will be asked on the test. As for the Practical, well, it is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-chef-pants kinda moment.

I arrive at school, change into my chef-whites, checkered pants and kitchen clogs and head to the student lounge. I decide to spend about 20 minutes in the gorgeous FCI library that is chock full of just about everything. My pal Marcela comes in and we talk about what we’ve studied and how we are feeling for the tests. My nerves are eased off by our conversation – Marcela loves to cook as much as I do and she respects the program and wants to do well – just like me. We are very simpatico – and can laugh and joke with each other one minute and be on-task the very next moment. In the kitchen of life our relationship is a very happy marriage.

We set off downstairs to the first floor kitchen to take our Practical exam. Our first task is to take 2 potatoes and make as many perfect 5 cm cocottes in 20 minutes. Chef signals us to start and we are off! I peel those spuds as fast as I can and cut each potato into 12 pieces. Time ticks away and I end up with about a dozen very nice cocottes.

Next, Mayonnaise from memory – we gather our ingredients and get ready. A good Mayonnaise is simply a proper emulsion of one egg yolk, 1 level tbs. of good Dijon, a ¼ tsp. of salt, ½ tsp. of vinegar or lemon juice, some ground pepper and 150 ml of oil. And we’re off, a cacophony of whisks beating against metal bowls fills the kitchen. I’m happy with my emulsion, my mayonnaise is thick, has a nice shine and the flavor is good, maybe slightly salty. When we are done we are asked to leave the kitchen so we can be judged by the proctors.

Lastly, the fish then the chicken get their turn on the chopping board. The fish presented a problem for most of the students, the flesh is so delicate that it is so easy to hack away at it with a unsteady knife. I scaled the slippery bass, trimmed it and cut off the head. When it came down to removing the fillets I do a fair job, definitely not my best work. Lastly, the chicken was fairly easy and once we were done we cleaned up and sanitized everything.

After our family meal, we headed up to a classroom to take our written exam. Chef gave us an opportunity to study in groups and we quizzed each other briefly. At the end of the night, we were given our grades for the Practical and Chef gave us his last written evaluation. I was pleased with both grades but knew I could have done a better job with my knife skills – it just takes practice.

Chef gave us some pointers on what to expect for the next 7 weeks, he talked about our Mid-term and he wished us the best since we will no longer be working under his instruction. We gave Chef a round of applause – he worked hard to teach us the basics and I know his effort will reflect on my approach to cooking.

Chef’s critique, style, knowledge and guidance have proven to be the most prized ingredients any culinary student could hope to work with in the kitchen. Merci beaucoup, Chef – many thanks.

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