Sunday, May 18, 2008

In the French-style

Somehow after all these weeks, we’ve arrived in our last class of Level II. A sense of accomplishment settles in and then a wave of anxiety washes over me as I ponder what challenges Level III will present.

In our last class in this level, we learn about French-style vegetable preparations: Ratatouille and Confit Bayaldi. Before I go into those recipes I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the past 6 weeks. We covered a lot of territory in this level such as braising, stuffing, organ meat, eggs, pastry dough, meringue, custards, mousses, soufflés, ice cream, nutrition, vegetable preparations, cheese, pasta and rice. It was jammed packed and we learned a lot – hopefully most of it will stick in my brain.

In our next class we will have our Level II Practical & Comprehensive exams – so Chef took some time to go over material, things we should expect and what we will be required to do. From what I can gather for our Practical exam we need to do 4 things really well. 1. Fillet a fish; 2. Quarter a chicken; 3. Make a mayonnaise; and 4. Cut as many perfect cocottes from two potatoes – all of these exercises are timed for 20 minutes each. Our Comprehensive exam covers the Level II curriculum in our book and is the written part of our examination.

Tonight we also had our HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) exam which is a New York State administered exam for food handlers. Passing the HACCP exam grants you a food handlers license and is good for 5 years. The exam tests us on safe food handling practices, kitchen management and food-bourne illnesses. After taking the exam which consisted of 80 questions I felt good about it – I had studied well and felt like I passed with no problem.

Class moved along at a quick pace since we had to prep our Ratatouille and Confit Bayaldi. I love a good Ratatouille, when I worked in a professional kitchen environment eons ago we had it on our menu. I remember watching the assistant Chefs prep all the vegetables and cook each separately then combine all the cooked ingredients together to blend the flavors. I loved the Ratatouille fresh off the stove – I would grab a piece of sage focaccia bread that had a sprinkling of sea salt – the soft bread was wonderful with the warm medley of cooked vegetables. Enjoying the simplicity of flavors and textures it was one of my most favorite impromptu lunches at that café.

The Confit Bayaldi is a vegetable preparation that is started on top of the stove by sautéing some onions and julienned peppers. Once the onions and peppers have sufficiently cooked down in the blended olive oil place thin slices of Japanese eggplant, zucchini, summer squash and fresh tomatoes in a spiral pattern on top of the mixture. The pattern of overlapping vegetables gets a drizzle of thyme/garlic-infused extra virgin olive oil. The sauté pan is covered with foil that has been poked full of holes so steam can escape and then transferred to a 325 degree oven to further cook. Near the end of cooking, the foil comes off and the Confit Bayaldi achieves a golden crust. I presented my dish to Chef who liked it and said it was well-prepared – one taste and I was reminded just how good simple food can be.

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