Monday, June 30, 2008

Southern Comfort

Our friend Ret (short for Margaret) invited us and a few other friends over for an afternoon BBQ. I was so happy not to have to cook and to be on the other side of the stove for a change. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE to cook, sometimes I just need a little break. The weather being so unpredictable, our lunch was indoors in the cool air-conditioning.

Ret has a Southern gentility having been born in Charleston, SC - it must be in the family's genes. The gathering started with some Cosmos, the martini glasses were super-sized and I drank mine a little too quickly. The very first thing I noticed on Ret's table were these gorgeous antique plates – each with a different floral and graphic design. She explained that the china has been in the family for quite some time and that they originally belonged to her Aunt Ju Ju. The story goes Aunt Ju Ju was an eclectic woman and actually served Edgar Allen Poe on the very same dishes, fancy that! The patina of the antique silver place settings played against the colorful plates and soft linen tablecloth and napkins.

As we sat around on plush sofas grazing over appetizers, Ret was preparing a gorgeous fillet of salmon that she grilled on cedar planks. The smokiness of the cedar gently infused the salmon. On the side we had a ratatouille-style Charleston Gumbo made with chunky tomatoes, onions, green pepper and bacon (I became privy to the family's secret cooking tip) - once you saute the bacon remove it and then saute your okra to capture that smokey taste. Some nutty wild rice, and a crisp cool salad rounded it all off.

For dessert, a sweet, light Almond Cake that paired beautifully with a deep rich cup of coffee served in delicate china cups. I pictured myself on the veranda of a traditional Charleston home, relaxing after a wonderful summer meal. A languid breeze and the scent of magnolias fills the air. A mint julep in one hand and I'm practically there.

Jen Wah

My friend Jen loves cake, the kind filled with apricot jam, then glazed with apricot nappage, decorated with some toasted almonds and served with a creamy, luscious Crème Anglaise. Jen Wah actually doesn’t exist but every time I make Genoise (jen-wah) I think of my fictitious friend. Genoise is the standard cake recipe for many French dessert creations. I’ve spoken about it before probably a couple of times, but as I am in Level III dishes purposely repeat themselves so I can master them over and over again since they may show up on my mid-term – which is next week on July 9th – I’m trying not to panic. At the end of the night there are so many plated Genoise cakes that I can’t help diving into the sweet dessert myself.

I used to be afraid of pastry and cakes after a failed attempt as a 6th grader trying to make pound cake. I’ve been troubled ever since! I remember the daunting task of making that cake, the recipe called for mace instead of nutmeg. I had no idea what mace was but I insisted that my mother buy it so I could bake the recipe exactly as it was written. I think I brought it in to elementary school for a bake sale, it was a little dry, not too sweet, sort of boring. My friends said it was good but I didn’t believe them.

So I carried the dread of being an iffy baker at best and became quickly interested in savory foods and preparing dinners. So, making desserts is not my thing, I’m not a sugar-holic. If you come to dinner, please do bring dessert!

That night my Genoise was good, not as stellar as it was the last time I made it and now I know why – as I was adding sifted cake flour into the batter I could tell I lost some volume, so the cake was a little drier than the last time. It still rose to a respectable level, I didn’t burn my almonds like I usually do, my Crème Anglaise was not grainy, and I plated on time…even a bit early I think.

Jen Wah and I… we’re good friends, she tells me the truth about my baking skills, and I keep her happily sated with lots of cake.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Remembering Grandmother

Making Poulet Rôti Grand-Mere (Roast Chicken Grandmother-style) I think about my own maternal and paternal grandmothers. My father’s mother passed away way before I was ever a glimmer in my parent’s eye. Grandma Maria died in the 1950s of a skin melanoma – when she finally had it checked out it was too late and her body was riddled with cancer.

I imagine Grandmother Maria making all sorts of Portuguese food, simple food with simple flavors. Pork and clams, chorico flamed with aquavit, codfish cakes, shrimp with rice, roasted pork and delicious Portuguese fried doughnuts. From the pictures I’ve seen of my Grandmother she had a stalwart beauty, dark somewhat sad eyes, alabaster skin, and a brooding smile. My curiosity led me to study our genealogy, but I’ve come up against many obstacles to learn more about her. All I have is a few photographs, one in particular that I love is my Grandparents wedding picture from the 1920s. Grandmother’s flapper style dress and Grandfather’s three-piece suit – they were very young and hopefully very much in love.

On my mother’s side, tragedy struck my Polish Grandma twice, her first husband died after fighting in the First World War, she had one child from that marriage and re-married a Polish man who lost his wife to tuberculosis. He had two children and after they wed they had two more children, my Mom and my Aunt Helen. Growing up during the depression, life was tough and my Polish Grandparents worked hard to feed their kids. In the 1930s my Grandfather was working the second shift in a factory and was struck by a truck while he was walking to work and was left for dead – a hit and run that was never solved by the police. My Grandmother Anna was devastated and my mom was only 10 years old when her Dad died.

Grandma Anna, was a tough woman, born in 1881 she came the United States alone when she was just 16 years old. She worked in garment factories and lived until 1970. There are lots of pictures of my mother’s mom, many where she is happy and enjoying herself.

I was only about 9 months to a year old when my grandmother died. So again I never knew her either – I only have the stories my mother tells me about her. I know what types of food Grandma Anna made, traditional Polish food, the kind of hearty fare one would eat in the Polish countryside. Lots of kiełbasa (Polish Sausages), pierogi (dumplings filled with sauerkraut or potatoes and cheese), kapusta (sauerkraut), stuffed cabbage, borscht (soup), chrzan z buraczkami (traditional condiment of horseradish and beets), good rye bread and for dessert babka, & makowiec (poppy seed cake).

To this day, my family eats Polish food for Easter, it’s just the way we celebrate the holiday and I wouldn’t change it a bit.

Skating on Thin Ice

Skate is pretty slimy and filleting it can be tricky just because it is hard to get a good hold on the slippery skin. It's most important to remeber to keep your fish in a bowl over a bowl of ice to keep it as fresh and cold as possible in the almost unbearable heat of the kitchen. I transition to the Poissonnier station for this evening’s class and begin work on my Skate à la Grenobloise. The traditional Grenobloise preparation includes a brown butter sauce with capers, lemon segments, parsley and croutons. After I fillet the skate, I go to work on making my croutons first – Chef likes them a particular size with even color on all sides. A little clarified butter and a hot pan help the croutons along.

Happily all our stations were occupied this night so no double duty! We all worked harmoniously helping each other prep and plate. The skate preparation is put together pretty quickly when it comes time for service. On the side I prepare potato cocottes to serve with the fish.

About 15 minutes before I need to plate the skate I start by seasoning the fillets and then dust them with flour. I heat a large sauté pan then add clarified butter – a very hot pan helps the fish not to stick. I sauté the fish and achieve a really nice golden crust. A quick flip and sear on the other side and it is done. Removing the fillets and placing them on paper towels helps keep the crispness and blots away any remaining fat.

Next, I wipe out the sauté pan, add whole butter and bring it to the beurre noisette (brown butter) stage, toss in the lemon segments, capers and check the seasoning. The hot butter sauce is napped over part of the fish and on the dish. Top with chopped parsley, buttery croutons and accompanied by three potato cocottes on the side and the dish is complete.

I plated on time which is very important, I await Chef to come over and critique the dish. “Nicely cooked skate, good crispiness,” but the beurre noisette kept on cooking a little so I have some black speckles in the sauce making it part beurre noir (black butter). Next time I need to remember to pull it off the stove a little earlier – other than that a successful night in hotter than hell’s kitchen.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Leading the Pack

From now until our real Mid-term in mid July the game plan has changed – Chef Nicolay has put us into groups of four to train as a mini kitchen set-up covering the four main stations: Garde Manger, Poissonnier, Saucier and Pâtissier.

Our group of four students must execute one dish from each station and after each class we will rotate into the next station. Our first night I started on Garde Manger and had to make our Consommé Printanier. I have a good group to work with – all very focused students and I’ve had the enjoyment of working with each of them individually in the past.

The very first night as we were assigned to our group and stations we realized that the student on the Pâtissier station was absent. Chef told us to cover the station just as we would have to in a normal restaurant. Since the Consommé is relatively a low maintenance dish, I jumped on the Pâtissier station to make the Génoise and Crème Anglaise since my station mates had more involved dishes.

The main objectives are timing, quality, and cooperation. If your teammate is in the proverbial “weeds” it is the collective job of the team to pull them out and get the dishes out on time and perfect. I was wearing my communications hat that night and was belting out reassurances and posing questions to the team to ensure we were where we needed to be in the process. I think I might have been a little bossy but I wanted us to do well and we need to rely on each other and felt we needed a leader for the evening’s flow of progress.

When it comes to seasoning the final dish – we do this collectively so different palates can gauge saltiness, flavor and body – we each contribute thoughts, ideas and recommendations.

We plated the Consommé Printanier on time, Chef said it was very well done. Next few dishes are presented in 15 minute intervals. So if the Consommé is due by 8:30 pm then the skate a la Grenobloise must be ready at 8:45 then the roasted chicken is plated for a 9:00 pm slot and finally the Genoise at 9:15 pm. We all need to be on our game to get these dishes out on time. The night was successful, we received the usual amount of critique but nothing was off the mark.

Part of the hysteria is to also make an Amuse Bouche to compliment the dishes and is presented to Chef between 7:30 and 8:30 pm. That night Michal’s idea won us over, Ashley roasted some red peppers, and Michal cut them spread on some goat cheese and rolled them into spirals with some mushroom duxelles in the center. Very pretty and an appealing “little bite” to awaken the senses. Chef liked it very much.

The Amuse Bouche has become more and more popular at finer & trendy restaurants. Before a diner settles in on what to have for dinner, the Chef sends out a little something delicious from the kitchen to surprise you and stir up your senses. The French term literally translates to "mouth amuser" (bouche = mouth; amuser = to amuse, or to please). We take our Amuse Bouche very seriously – and we’ve decided each of us will have the opportunity to take the lead each night and prepare our own bite-size creation to please Chef.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


The other night in preparation for our Mid-term we had a “mock” Mid-term cooking exam. This was a practical test of our cooking skills – here’s how it went down.

Out of the 16 recipes we’ve made so far any two can appear on our Mid-term, Chef assigns numbers to stations and we pick a piece of paper out of a bowl to 1. figure out where we are cooking and 2. learn what we are cooking. At the point everyone has their assigned station, Chef unveils the dishes for the night. Half the class is making Consommé and a pork entrée the other half will make bass en papillote and génoise – I’m working on the latter.

We have 5 minutes to jot down on a piece of paper anything we want about the recipes from our book – but once that 5 minutes is up our book gets put away and all we have to rely on is what we wrote on that page in 5 minutes. A little stressful…

So we are off! I quickly start to go to work on filleting the fish and getting it into a marinade for later use. Then I work on the fish garniture including mushroom duxelles, tomato fondue, and julienned carrots, leeks and celery. All of these items need to be prepped and ready to go when the fish is ready to be steamed in the parchment paper envelope and cook for 10 minutes.

As that is happening, I am making simple syrup for the cake, and starting my génoise batter. Three eggs and 75 grams of sugar are whisked together over a bain marie in order to “cook” the eggs gently for a few minutes. The mixture should reach 110 degrees but no more than 120 degrees or you will scramble your eggs.

Two main challenges are the station set up and the time limit laid out for the dishes. I have to share an oven, I have one burner and half a flat top as my heat sources. Tricky juggling and careful planning is key here as I can cook only a few things at a time and timing of the dishes counts towards our grade. The fish needs to be completed first the génoise presented at a later time.

As I whip through my tasks, I make sure I have all the ingredients I need for the night because an hour or so into cooking all the fresh ingredients made available to us are taken away. Getting your mise en place all set from the get-go is vital.

Timing flew by, with really no time to take a break, I was pushing myself through each dish to make it perfect and get it out on time. My fish took longer than I expected to put together. Cutting the parchment paper and assembling the components held me back a little. The bass was quite thick so I also wanted to ensure it was cooked properly and I let it steam in the parchment for about 11 minutes in the oven. The timing was off and I was about 8 minutes late plating the fish. I brought my completed four plates over to the Chef and Asst. Chef so they could review and grade the dish.

Just when you think you can breathe another time crunch is upon you. The génoise at this point is out of the oven and on a cooling rack. Almonds need to be toasted golden brown to decorate the cake, apricot jam needs to be heated so it is spreadable, the cake needs to be cut into three layers, and apricot glaze needs to be heated up to coat the outside of the cake so the almonds stick. Lastly, a crème anglaise needs to be prepared and chilled to serve as a dessert sauce for the final plating.

Lots to do in little time. I burnt my almonds the first time the smell of char filled my area. So I had to do it again and I raced to complete all the components. In the end I was able to plate early and get it to Chef a minute before it was due.

At the end of the night, Chef and Asst Chef meet with the students individually and went over the night’s progress. I faired well, timing needs to be worked on for the first dish, seasoning always needs to be checked and my crème anglaise was a little grainy. Otherwise the highlights were that my fish was cooked properly, the génoise was wonderful and my station was orderly and clean throughout the night.

As far as this mock Mid-term went I’m happy to be able to grasp what the real one will be like and the next few weeks in the kitchen will prepare me to handle the demands of timing and practice the dishes over and over.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Stop Your Wine-ing

Enjoying wonderful cuisine and fine wine are synonymous in my opinion – one without the other is lacking. Somehow in our busy class schedule we were able to fit in two introductory sessions on wine and food pairings.

Our Chef/Sommelier had extensive knowledge on the subject and it was very interesting to tap into her oenological mind. She is a former FCI grad who spent a lot of time in Napa Valley working with and for wineries.

The classes were informative and we tried three white wines and three reds for each session. What surprised me the most was how old world wines are really affected by the food paired with them. We had similar wines made from the same grape grown in the same region of France. The differences were climate, soil/geology and the wine-makers style. We paired flavors with the same varietal and each tasted so different and so completely better with the right food flavors. French wine is meant to be consumed with the regional cuisine of that area. It’s a fascinating subject that one could spend a lifetime exploring and learning.

My humble experience with wine was at an early age watching my father make his own wine. I would go to the farmer’s market with him and he would purchase crates and crates of grapes. I loved seeing grapes stacked high in the garage with their colorful brand labels – the best part was sampling the cool fruit right from the vine. Dad had this ancient looking wine press that was hand-cranked and it was set high above a vat that collected all the juice. The scent of sweet fruit, nutty seeds and somewhat tannic grape skins being pulverized by that antiquated press is something I haven’t had the pleasure of enjoying in a very long time.

Unfortunately, I was really young and my attention span wandered and I never caught the entire process of his wine-making. I just liked the harvest and pressing stages. Dad aged his wine in oak barrels and it was wonderful to actually see them up close with their tightly fitted metal bands and inhale that oaky wood smell. I have no idea how long he aged the wine in oak, again my attention span waned.

One year around the holidays, I remember trying a thimble-sized taste of his wine – I remember how strong it tasted, it was rough around the edges, very new wine-tasting. I could compare it today to a very rustic table wine, perhaps a Chianti. I became light-headed from that small sip, my palate was not developed so my reaction to the wine was not of enjoyment – that night I rang in the New Year with tipsy anticipation.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Soup's On!

Consommé Printanier is made from white beef stock (marmite) and a clarification process. The marmite is already prepared for us and heated up, we are required to prep and measure out the clarification ingredients that include ground beef, egg whites, leeks, carrots and celery, crushed peppercorns for flavor, chopped tomatoes and tomato paste.

Mix the clarification mixture together in a bowl, add some cooled marmite to make what resembles a very wet meatloaf. The clarification mixture goes back into the stock pot and is brought up to a boil while stirring constantly.

Once the proteins in the meat and egg start to coagulate and the mixture comes together at the top of the stock pot a raft will form. This is when you stop stirring and pay close attention to the raft. Careful not to break the raft and once it has set nudge through it to make a hole in the center with a ladle. The raft with a hole will clarify the stock and remove the impurities leaving a crystal clear broth.

The stock is reduced to a simmer once it comes to a boil and it is left to cook for an hour. At this point I cut the vegetables and cook the garniture consisting of a macédoine of carrots & turnips, string beans, and peas. Each vegetable is cooked separately and shocked with ice water to stop the cooking process.

Once the clarified stock has simmered for an hour, it is taken off the stove to cool for about 15 minutes. The Consommé is then strained using a chinois and cheesecloth into a large bowl. I carefully ladle the stock through the hole I created and I try not to disturb the raft.

At this point the Consommé needs to be degreased of all fat that floats on the top. Using parchment paper, I run through a couple of sheets over the top of the soup to grab the fat off the surface. Parchment works very well but I need to repeat the process until all I have left is a degreased sparkling Consommé with a golden amber color. At this point if the Consommé has cooled it must go back into a clean stock pot, heated through and seasoned with salt.

The vegetables are heated up in a little Consommé and then added to the soup that is placed in very hot bowls on top of plates lined with doilies. I beckon Chef to come by and taste the Consommé, he feels the rim of the bowl to make sure it is hot enough, dips his soup into the soup and samples the Consommé. The result: Chef thinks the broth is well-seasoned, the vegetables are cooked properly but my macédoine could be more exact. A macédoine is a perfect half centimeter square – not the easiest thing to slice with a huge chef’s knife. Practice makes perfect and I know ultimately I will get it right.

Friday, June 13, 2008

O Sole Mio

The time has come when we start to cook dishes totally on our own for the remainder of Level III. Cooking with a partner, sharing the work load and pulling each other out of the weeds is not an option anymore.

The sixteen dishes we have prepared so far will now repeat and we will be on our own and under stricter time constraints to accomplish the finished dish. The class was split in half; some of us made Poulet Rôti Grand-Mère and the other half made Consommé Printanier.

I had to conjure my inner French Grand-Mère to get motivated to make the chicken dish really sing. There are many components including: making the jus on the side with a reinforced stock, making the garniture (potatoes, pearl onions, bacon, mushrooms) and cooking it all separately and then crisping the chicken by sautéing it on top of the stove on all sides in hot oil then finishing it in the oven with mirepoix.

I trussed my chicken, then started the Jus de Rôti by sautéing carrots and onions (mirepoix) removing that and then sautéing chicken bones and carcasses to a crispy and browned color. After deglazing the pan with white wine, I returned the mirepoix and then added some veal stock. The jus cooked separately for an hour and I continually degreased the sauce.

I heated a sauté pan (sauteuse) added some vegetable oil and then seared the chicken on all sides. The breast was seared last and done lightly so as to not dry it out. I achieved a gorgeous color and crisp skin, my oven was preheated to 425 degrees and the chicken finished in the oven for about 40 minutes. Before the chicken went into the oven I drizzled melted butter all over the skin.

I prepared the garniture and keep it warm on my flat top. One the challenges of cooking on our own is that we have only one burner, half a flat top and we have to share an oven. Organization is key and you have to work within your limitations.

At this point I was running a little over the time for when I needed to plate the dish, I carved my chicken after it rested for about 15 – 20 minutes which allows for the juices to redistribute. I was rushing to plate four plates and get everything ready for Chef to taste and critique. Before he even came over I knew my jus was too thin and could have been more reduced. Chef said the chicken was nice and juicy, the garniture was well-seasoned and the jus needed to reduce more.

Cooking was like running a marathon, I didn’t come in first but I made pretty good time.

So much chicken, so little time - most of these dishes have been picked over by hungry students.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Memoirs of a Saucier

My entrance as an apprentice into the kitchen is one filled with excitement, trepidation and lots of hard work. I dutifully listen and learn from head Chef and ask pertinent questions to achieve proper technique and style. Each class is an awakening of sorts, I sharpen my skills like a knife against steel. And fade to black, role credits and play John William’s score of traditional Japanese music.

The Saucier station is probably one of the most demanding jobs in the kitchen. This person is in charge of all meats and sauces. Our two days as Sauciers involves lots of prep, reinforced stocks as the basis of sauces, careful searing of meat for most dishes and delicate poaching for another.

Our four recipes over the two classes include Boeufs Bourguignon, Poulet Rôti Grand-Mère, then Cote de Porc and Poule au Pot. Our first night we begin with the beef and the roast chicken Grandmother’s style.

The beef has been marinating in wine and some brandy with raw carrots, onions, garlic, bouquet garni and a little corn oil to create a seal on top of the mixture. The marinated beef and vegetables are split up between the two teams of Sauciers and before we do anything we dry off both ingredients with paper towels so they will sauté properly.

We used a third category cut of beef – this meat tends to be tough and needs long, slow cooking to tenderize and bring out its delicious flavor. With a little vegetable oil I sear the beef cubes on all sides with the goal of obtaining a nice crust to seal in juices. Removing the beef I then deglaze the pan with some marinade that has been strained and reduced. I free all those crispy bits of goodness stuck to the bottom – called Sucs. Once that is complete I sauté the marinated, dry vegetables to caramelize them then add the beef back to the same pot. Add flour to the mixture and cook for a minute or so to remove that raw flour taste, add tomato paste off the heat to cook that gently too. Add the reduced marinade, some veal stock to cover, chopped tomatoes, bouquet garni and bring to a boil. Don’t boil the stew for very long or it will toughen the meat and dry it out. Drop it down to a simmer as soon as possible and cover with a parchment round and a lid – roast in a 425 degree oven for 1 to 2 hours.

The Garniture: Traditionally the Boeufs Bourguignon is served with crisp lardons (bacon), mushrooms sautéed in some bacon fat, browned and glazed pearl onions, and a heart-shaped crouton – just to show it was made with love! The garniture is made in advance and cooked & seasoned separately.

My cooking partner that evening has taken the reigns on the Poulet Rôti Grand-Mère and we talk through the recipes as we prepare them so we can both note what the other one is doing since we will both have to master these four dishes since one of them might be on our Mid-term.

At the end of the night, after plating our chicken and beef we get the chance to take a break and dine on all of our hard work.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Smells Fishy

Fish should never smell fishy – it should smell like the ocean, have clear eyes, when pressed the flesh should bounce back and the gills should be red. These are all signs of a fresh fish. One exception, the skin on skate should be slimy. Slimy skate is good – go figure. On the Poissonier station we make four fish dishes using bass, flounder, skate and salmon – each dish gives us the opportunity to practice different cooking methods. The salmon is grilled, flounder braised, skate is sautéed and the bass is steamed in parchment paper – one of my favorite ways to cook fish.

Each fish dish is accompanied by either a delicate sauce, or prepared garniture. Our recipes are very involved with many steps to finalize the completed dish. On the night we prepared skate and flounder we made a fish fumet (stock) from the bones of the fish. The fumet is then added to other ingredients to make a sauce.
Filleting fish is still tricky for me – there are different methods for flat and round fish. The best thing to have is an extremely sharp filet knife. The blade is flexible allowing it to glide over the bones.

The night we made bass en papillote (in parchment) we started by making a tomato fondue and mushroom duxelles. Once those two items are complete we julienne carrots, leeks and celery and cook them a l’étuvée – while this is going on the bass, already filleted is marinating in thyme, pepper and olive oil.

The procedure for the bass is simple, cut a piece of parchment paper into a heart shape and fold it in half. Open the fold and at the center place some tomato fondue and duxelles in the center. Place the bass on top and then arrange the cooked vegetables on top with a sprig of thyme and douse with a tablespoon of white wine. Sealing the parchment paper is made easy by using some beaten egg white to stick the two sides together. Folding the edges and brushing the creases helps seal the parchment and allows the bass to steam properly and the parchment paper to expand. A little oil on top of the parchment will attract the heat and help brown the paper. Into a 425 degree oven and depending on the thickness of the fish we time ours for about 9 minutes.

We plate the golden brown packages on hot plates and Chef comes around and opens the parchment with his knife. He inhales the aroma that has been trapped inside, then tries the fish. Perfectly cooked bass, he commented, but the garniture needed more attention, the mushrooms too salty the carrots needed to cook more. Each critique helps us make a mental note of what to pay careful attention to next time.

The old kitchen we cook in is hot as hell! Chef reminds us to drink water and hydrate ourselves. By the end of the night, I’m a sweaty mess and happy to be going home even though I smell like fish.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

En Garde!

Our first night on the Garde Manger station and our two dishes to complete were a Consommé Printanier and Oeuf Poché sur Macédoine de Légumes, and Sauce Hollandaise. The mission: complete these two dishes by a set time given by our Chef-Instructor. Level III hones our organizational and multi-tasking skills – Chef really pushes us to have our dishes complete and perfect by the required time. We roll into the kitchen around 5:30 pm and after roll call and a brief lecture we get cookin’ with most dishes required to be presented by around 8:30 pm and time flies!

We began with the Consommé – we took a veal stock (Marmite) and clarified the stock with ground beef, egg whites and aromatics to add more flavor. It is a really fascinating procedure, I had no idea this was the way a Consommé was prepared when I made it the first time in Level I. The Consommé is left on the stove to barely simmer and the spring vegetable medley takes time to cut into perfect Macédoine-sized shapes. I really need to work on my knife skills, it takes me much too much time to cut these things.

We prep all our vegetables for both the soup and the poached egg dish. Happily we meet our deadline for the soup and the egg dishes, Chef suggested more salt for the soup, and liked our presentation of the Oeuf Poché. Chef gave us tips to perfect it the next time but it all comes with time and repetition.

Our Hollandaise died on the table – it broke twice and we revived it both times. The nice thing about the Sauce Hollandaise is that it can be salvaged. That night I was able to breathe easier – our timing was great, yet the pace was a little frenetic. My partner and I handled the night like troopers – always leaving room for improvement and continued learning.

Our Just Desserts

Our second night on pastry was no easier. We had to make a Genoise cake, Crème Caramel and delicate Tuile cookies. Genoise is something I am comfortable with – it is an whole egg foam cake with a simple recipe: 3 eggs, 75 grams sugar, 75 grams sifted cake flour (6” cake pan buttered, floured and a round of parchment paper on the bottom of the pan). The procedure is simple – beat the egg with the sugar over a water bath to double the volume and carefully cook the eggs. Once the egg foam has reached about 110 degrees it is time to add the sifted flour and carefully fold it in. The trapped air in the beaten eggs is the only way the cake rises so careful folding and beating are required.

While our cakes bake – we prepare our Crème Caramel. My sugar caramelizes too quickly and turns very dark, so I start again. This time I take the sugar off the heat much earlier and it develops a beautiful amber color. The trick is to get the hot sugar into the ramekins without getting any of the caramel on the inner sides.

Michele and I make our custard, fill our ramekins and pop them into a water bath into a hot oven. The oven was so messed up – half of the custards were undercooked and the other half were overcooked. The oven needed some serious calibration.

At the end of the night, our Genoise was cooled, cut in half and a light simple syrup was brushed on the cut halves, then a delicate layer of apricot preserves was added to the layer. We brushed the cake with an apricot glaze and added toasted coconut and almonds to the outside. Our Crème Anglaise pooled beautifully on the plate and the Genoise took center stage.

Once Chef reviews our dishes we offer them up to any of the students to enjoy them. It’s almost like a barter transaction, Genoise for a Boeuf Bourguignon that someone on the Saucier station had just completed.

Our two days on the Pastry station conclude and we gear up for Garde Manger – a fancy word for soups, salads and egg preparations. At the end of the night, I was ready for our next station assignment – hopefully soups and salads will cut us a break.