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.