Saturday, July 12, 2008

The All-You-Can-Eat Buffet

My group moved down to the buffet/family/production kitchen. We are just steps away from being in the real kitchen of L’Ecole – the French Culinary Institute’s own restaurant.

The class is split into three groups, each group tackles food production, family meal and buffet service and we do this in two week rotations. I’m paired with five other students that I’m looking forward to working with and planning our special buffet meals. We can do whatever we want for buffet – this service feeds the Chef-Instructors, Asst. Chefs and Level 5 and 6 students. So, it’s a chance for us to practice our skills, learn some new ones and express our culinary creativity.

The first night in buffet kitchen, we were a little lost – which is the usual scenario when we are placed in a new kitchen. No one knows where anything is, we have to find supplies, figure out where to set up and follow the normal protocols.

Happily, my team is led by our Level III Chef-Instructor – Chef Nic – we all really enjoy working with him. When we go into production and family meal we will be working under the guidance of two other Chefs.

None of us knew what we would actually be doing on the first night until Chef told us that he made some purchasing decisions for our first buffet that will be presented this coming Wednesday. We planned some menu ideas for canapés, butchered some veal, pork and brined a huge ham. We volunteered to take charge of the different entrées. I choose the pork loin and pork roast and will assist Marcella on the quail entrée.

To get us started and prepped for Wednesday’s buffet I made a country pork pâté from start to finish with help from Chef Nic and I also worked on a pork rillette. Starting with the pork pâté I broke down two pork butts and cut them into 2 inch cubes, added some sliced fat back and then brought it over to the professionally-sized meat grinder. Chef instructed me to grind half of the meat and fat on a coarse grind and the other half on a finer grind to add differing textures to the final product. After he left me, I clogged the machine after I put on the second extruder – sheepishly, I had to call him back to help me and we figured out what I did wrong and it was an easy fix.

After the meat was ground we seasoned it with black truffles, French four-spice, salt, pepper, a splash of brandy, Madeira and Port wine. We added diced ham, some more diced fat back and pistachios to the mix and let the flavors meld. Testing a small amount of the pâté was done by making a small patty and sautéing it in some oil to make sure it was seasoned properly – happy with the seasoning I prepared the terrines that the pate would take shape in for Monday.

Lastly, the pork rillette was made by using the same pork butt with other added seasonings and cooked slowly in the oven for a few hours covered in duck fat. The result was a full-flavored pork that melted in your mouth. In a standing mixture with the paddle attachment we shredded the cooked meat and seasoned it some more before I put the mixture into another terrine. By the end of the night, I was more comfortable in our new surroundings, I got my bearings and became more and more excited about presenting our first buffet meal.

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