Thursday, July 10, 2008

Judges' Table

Last night marked the end of Level III, we had a written test and our Midterm practical exam.

First of all, my body clock is totally on Chef’s time – whenever I get home from school I can’t get to bed until 2:30 am because my adrenaline is still racing – last night was no different. After class, I was burning the midnight oil with a celebratory cocktail at the SoHo Grand Hotel with some pals from class after a long, hot night in the kitchen.

Here’s how the night went down. All of my fellow students arrived early to get our written test out of the way, and focus on the main test for the night – rockin’ out two dishes and presenting them to the judges at the exact predetermined times.

When we arrived in the classroom, we were assigned to stations and took the written exam immediately. The written exam had one question: write down all the ingredients to the Consommé (we have been making) and detail the procedure from start to finish.

Finally, we learned what we had to cook for the night – half the students were assigned to actually make Consommé and a seared pork chop with a very involved sauce and the rest of us (including me) made bass steamed in parchment paper and Genoise with Crème Anglaise. I was extremely happy with what I had to cook. I’ve done Genoise many times and I finally understand how to make my Crème Anglaise perfectly.

As for the bass, there is a lot involved to complete the dish, including making a tomato fondue, mushroom duxelles, filleting and marinating the bass, cutting the garniture vegetables (carrots, leeks and celery) into a fine julienne and cooking them each separately, cutting the parchment envelopes and assembling the whole thing prior to getting it into a 450 oven. I really wanted to be exactly on time so knowing that assembly takes a good amount of time I started early and was ready with time to spare.

Each of us gets a number to wear on our hat so when you present your four plates the judges can match you to the food. Out of the oven, my parchment packages were nicely puffed and browned but I was worried that one or two of the fillets might have been slightly over done since they were on the smallish side compared to the other pieces of fish. Out of the four fish dishes presented one judge said hers was a little over done (I was mentally prepared to hear that) but the others were cooked properly. That’s just the tough part of cooking in parchment, you can’t see the fish inside so you just have to guesstimate how long you think it needs to be cooked for and hope for the best. My other critique was that the fish was a little peppery – I was surprised about that comment but took it in stride.

Lastly, my Genoise was “fantastic and beautifully presented and the Crème Anglaise was da’ bomb,” remarked the three judges. Alright, so I hit that one out of the park!

After it was all over, I was dehydrated, a little dizzy and I had to cool off, my T-shirt and Chef’s jacket was soaked in perspiration. I swear I lost 10 lbs. in water weight last night and forget about eating – there’s just no time for that nonsense! Standing by that 450 degree oven all night took its toll on me and at many points during the night I felt sick and slightly nauseous and would lose my balance if I got up to fast from grabbing something out of the oven – being unsteady on my feet was a problem and I tried to drink as much water as possible but I couldn’t keep up. Sweat was beading up on people’s faces, including my own, and the kitchen felt like a sauna.

A few of us ended the night with a round of cocktails and laughter – happy this milestone is behind us. Now on to Level IV were we will tackle production, family meal and buffet meals. So stay tuned – there’s more tales from the kitchen to come!

Side note: Thank you to all that wished me good luck and encouragement, your good wishes were with me all night.

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