I was doing so well with a weekly update of school. Then the last four weeks happened. It's been hard to reflect this quarter. My days at school have gone something like: "Then we made this thing. Then we made this other thing. Then we did that. Then we did another thing." Go, go, go, a go-go. No wonder I'm so dang tired right now. There's been a big heaping of hustle-your-bustle this quarter. I really get what people meant about 2nd Quarter showing you what you're really made of. Yep. I definitely am seeing the stuff I'm made of. Just not a lot of time to think about it.
One of my classmates has been cooking in commercial kitchens for 15 years, since he was 16. Another was the head of a kitchen for many many years. They are not as challenged as the rest of us. But as for the rest of us... whew.
In order, the four last weeks' stations were:
1. Sous Chef (My partner and I did the leading thing for the rest of the class that week)
2. Breakfast/Asian Station (Two days of making breakfast-for-lunch, then two days for making the assigned Asian dishes)
3. Butchery (We fabricated meats needed by our classmates for their dishes, plus we make our own entrée for Student Lunch)
4. Sushi/Stocks, Sauces & Soups (Two days of sushi, one day of stocks & sauces, then one day in the Bistro kitchen making soup for the actual Public At Large)
These were intense weeks. Sous Chef was alright, actually. I activated my inner Sixth Grade Teacher and got organized. It felt like a successful week, and I received good feedback from people about how the kitchen was "run."
Even so, it was exhausting. At times I had some misanthropic feelings, especially towards folks who acted ungracious when we served them lunch. There were not many of them, but they sucked. As they say, the only people complaining about student lunch are the people who are not making student lunch.
I didn't complain last quarter, and I sure as hell will not complain in quarters to come. On principle. Even if they serve me crap-on-a-plate. I'll just eat salad. I've seen it from the front lines: people are doing their best.
Breakfast and Asian Station were fun but took longer than I would have expected. My favorite parts of that week were making phad thai with an industrial wok (the dish pictured above was my practice run of that dish), and the shirred eggs and "overnight" waffles with yeast. A pastry student from the program asked me for the recipe for the waffles. Waffle awesomeness!
Butchery was a station that I expected to love but then didn't. I left school every day feeling frustrated and raw. I liked the actual butchery part, but I think there were some ways that the station was set up that weren't conducive to our learning. Here's some meat! Go!
Even so, I had some good experiences that week. My partner and I deboned chickens while still intact (remember when Chef showed us earlier in the quarter? Now we can do it, too!!) and made a "ballotine" by rolling it with a stuffing, cinnamon-roll-style, then serving it with a Madeira sauce. I also got to make a smoked pork roast that I deboned myself. In the near future I need to continue to work on chicken fabrication, because our end-of-quarter knife competency will be cutting up chickens in different ways, in a certain number of minutes.
This week my sushi rotation went well, although slow. Anyone in the sushi station has to decide: perfect and beautiful sushi, or get 'er out there? I, and the helpers that were assigned to me, tried to make mostly beautiful sushi. So I wouldn't call us early. Anyway, I'm glad we got it out without Chef KG saying, "Where's the sushi?" (Which he will do, if you're too, too late). One thing I felt proud of in this station was my mis en place (how all my ingredients were set up before I got started). Things were organized and neat. This felt good, especially with a project that has so many ingredients. Also especially because my mis en place outside of school is more like "Holy crap, where's the baking soda?!?"
Soup station yesterday was a wonderful moment in time. I was in the 3rd Quarter kitchen, and it was one of the most relaxed days I've had in the kitchen so far. There wasn't much to do, and everyone was relatively chilled out. After making some salmon chowder and cleaning & steaming some mussels, I had a chance to taste eight or nine dishes from the 5th quarter "COD (Chef of the Day)" project. This was inspiring and fascinating. 3 students' menus were being presented that day, so plate after beautiful plate was being sent back to the kitchen for Chef Vicky to grade.
After she finished tasting and rating a plate, she would put it on the counter, which happened to be at my station, for the students to try. People would come over with spoons to taste, reflect, and react. I was ladling up stock into containers to freeze, so I just went through a soothing process of taste, ladle, reflect, taste, ladle, reflect. Having the time to ponder on different flavor combinations was so different from the rest of this action-packed quarter. It felt collegial, magical. Everyone passing by was interested and had a different, personal reaction to what they tried.
It was also cool to listen to the chefs' reactions. The beets gratin from an Eastern Bloc menu, which I particularly loved, were also exciting to Chef Vicky. She pointed out that the crisp part at the bottom was particularly delicious. A few minutes later I passed through Chef KG's (our) kitchen and saw the same dish sitting there at a table. I commented to Chef KG that I loved that gratin, and he said, "Yeah. A little overcooked,though." Really? I went to taste it again, from the dish in his kitchen, and sure enough, that plate's gratin had a little tougher consistency than the one in 3rd quarter kitchen. I wonder what happened to make the two gratins turn out so differently. I also wonder what it will be like in just a few quarters when I'm making my own COD project.
There have been some other glimmers of excitement and culinary inspiration: Yesterday morning Chef KG showed us some fun cuts and garnishes, including making cherry blossoms (and plum blossoms) from carrots, and carving a ball inside a cage with a potato. Who cares if you never cook with that potato? It is so dang cool. I will definitely carve another one and take a pic for your amusement.
Also, there's a tapas competition coming up at school. The two winners will then go to Spain to compete with people around the world with their tapas. I'm going to submit some ideas to Chef Karen (which is what we're supposed to do to see if we qualify for the next round). So my mind is constantly mumbling to itself about flavor ideas right now. It's a good feeling.
Anyway, I'm tired. I feel compelled, for posterity's sake, to record what I "produced" in these last 16 school days:
- Shirred eggs with gruyere and cayenne
- Eggs Benedict with shaved ham
- Omelets with shallots, mushrooms, and fresh thyme
- Eggs over easy
- Light & fluffy pancakes
- Overnight waffles (with yeast)
- Hash browns
- Tenshin Don (Rice bowl with crab omelet, peas, and sauce)
- Phad Thai
- Chicken Ballotine with Madeira Sauce
- Smoked Pork Shoulder
- Roasted Chicken au Jus Lié
- Ebi (shrimp)
- Atsuyaki Tamago (omelet)
- Unagi (freshwater eel)
- Hosomaki (small rolls with nori on outside of roll):
- Kampyo (dried, rehydrated gourd) roll
- Tekuwan (pickled daikon radish) roll
- Kappa Maki (cucumber roll)
- California roll
- Futomaki ("Fat" roll with tamago, kampyo, spinach, mushroom, and denbu--pink fish flakes)
Stocks and Sauces:
- Espagnole sauce
- Brown roux
- Halibut fumet