May 07, 2007

Down the Rabbit Hole

I know, I know, is this girl ever going to stop talking about this? Almost, I swear. If you're tired of this whole thing, you can just look at the pictures. I'm about to get verbose.

Yesterday was fantastic. I learned a good deal and I got my first real taste of what life behind the swinging doors is like. I think I'm going to like this cooking thing.

I arrived at 11, shortly after receiving the bad news that my parents weren't going to be able to make it due to unforeseen circumstances. I was really upset and spent a while trying not to be visibly so. After I got my head into it, I was able to let go and get down to business. I was stationed in the pastry department section again, after making myself familiar with it last Saturday when I helped out for a wine event. This time I actually got to cook though.

In the beginning of the day, people were being mellow, completing their tasks at a leisurely pace and visiting, seeing what other people were up to. I had two courses to put out and I was worried about time from the very beginning, so I tried to work quickly. Thank goodness, because as you shall see later, time was going to be of the essence for me.

First up, I began on my cake. Made the pistachio paste, learned how to put together the very fussy giant stand mixer and filled up my thirty individual cake cups. Into the oven they went. And this is how they came out:

Oh shit.

Totally unsalvageable. My previous emotionally fragile state makes a run for the surface. I fight back. Chef comes over takes a look and gently asks me how I feel about them.

"They're ugly."
"Let's unmold them and see how they look."

We try to take one out but it falls apart. Chef pops a bit in his mouth and likes how it tastes. At least they have that going for them.

"Would you be proud to serve this?"
"I wouldn't either. What do you want to do? We haven't printed the menus yet. ", implying that I can do something else or we can use something all ready produced.
"Start over."
"Do you have time to do that?"

But I've used the last of the corn syrup and need to wait until someone can run to the store and get more. Crap. Moving on.

Next up, custard. I grate what seems like a small mountain of cheese but it's only a quarter of what I need. P comes over and rescues me and my mental health by risking her fingers and using a handle-less microplane. We grate side-by-side. Meanwhile, people are popping by and nabbing bits of fallen cake. It does taste good. Not so much on the looks though. Finally, all twenty ounces of the pecorino are prepped and I can whisk together the eggs and milk, making a quick calculation of how much manufacturing cream (40% butterfat) I need to add to the 2% milk so its as if whole milk was used. Brain melting; the small amount of high school algebra I retained leaves my head and I make something up. Custards get placed in the water bath and as I put them in the oven I make a quick prayer, godless heathen that I am, hoping they come out all right. One baking disaster is enough thank you.

One less thing to worry about.

It's inching ever closer to the 5 o'clock start and I am obviously now pressed for time. One of the kitchen assistants, bless his heart, takes over the task of peeling my fava beans, which I now realize I never would have been able to do. My buddy A, of duck fame, helps with the dicing of strawberries. One of my co-chefs de cuisine helps by mincing shallots. I get cracking on my compote; time continues to fly by and the corn syrup has yet to arrive. At that moment everyone is done with their prep and they are hanging out, chatting and looking like everything is under control. I am silently freaking out.

The fava bean salad comes together quickly after I abandon using the mandoline that was shredding my lemons. I end up slicing them by hand which isn't as haute cuisine as it ought to be, but for now, it will do. Cordon Bleu, I am not. It looks a like a bowl of springtime, and its one more thing that is ready to go. The cheese course is almost finished now except for the a la minute broiling and final decoration.

At 3:30 pm, Chef hands me a bottle of syrup and I start anew. Calculating that if I get the cake in the oven at 4, it will be out at 4:30p which will leave barely enough cooling time for the tasting for the front of house staff at 5. Cake goes in at 4:30, and comes out at 5:30, after people have all ready started arriving and after I begin to fear that there will be no dessert at all.

We all get a chance to present our final plating to the staff so they can describe the menu to the customers. They all seem to like everything. My dessert isn't ready yet, but after service begins, I prep a plate for them. Compliments are received that still make me blush. I take a deep breath and watch as the kitchen action picks up. My cohorts leap into service but since my courses are at end, I can relax a bit.
Evolution of lobster panna cotta. My favorite version has the antennae sticking out.

How to make Duo of Ahi

Bourride of Black Cod with Local Ridgeback Shrimp and the clearest fish fumet you'll ever see

Seared Duck Breast with Rhubarb-Tangerine Chutney, White Bean Puree and Watercress

<--finishing touches
final product--->

The Last Course: I am proud to serve this however.

By the end of the evening we've sold about 20 covers. We've prepped for thirty though. I wonder what will happen with the last of my custards and compote. By 9:30 service is more or less over and as the last student standing I stumble home into shower and then bed.

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Blogger La Gaucha Guapa said...

Mereeddiittthhh!! I am so proud of you! Those pics look fantastic by the way. I would like to have a sample of that cake! See you soon!!

May 08, 2007 7:56 PM  
Blogger shuna fish lydon said...

did the chef tell you why they exploded?

May 08, 2007 8:13 PM  
Blogger Meredith said...

Chef didn't say. I don't think pastry is his bag.

I'm pretty certain its because I opened the oven at an inopportune time to check on them. Other than that I'm not sure. Perhaps I miscalculated the ingredients? Could there be any other possible explanations?

May 08, 2007 8:25 PM  
Blogger Garrett said...

Wow, go you!

May 10, 2007 8:22 AM  
Blogger shuna fish lydon said...


This didn't happen because you opened the oven. Yes on the miscalculation, methinks. Even if pastry is not "your chefs bag" he should be able to help you learn from your mistakes.

May 20, 2007 9:11 AM  

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