For each subsequent unit in culinary school we get a binder with all of our recipes, notes, etc. a few days before that unit starts. After Mod 1 when I realized that the parameters of our practical exam for the unit were spelled out in the binder, the first thing I did after receiving the binders for Mods 2 and 3 was to flip to the back to see what those practicals would entail.
So I knew what was coming today for about a month. This was the first practical we had where we got to make decisions about what we prepared – the last 2 exams we all made the same things. We still had some pretty tight parameters, but a bit of freedom within those parameters – we needed to fabricate and saute a chicken supreme (chicken breast, skin on, first joint of wing tip included), make a pan sauce**, execute a potato preparation other than puree (mashed) , and execute a vegetable preparation, specific veg to be assigned on the morning of the practical.
** Pan Sauce equals drippings from sauteed protein + alcohol reduced (optional flambe) + stock reduced + butter or cream to finish. Season, strain, and immediately to plate.
Naturally, being me, I spent a month daydreaming about the heights to which I would soar on this practical, dazzling my instructor with a potato preparation the likes of which she had never seen before! My pan sauce would transcend and amaze with its culinary complexity! Don’t even get me started on the vegetable, for which I had plans and backup plans depending on what card I drew on exam day…
Then yesterday Chef Erica mentioned that we would be graded solely on execution, not on creativity. The point at this point is not to dazzle with insight beyond our months (months!) of culinary school, but to demonstrate that we can properly season and cook a chicken breast, and put its accompaniments on the plate, hot, and on time. This is, I humbly admit, way more difficult than it sounds.
But in a rare moment of not trying to be a total show off, I kept it pretty simple. While my classmates around me started gathering bowls upon bowls of ingredients for their dishes, I grabbed 2 potatoes, 4 carrots, 1 shallot and 1 leek.
And so I prepared a sauteed chicken breast with pommes paillasson (big fancy hash brown that should look familiar to Eva), a carrot and leek puree (which should look familiar to Jim who might be eating the leftovers as we speak), and a Madeira pan sauce finished with a little cream.
All the inconsistency from my Mod 2 practical was gone.Chef Erica complemented that everything was cooked well and seasoned well. (And I’m as proud of that carrot and leek puree as I am of anything I’ve cooked before in my life.) I lost 2 points for plating the chicken breast with the bone facing the wrong direction, but that was it.
I’m trying to write this next paragraph in a way as to not sound snotty and competitive, but I fear there’s no way around it… Many of my classmates aimed higher than me today. None of them scored higher**.
**Brian Duncan was and will always be awesome, though.