Monday, February 22, 2010

Test Results, Hair Nets & Body Odor: Class Is In Session

With everything that happened, it's hard to believe that we were only in class for four days last week. In light of this and the fact that we start what promises to be the most intense week yet with a new instructor who may be the female version of a modern day Adolf Hitler tomorrow, I need to bring you up to date on a few things before I get overwhelmed. Get comfortable. This may be a long read.

Some faithful followers may remember that we were taking a certification exam last week. Because of computer complications, we weren't sure exactly when we would get to take it. You may also recall that a certain peer has become very interested in my scores, and I was worried that I'd struggle or be shown up. In the end the test wasn't bad. It included 80 multiple choice questions, and I passed with a 95%. This wasn't a perfect score, but it was enough to keep the challenger at bay for a little longer. She passed too, but there were seven students from our group of 12 who were not so lucky.

Aside from the exam, very little time was spent away from the kitchen. Since this was our first week in said kitchen, we started off with basic baking. Our first project was cookies. The recipe I used was a butter cinnamon that I didn't love. They were similar to snickerdoodles without cream of tartar. They were also a bit overcooked. The recipe said to bake them for 9 - 11 minutes, but I was left wishing we had disobeyed and pulled them out of the oven after 7 1/2 or 8.

I should insert here that we don't measure dry ingredients using measuring cups. We weigh everything... on non-digital scales. It's time consuming, because it's the type of scale that balances using counterweights. I'm told this process allows us to be more precise, and the school may just want us to learn the hard way, but I'd be willing to sacrifice some precision if it meant us having more time to get to more projects. Do working bakeries really use such scales? I would think they too would prefer to save time and labor costs, but what do I know?

We also started working on piping last week. Our instructor showed us how to use parchment paper to make small piping bags, and we were given time to practice making the bags and then writing with icing in the classroom. This is much more enjoyable than working with the balance scales. Playing with piping (even if the icing is a funky smelling cheap chocolate goo made strictly for waste) is almost therapeutic for me. It's like a new coloring book and a fresh 64 count box of Crayolas or a good Lortab.

While we're on the subject of funky smells, one of my classmates has a problem with body odor. This is not just another episode of me being hypercritical (hyper, high purr, above, more than normal [Dean Vaughn]) either. I've overheard more than one conversation involving students discussing their disgust with the situation. On Friday as we were leaving, I had to walk away as one student started making blunt comments directly to the offender. If the blunt comments didn't get the message across, I have a feeling that Ms. Hitler soon will.

After the cookies and the piping we worked on pie crusts. Up to that point I had never made one. Other than apple I'm not a big pie fan. I know it's hard to tell from looking at me, but it's the truth. I was surprised at how few ingredients are used in a crust. It was almost just flour and lots of butter - so much of it that I kept expecting Paula Dean to come through the door at any minute, y'all. My crust looked okay for a first try, but the lady who shares the table with me was much more adept and laughed at my work. She's an older lady who's been making pies for longer than I've been alive. She kindly gave pointers between the bouts of laughter. For starters I overworked my dough. It looked more like a sugar cookie dough than a flaky pie crust in the making. We baked the crusts but we didn't fill them to finish a pie. I broke off a piece to try it and tasted butter.

After the pie crusts we moved on to simple tarts. The dough for these included sugar, so they automatically tasted better than the pie crusts. The pans for the tarts were also cooler than the foil pie tins, and isn't it all about the presentation? The filling that we made for the tarts called for a vanilla bean, so I was intrigued. I had never seen a vanilla bean and was completely surprised by it (so surprised that I failed to snap a picture). I had always assumed that a vanilla bean was similar to a coffee bean. Maybe because of my beloved vanilla bean frappuccino at Starbucks. I was totally wrong. The vanilla bean that produces such a great flavor is really quite ugly to look at. It reminded me of a shriveled pepper or something you would see in a jar of formaldehyde. Our fruit options for the tarts were strawberries, blueberries and a few raspberries, but I would have preferred to include some kiwi (simply for the color as I'd never eat one). The glaze for the tarts was made with peach preserves and white wine. I'm not sure if the wine cooked completely out, because I could still smell it, but the tarts sure tasted good. Glazing the blueberries was difficult because they kept moving when the brush touched them, and I had a few moments of wanting to throw them but refrained from doing so. It's still too early for that.

I need to discuss the hair net. We don't actually wear them in class. We wear black skull caps. These are required components of our uniforms. When we made it to the kitchen for the first time, one student did not have his cap. He must have been too focused on getting his lip ring to remember the hat. The head chef (Hitler's boss) told him that he had to have a cap. The student stated that he didn't have the $8 to purchase a new cap from the supply closet, so the chef brought him a hair net to wear. The chef just dropped the hair net and kept walking. When the chef was gone, the student stated that he would not be wearing a hair net. He didn't see the need since he has short hair, and well, it was a hair net (expletive, expletive). He finally borrowed a cell phone to call and have someone find and deliver his (expletive) cap to him and was given permission to wait outside for the delivery. While outside he used his cigarette lighter to burn the hair net. Before the end of the day, the head chef had more words with him, and he did not return to class until the following morning when he arrived with his cap.

My short lived shuttle service has been closed. You may recall that I started picking up and driving home a fellow student last Tuesday. By Friday I had decided that it wasn't working. The drive time is when I make calls and put on concerts, and I can do neither with a passenger. If I wanted to lose sleep and cart someone around town, I'd get married. I woke up late Friday and was a nervous wreck trying to get ready in time to leave, pick up someone and still make it to class without getting a tardy. As much as I hate telling people no, I made the call this afternoon.

Since the morning jam sessions will be revived in just over five hours from now and since your eyes are starting to glaze over, I'll stop. Tune in tomorrow for kitchen kicks and camouflage cake.

Happy grubbing.