Thursday, March 11, 2010
A Tractor & Weed
Tonight's homework is done and sitting by the door, the frosted bowl of cereal is finished and I'm in the mood to ramble after an unplanned three hour nap that caused me to miss church and be up late. Since most people I know don't appreciate ringing phones after midnight, here I sit. Let's see...
It hit me the other day that I talk about going to school, but I've never posted any pics of my new home away from home. This information really should have been posted after the first day of class. Hindsight is 20/20 (but I'm nearly goin' blind from starin' at her photograph and wishin' she was mine. It's that same old... wait. Focus). Though we spend a small amount of it in a classroom, most of our time is spent in the kitchen these days, and the kitchen is impressive. I'd be thrilled to have one just half as big for personal use. I'd say the only negative about the place is the fact that it has windows along two walls so that people can stand, stare, point and discuss what we're doing at any time. We're like chimps at the zoo.
On Thursday of last week, we had our first practical exam. This was due to our completion of the first section of kitchen training, Basic Baking. Everything that I've posted from the kitchen up to this point has been a part of 'Basic Baking'. The practical exam was hands on and every man for himself. We had five hours to make 25 creaming method cookies, two classic sponge cakes (one left uncut, one split into three layers, soaked with a simple syrup, iced with Italian buttercream, bordered and piped with Happy Birthday), 50 profiteroles and 50 eclair tubes. For those who may be wondering, the profiteroles and eclair tubes are just different shapes or outputs of the same recipe. The recipe is called eclair paste by some (certainly not by chef - or us if we want to pass class), but it's technically called Pate a Choux. This is pronounced 'Pat A Shoe' (and should not be confused with Pat E Cake or 1, 2 Buckle My Shoe).
To be honest I went into the practical thinking that it wouldn't be bad. It's not like I've never been in a kitchen, and we had portioned out ingredients the day before. (This portioning out early process is called Mise en Place, pronounced 'miz a plas' and is French for 'put in place') How hard could it be? We started at 9:00 sharp. Prior to that we weren't allowed to do anything except turn on the ovens, fill the sinks and put on an apron. Things started out smoothly, but by the time we hit two hours in, sweat was literally running down my body, and it was disgusting. I was thinking 'where is my desk and EDD and payroll and huddle?'. During the practical exam, each student was given the use of one table, one speed rack and one Kitchenaid mixer. There were no questions allowed. The chef, previously known as Hitler but now referred to simply as chef, walked around with a clipboard, looking and taking notes. She would call out time updates every so often. She offered no clues or assistance though I did hear her warn a student early on that she would flunk him if she saw another piece of his trash on the floor (This was the same student that has the personal hygiene problem that we will get to later in this post).
Our completed products had to be placed on our assigned table in a second room by 2:00. Anything not on the table wasn't scored. If you were a moment late, you simply lost the points. Of the 11 students tested, only three completed all tasks. Thankfully I was one of the three, but it was a very close call. I literally had seconds left when I placed the last cake on the table. It was like I was on a Food Network Challenge. What was worse is that after the rush of cooking, we had to clean the kitchen and the mountain(s) of dishes (since certain people failed to clean as they went, but I'm not bitter). Needless to say tension was high, and people were cranky after stressing and getting no breaks or lunch. Looking back it's a miracle that no fights broke out (I believe in miracles, where're you from, you sexy thing?). While we worked on cleaning the kitchen, chef called each of us in one at a time to sample, critique and discuss our baked goods. Class ends at 3:00 on a normal day, but we didn't get released until 4:20 on the day of the practical. On the following morning, we had the written portion of the test. This was a total of 37 questions and included calculating a recipe conversion factor and then converting it.
We were given our scores for both the practical and written exams today. On the practical portion, I was disappointed. Yes, I finished on time but the buttercream looked more like cottage cheese (I added too many pureed strawberries too quickly), and the cookies were a little too crisp for me - though chef wanted them crunchier. I ended up with an 88.33 on the practical. I really wanted an A, but I don't think anyone got an A. Of the other two who finished their tasks, one got an 83 (though I judged by looking her stuff to be far superior to mine), and the other score I don't know (but he was the guy throwing trash on the floor, so I'm pretty sure he didn't get an A). When I whined a little to my lunch buddy about wanting an A, she told me that people in hell want ice water (I'm now open for lunch tomorrow if anyone wants to meet up). On the written test, I made a 100%, and we should get our total grades for the 'Intro to Baking' course tomorrow.
This brings us up to this week. We started a new course called 'Classical Pastry', and it should be fun. We'll be doing many of the small but fancy desserts that have hard to pronounce names. Our homework has moved to the next level (meaning it takes longer), and we drew numbers for new teams. I now have two females on my team, and both are competent - though one likes to smoke weed. She told me so yesterday. We were sitting in the break room enjoying our Bueno takeout, and the subject of snacking and munchies came up. She told me that she doesn't really eat much or get the munchies. She can 'smoke weed all day' and not get the munchies. I made a valiant attempt to turn on my poker face (hate that song) but failed miserably. In a split second I was mentally back in room 11.210 of the 1437 building trying to maintain the same poker face while an expectant trainee named something like Tijuana told me that she thought she was losing her baby and that they had to spray for roaches over the weekend and that her father had filed a restraining order against her and that she was trying to find a place for her 18 year old sister to stay the night. In both cases I was just trying to eat my lunch, and there are some things that don't need to be shared.
My normal lunch buddy was not so lucky when it came to the new team drawing. She got stuck with the messy and smelly guy. I've probably mentioned him in previous posts, but he has an issue. It may be medical in nature, or it may be that he just doesn't shower or wear deodorant. His code name is Bo (That's B.O.) for discussion purposes. Multiple students have noticed and held conversations about his odor, but nobody had mentioned it to chef - until Friday. The secret (strong enough for a man, but made for a woman) is out. Chef was informed of the situation during a break on Friday and will now have to find a way to deal with it. I don't envy her or my now ex lunch buddy who will spend the next two weeks trying to work with the guy. She has already made the comment about the difficulty of soaring with eagles when you work with turkeys.
Aside from school I've been busy making cakes for folks. I've had a cake every week for the last month and have orders for the next three weeks. Last weekend I had two - one for a two year old boy and one for a 12 year old girl.
The two year old's was a John Deere tractor theme that I wasn't thrilled with. This was my first attempt at a tractor and watermelon patch. The tractor was shaped from rice cereal treats, and the watermelons were made of fondant and striped with the vodka/paint mix. I was told that the kids were fighting over the watermelons and that the birthday boy and his brother ate every bite of the tractor. The tractor ended up being heavier than anticipated, so it settled into the cake too far, and I've never really used a leaf tip while piping so the watermelon patch wasn't stellar. The piping of the words was lacking as well. It's one thing to pipe on a homework board, but there is some sort of mental block or shift when that board becomes a cake that is going to someone's house. To top it off the cake was iced with the pre-culinary school frosting recipe that isn't very smooth. I've decided that I'm using the new buttercream recipe from now on (Frooooooooom thiiiis moment...). Though it is more costly and time consuming to prepare, it looks and tastes much better.
The cake for the 12 year old girl wasn't really themed other than it's colors and stripes. It was a three tier (white, strawberry & chocolate) with Italian buttercream under marshmallow fondant. This cake would serve approximately 70 people. I can't believe that I'm saying this, but I was okay with this one. The fondant could have been rolled thinner for the stripes, and the purple may have been a little dry, but I was okay with it. The birthday girl was pleased, and the mom made me pose for a pic when I delivered it.
This week's cake will be much smaller and simpler. This is a good thing, because next week will be intense. I've got three large cakes due on the 20th. Can someone say NoDoz?
For now, though, I need to doze.