Practical Exam & Restaurant Review

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I entered class on Friday anxious and excited to complete the practical exam for module 1.  I kept going through the steps of making cream of broccoli soup and mayonnaise in my head over and over.  I even practiced my medium dice before I left my house and practiced 2 mayonnaise recipes on Thursday.  As a few of us entered class a little early, we began prepping the kitchen for our exam.  

We each drew a number from a bowl to determine the order we would be entering the kitchen (every five minutes somebody else could start--so there is some sort of order and everybody wouldn't finish at the same time).  I prayed that I wouldn't be last to enter the kitchen and that I would be in the top 5 to start.  I really lucked out and drew #1!!  I was sooo happy and had a 5 minute head start alone in the kitchen.  I immediately started making my veloute sauce because I knew it had to simmer for a half hour.  Then I began chopping my vegetables for the soup as more students gradually entered the kitchen.  Everything was going smoothly until I walked away from my cooking vegetables to get a strainer for my veloute.  I came back and saw that my onions browned.  Chef Allen specifically told us not to brown the onions because the caramelized flavor will overpower the broccoli.  I was bummed that I made this silly mistake and then I was flustered because I didn't know how to fix it.  

Not only did I not have the time to re-chop all my vegetables, but I knew there would not be enough broccoli stems since the recipe calls for 12 oz!  I washed another pot and tried to pick out some of the really browned onions and put the rest in a fresh pot with more butter.  I continued to cook my remaining vegetables over low heat while I kept a close eye on them!  I went through the rest of the motions-- strained my veloute, added it to the pot with chicken stock and brought it to a simmer.  While the soup simmered away I blanched my broccoli florets.  I pureed my soup + blanched florets, put it through a food mill and strained it.  In the meantime, I medium-diced my potatoes and made my mayonnaise.  I tasted my mayonnaise and couldn't tell if it was salty or lemony...or both?!  So, I added more salt to be on the safe side (for Chef Allen you can never add too much salt) to try and rid of the acidity.  Finally, it was time to present my finished products!

I ended up getting a 97.. not bad, but being the perfectionist that I am, I kept thinking how I messed up my vegetables and thinking about how I could've made that 97 a 100.  Since I was one of the first to finish, I spent the remainder of class cleaning up the kitchen and helping out with the overload of dishes in the sink.  We said our final goodbyes to Chef Allen (I'm going to miss him!!!) and left the kitchen wondering who is going to be our Chef instructor on Monday and what Module 2 will bring us.

Last night my family revisited a favorite restaurant located in Ocean Grove, Bia's (located in the Majestic Hotel).  We went to Bia's a lot in the summer because of its lovely atmosphere on the porch overlooking the ocean.  The last time we were there in August, I actually met the Chef because I was just beginning to consider going to culinary school.  He was a really nice guy, but scared me a little talking about his lack of a social life and all the hard work it takes to becoming a chef.  I still knew that I wanted to pursue my passion and knew that I wanted to work hard to do what I love.

In the past, my favorite dishes at Bia's were the vanilla-infused barbecue chicken with a delicious cornbread pudding and the crab cakes with a sundried tomato aioli.  I was kind of bummed to see a new menu when we arrived last night, but knew it would still be very good if Chris was still the chef.  To start our meal, we each received 2 thin slices of baguette with a dollop of soft whipped butter and a drizzle of olive oil.  For appetizers, my mom and I split a salad with mixed greens, walnuts, dried cranberries, blue cheese, and a pumpkin vinaigerette.  The dressing was excellent, but my mom and I agreed that the walnuts had a weird taste, like they were stale.  My brother had the crab & artichoke dip with toasted baguette (when he read the menu, he asked me what a "bag-wet" is.... oh boy).  I had a taste and it was very good!  My dad had the tomato bisque and really enjoyed it, but it was a large portion and was very heavy so he was kind of full before we even had our main dishes.

For my dinner, I had the curried chicken with mixed vegetables, pita, and jasmine rice.  The menu said it was made with pulled chicken, but the chicken was cut into little chunks.  It was still very good though and nice and juicy.  The sauce was really tasty!  I thought curry would be a tad spicy and it wasn't at all (I like spice, so it could've used a touch of cayenne).. The mixed vegetables were excellent and even contained sundried tomatoes, which isn't very traditional for a curry dish but I loved the texture and sweetness it brought to it.  The rice was soo moist and sticky, just how I like it.  The dish could've done without the pita.. it just got soggy under all the sauce.

My mom had grilled salmon with a tarragon reduction and wild rice.  It was just okay..  I'm not a huge fan of salmon so I didn't like it, and my mom wasn't crazy about it.  The sauce didn't have a ton of flavor.  My brother ordered the crab cakes, which were awesome as usual.  Instead of the sundried tomato aioli and jicama slaw it used to come with, it came with old bay mashed potatoes (which I didn't care for-- I like old bay, but not on potatoes) and a cervil aioli (not as much flavor as the sundried tomato).  My dad had the fresh spinach fettuccini with a short rib ragu.  I thought it was delicious, especially with the huge dollop of ricotta on top (I love ricotta!)  

Overall, our dining experience was not as good as in the past (especially because it was too cold to sit on the nice balcony!) but it was still an enjoyable dinner.  The restaurant is byo, so we brought 2 bottles of Copolla Director's Cut (1 cab and 1 zin), which we really enjoyed with our meal. 

My mom and I are spending the day Christmas shopping and then cooking dinner together.  We love nights that are just the two of us because we can experiment with new meals (my dad and brother are going to the Giants game).  I'll post pictures and a recipe of what we decide to make tonight!


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