Lessons 109-110: Graduation

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Yesterday my day began at 5:00 am... Well, actually 3:30 am! I woke up with a million things running through my head. Before I knew it, the clock said 4:59 and I rushed to turn off my alarm before it chirped annoyingly (yes, chirped-- my alarm clock is the sound of birds.. it's awful). I took the 6 am train out of Matawan and entered kitchen 1401 for my very last time at 7:30 armed with sharp knives and COFFEE.

Kim and I were lucky to get some of our hardest components of our menu out of the way on Monday and Tuesday-- our shellfish cream sauce and fruit "caviar" (a difficult process using molecular gastronomy to form tiny fruit gel balls). We also got some other mis en place together on Tuesday, including roasting and small-dicing red peppers, cooking the corn, and mincing a ton of shallots and mushrooms. However, I was still nervous about getting everything done in time!

Thankfully, we worked extremely well together and were on top of our game on Wednesday. We communicated effectively and were very efficient with all of our tasks. When I'm stressed out, I make lists...so we carefully made sure we went through everything on the list and ended up being ahead of schedule.

Unfortunately, only one thing did not go our way--the "fruit caviar" for our dessert blinis. The gel was not rinsing off and they completely fell apart. I felt bad because Kim worked really hard and stayed after class a couple of days to perfect this component to our dessert. We couldn't dwell on the moment, as we had to have something to get on the table. So, we went to our back-up plan: minced fruit. The ideal fruit would probably have been mango, but we had to work with what we had, and the only fruit available were oranges. It worked out fine and we were just pleased that that was the only big obstacle we had to face during the day.

If you haven't guessed already, our theme was for our savory items to look like desserts and our desserts to look savory. The first dish we prepared was the "Crab Creme Brulee":We made a wonderful sauce for these brulees on Monday, which consisted of browned shrimp shells, mirepoix, ginger, thyme, vermouth, shrimp stock, lobster cream, heavy cream, and a touch of lemon juice. This sauce was DEE-licioius! We filled up about 90-100 little dishes with crab meat mixed with dried out tomatoes. Next we tempered eggs into the sauce to form the custard base. We poured this custard on top of the dishes and CAREFULLY placed them in the oven. I wasn't sure how long it would take and had visions of overcooking them, so we kept an eye on these babies and sure enough, they came out PERFECT. We topped each brulee with a parmesan frico to act as the crunchy shell on top.

Our next dish was "Mushroom Risotto Ice Cream". We made a rich and creamy mushroom risotto and used a mini ice cream scooper for serving. We topped each scoop with "chive sprinkles", a drizzle of aged balsamic as "chocolate sauce" and a tiny red pepper "cherry" on top.

We had a little trouble thinking of a vegetable dish that could look like a dessert. We decided on vegetable "candy". We made a colorful corn and roasted red pepper saute and plated it in tiny dishes with a few arugula leaves. It was light, fresh, and beautiful:

The picture of the blinis (along with MANY other pictures from the night) are on my mom's camera, so I'll post them as soon as they're available. For the blinis, we made a sweet buckwheat pancake batter. We made tiny pancakes that we served with grand manier spiked whipped cream, minced orange, and mint. (For any of you who don't know what a blini is, it is traditionally a savory buckwheat pancake served with sour cream, caviar, and chives).

By 4:00 all of our food was on the carts, labeled, and ready to be sent to the 12th floor for set-up. We cleaned the kitchen like we never cleaned before and left it spotless! Finally it was time to clean up and get ready for our family to arrive.

At 5, we all headed downstairs to help set up our tables. There were two wonderful volunteer students serving our food, so Kim and I explained our dishes to them and how to serve it.

5:30 was nearly arriving and I could not wait for my family and boyfriend to get there. We all worked so hard and were running on very little sleep. It was time to celebrate and show the ones we care about what we've spent these past 6 months doing.

After a congratulatory cheers of champagne, we sampled all of my classmates' food.. it was all spectacular! It is amazing how far we've come. I could only get a few pictures of my other classmates' food before the guests arrived and dug in!

Matt and Allison's Asian Noodles with Jicama, Snow Peas, and Carrots:

Jessica and Vadim's Apple Strudel:
Emily and Mi's Pecan Tarts:
Al and Henry's Mascarpone Cheesecake:
The night flew by.. before I knew it, we were all sporting our new really fancy paper chef toques and wishing each other luck with our externships and future careers in the food industry.

This is the end of another chapter of my life-- and the beginning of a whole new one as I start my externship at the Good Housekeeping Institute on Monday morning.

Congratulations to the class of kitchen 1401! I wish you all luck and hope to hear about all of your experiences as chefs in the real world!


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