Saturday, September 27, 2008

It’s boot camp, without the push-ups

Today was day 1 of Pastry Boot Camp at the Culinary Institute of America.  The day started early (we had orientation at 6 AM).  There are 7 of us in the class (the eighth was a no show).  They gave us our uniforms (white chef's jackets and black and white checked pants--standard kitchen wear), textbook, pastry bag & tips, etc.  Then it was off to breakfast.  You get to choose from 6 different menu items (omelet, scramble, pancakes, hot cereal, etc.) and the Breakfast Cookery students (who start at 1:30 AM!) make your order and hand it to you.  You then go into the dining room and eat with the students.  After bussing our own dishes, we headed to our classroom and met the Chef.  He lectured for about an hour and a half on custards, then a coffee break at 8:15.  So far we hadn't done very much and I was beginning to wonder if I would get much out of the experience.  

After the coffee break, we went to our production kitchen and the chef demoed various recipes (pastry cream, crème anglaise, crème brulee, and pate au choux--they're the pastry used for eclairs).  He demoed from 8:30 to 10:00.  Since there were 7 of us there would be three groups of two and one group of one, and I volunteered to be the group of one.  Wow, that means I am cracking A LOT of eggs by myself!  But I'm here to learn and do in a classroom atmosphere.  At 10, the Chef said we better to get to work on production since each team had to make pastry cream, crème anglais and pate au choux, plus one dessert.  And we had lunch in an hour.  And since I was a team of one, I had to do all the prep work and the cooking.  Each team had a stove, oven and table to work on.  But you go to the pot room to fetch your pots, you measure your own flour and sugar and butter, etc.  I got through the pastry cream really fast once I got my mise en place (French for "put in place"--the prep work) done.  AND I didn't burn the was beautiful.  Then I worked on the crème anglais and was rushing to finish it so I could go to lunch with the rest of the class.  The Chef hung back to help me, and my crème anglais had a bit too much texture so I had to strain it.  He said that can happen in a couple of seconds and that's part of the learning.  I rushed over to the kitchen where students pick up lunch (4 choices--trout with veggies and wild rice, strip steak, pork something, and eggplant parmesan).  And there are desserts and chocolates, plus killer breads.  And the food was pretty good.  All of the food here is made by students as part of their curriculum. 

After lunch, we went back to class to make one more element (the pate au choux) and a dessert.  My choux broke (meaning the fat started separating).  The student assistant and the chef both told me I didn't boil the milk long enough, but the chef showed me how to save it.  It was amazing.  At the end, the student looked at it and said it was thanks to me!!  Then I made my dessert (each team being responsible for one of the four).  I made the bread pudding with cinnamon and raisins and it turned out nice. 

The most frustrating thing (next to having to crack about three dozen eggs) is that we haven't eaten a single thing we've made!  I wish I'd grabbed a tasting spoon and tasted my pastry cream.  We'll pipe our eclairs from the pate au choux tomorrow.  Later in the week, we'll make fondant, the glazing for the eclairs.  At our graduation on Friday, we'll get to see everything we produced this week.  The Chef is very accommodating.  When someone expressed an interest in a dessert made with choux and pastry cream, he said we could do a small one when we're doing our other production work later this week.

After the class, we cleaned up the kitchen and then went for a tour of the campus with a student.  I'm back at the hotel to study a little for tomorrow before I go back for dinner.  Our dinner tonight is at Caterina de Medici, the CIA’s Italian restaurant. 

What surprised me the most? 

How hot restaurant stoves are...your hand gets really hot as you stir pots on the stove.

How fast you can work when you have a deadline.  When I bake, it's for pleasure and I stretch it out.  It's caused me to wonder if I can speed it up and make nicer desserts.

A lot of what we are learning is how things should feel and look when we're making them.  The Chef has each of us touch the dough or whisk the cream to be able to identify what it should be like.  That's invaluable.

Tomorrow, we start all over again at 6.  The Chef asked us what we'd like to do differently tomorrow, and we all agreed we want less lecture, since he covers the lecture information when he's doing the demos. Then maybe we can get everything done without feeling like we're running a marathon.  Although running a marathon might help offset the effects of eating three culinary school meals a day!

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