My life has changed so much since last Monday. As you know, I started culinary school last Monday.
I wanted to share my experiences at culinary school from day one, but I seemed to have kept running out of time. As of today, I am very happy. School is awesome – I have wonderful feedback from my chef instructors.
Finally, here’s what’s been going on with culinary school. First, let me mention that I’m in an accelerated Le Cordon Bleu program, so my days are jam-packed and very fast-paced. I chose to take the A schedule – the morning schedule, so that I can still hold a job after school. This means I start school at 6am, 5 days a week. My chef instructors want us to arrive early, so I wake up by 4:30am and I’m at school by 5:30am. Adjusting my sleeping schedule has been tough though…I’m not adjusting. I can’t seem to get to bed before 11pm- in my life right now, there’s so much to do and so little time! That said, I don’t get much sleep anymore. When I moan and groan about it to my sisters, they each have their own version of, “Welcome to my world. With kids, you’re lucky to get a wink of sleep”. That always makes me feel better, and makes me want to hold off on having any kiddies any time soon :P (by the way, my sister Mimi, had her 3rd baby this morning! Congrats, Mim!). I love my nephews as if they were my own kids, so as for now, that’s good enough for me.
Sleep has no effect on my performance at school, really. By the time I get to school, I am so pumped up with adrenaline that little sleep or no sleep doesn’t phase me. After school is another story – my eyes start to roll back so I try to take a 15 minute power naps.
Although I don’t sleep anymore and I have to wear a uniform that requires me to look androgynous, I really love what I’m learning! Before I go on though, I want to talk about my uniform. It’s a big change in my wardrobe. I must arrive at school in full uniform, dressed in my checkered chef’s pants, chef’s jacket, handkerchief tied around my neck, black or white socks, and my huge, size 10, steel-toed, non-slip, combat boot-looking shoes. My hair must be tucked in completely (no ponytail showing) under my chef hat, I have to cut down my nails, can’t wear nail polish or makeup, but I wear eyeliner and lip gloss anyway ;) . Once we start cooking, I have wear a long apron, tied at the waist, and have a few dish towels tucked into my apron. I walk into school with my knife kit too. It has a bunch of cool knives and other chef tools. I hope to never forget any of my tools or uniform pieces mentioned above- that would be a nightmare. The school’s pretty strict. If I forget my hat, I will be banned from class until I am in full uniform.
I pack extra uniforms in my trunk. If I were to miss 10 minutes of class time, I’d miss out on a lot of info – they don’t waste time! We work straight through and stand throughout the class. It took about a week to get used to my heavy shoes. Last week, after class, I’d have to lift my legs to get circulation. My legs hurt so much – I can’t believe how big my shoes are! I feel like Frankenstein when I wear them. Ok, that’s enough about my uniform, back to food… :)
At Le Cordon Bleu, we learn French technique. Why French? They say if you know how to cook in a French kitchen, you can survive cooking in any kitchen throughout the world.
My first lesson was to learn how to hold a knife, then knife cuts. I have to learn the French terms for all things food, and I have to memorize all the dimensions of the many knife cuts.
If you’re curious, the proper way to hold a knife is to choke up on the blade of the knife, with your thumb on one side of the blade and your index finger on the other. If you’re a righty, your right thumb is on the left side of the blade and your pointer is on the right side of the blade. Also, claw your opposite hand to avoid cutting off your fingers and use your left hand to give you even more control as you cut. The left side of the blade should be resting on your left middle finger, which acts as a guide. If you’re a righty, remember to tuck your thumb in, right behind the middle finger. If this doesn’t make sense, I’ll have a video on this someday. During the first 3 days of class, I kid you not, about 10 students cut themselves.
Good knife cuts in the culinary world are worth a lot of money. During the Chef’s demo Thursday, he said, “keep in mind presentation and why you want uniformly cut pieces. People will notice the beauty in your food, in this example, ratatouille – the sizes are uniform and they will pay more money for the extra care. The presentation and the flavor is an experience that you create for them.” Below, you will see how I put the dish together. I was rushed to prepare this dish so my eggplant isn’t uniformly cut…and there’s a tomato that was supposed to be tomato concasse – chopped (oops!)- this was my practice run! Peyman liked this dish when I made it for him last week, and when I was tested on it last Friday, at the end of class, my chef intructor told me, “Yvonne – your ratatouille was the best thing I ate today.” Mind you, we have about 32 students in my class and last Friday we were tested on 3 dishes. I was really happy to receive such postive feedback! Last week’s experiences really inspired me to continue pursuing a career as a chef.
I’ve cooked a lot of things in class already, and I’m amazed by the flavors I can put together now. I’m so happy because this is what I went to school for! I made the most beautifully-tasting and -looking risotto last Thursday. I wish I took pictures but I didn’t get a chance – I needed to serve it hot. The chef tasted it and asked if I ever made it before. I told him, “only the kind from Trader Joe’s”, and he said it was really good and that I never cooked risotto before if it was the Trader Joe’s kind. After presenting my plate, I took a couple bites, then my classmates scarfed it down. I love the flavors of the foods I make. I would love to eat my dishes, but stop myself. I never used as much butter in my life and should stick to just tasting my food, not eating the whole plate.
After we have lecture and watch chef demos, students are supposed to replicate what the chefs did. We then present our dishes to the chef instructor and we get feedback. So far, I’ve received more positive feedback. Chef likes how I flavor and season most of my dishes- I still need to work on adding more or less salt to my potatoes and rice, steaming my potatoes/carrots through, and being more consistent with my knife cuts. It’s tough work, especially when there are strict deadlines for plates.
My first 3 days were tough. More and more, during production, my classmates around my station relied on my notes and what I told them. Why? They weren’t good note takers. As a result, last Wednesday I performed terribly – I couldn’t finish one dish on time because I lost focus and was distracted with, “Yvonne, do I add butter?”, “Yvonne, how do I cook this?” I made it clear that I was annoyed and fed up with them and moved stations on Thursday. So far, so good! My station mates are pretty awesome. We all mesh really well and I’m much happier! The group that I left, however, told me I was ‘messed up” for ditching them. I told them it was for the best and no hard feelings.
Now, let me talk about homework. Yes, homework. Some of you were surprised to hear that I have homework at culinary school. Mostly, homework is comprised of lots of reading, writing, and knife cuts. At school, we’ve been using the chef’s knife most.
My homework for tonight is to make 4 potato tournets. I still don’t understand how to cut them correctly – no one in class does, besides the chef. I’m going to youtube it now, make the cuts, read, then prepare dinner. Right now, in the fridge, I’m marinading orange roughy fillets in ziplock bag. My marinade includes: a blended oil (75% canola and 25% extra virgin olive oil), lemon juice, chopped garlic, bay leaf, salt, freshly ground black pepper, red pepper flakes, and oregano. I’m going to grill it then serve with rice pilaf and either steamed broccoli or glazed carrots.
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