- When the vanilla bean seeds are floating in mid-suspension – your crème anglaise is done (also when the foam has disappeared and the it passes the ‘nappant’ spoon test)
- To feed 200 people, you need about 1 gallon of dressing, 2 gallons of sauce, 10 lbs of polenta, 20 lbs of pasta, and about 40 lbs of chicken. I’ll be a little more scientific about this after getting into the swing of ‘family meal’.
Today we had our practical AND our written exam for Level two. While we knew what was going to be on our practical, an informal poll of my classmates revealed we really didn’t practice that much for it. The practical exam was to 1) quarter a chicken, 2) fillet a flat fish into 4 fillets, 3) produce a crème anglaise to the correct consistency, 4) whip a crème Chantilly and then pipe the crème into 12 eclaires and 12 rosettes. We each set up our mise en place where our names were pre-written in black marker. I was teamed up with Erik who I hadn’t worked with before, but he works in a kitchen and so before I got my knives out he already had all the things we needed for each of our evaluations, which was my first sign that things were going to be ok.
First We got chicken in a bowl over ice, and waited for the ‘go’ signal…. Chef John said you have 15min,’go’. I manchone’d the two wings, then removed the wish bone (which came out in one piece for the first time), then scored the cross on the breast, cut the leg skin, wrenched out the leg bone (this is where I screwed up, I accidentally broke some of the rib bones while doing this) but successfully preserved the ‘oyster’, manchone’d the legs and ‘revealed’ the thigh bone, then cut out the neck, cut out the breasts, halved the chicken, popped the keel bone and cartilage, trimmed the excess skin, put the 4 ‘quarters’ on a plate with my id badge, cleaned my cutting board and left the room. Once we were all done and Chef John examined each one of our stations, we re-entered the room, grabbed a flatfish (flounder?), and filleted it. I was a bit more confident on this one – I cut the fins off with scissors, scored down the back and across the tail, removed the head, then filleted off the two back pieces, flipped the fish over, scored down the back (suddenly I remembered that I hadn’t de-scaled any excess scales, so I did that), then fillet the two thinner back sides. My filleting wasn’t too bad, but it definitely wasn’t perfect. I know that the examiners often look at the remains of the fish to assess the quality of the filleting, so I rubbed any excess flesh of the bones to make it look like I had done an amazing job in the filleting.
The last step was to de-skin the fillet and trim any excess skin, which turned out to be surprisingly easy. Cleaned the board, lay down my id badge, plated the fillets, exited, and waited to be evaluated. Once Chef J gave us the sign we all entered back into the room, and it was time for the crème Anglaise. This, I was super nervous about, because in the past two attempts I had curdled the crème. Crème Anglaise is basically a custard sauce, where whisked yolks and sugar are combined with boiled milk (and vanilla bean), and heated until thickened. But this is a very sensitive exercise. 160F is where the eggs starts to thicken, but 180F is where they coagulate so you have to keep in it in between. All this is done by eye (no thermometer). Anyway, by carefully taking the pot off and on the heat, and copying what Erik was doing I think I nailed it. ID badge back on the board and out of the kitchen while Chef J assessed the taste and the consistency of our crème. Then we were back to make a Crème Chantilly (whipped cream with sugar and vanilla), and then piped the cream into 12 éclair shapes and 12 rosette shapes. I’ve gotten the ‘magic’ in whipping, so the cream ‘peaked up’ pretty quickly and I can pipe pretty well, so this went smoothly. We then had a quick lunch break, and then our written exam.
I had a problem studying last night, I just didn’t have any more energy to study everything as in-depth as I wanted. As it turned out, I did pretty well on the exam…. There was a certain irony on question I screwed up…. here we are in a fancy-dancy culinary school and the one question I messed up on was how long do you boil an egg for soft and medium. (And only Erik will know the double irony on why I got those wrong).
The most exciting part of the day was definitely when our next instructor (Chef Ben) took us through the methodology for family meal which is what we’re doing in Level 3. “Family Meal” is meal the staff in a restaurant eat… in larger restaurants, there is actually a chef dedicated to cooking the family meal. At ICC, family meal means we are cooking lunch for everyone at the school. I can’t wait. We basically have from 9.30am till about 11.15 to prepare a cook lunch for 200 people….and not just any 200 people…200 culinary students and chefs!!!!!! so it has to be good. To add to the stress, my name was listed as the first on the list which means I am Chef-de-Partie for the main Chicken Parmesan meal…I’m not sure I’m going to be able to sleep tonight because I really don’t have any idea what I’m doing…nevertheless I’m going to get there early and figure it all out.
After the day was done, I grabbed a baguette, and many of us went out for a celebratory beer (or calvados), and then finished the evening at a crazy-good Italian restaurant (Da Umberto). I think I can remember committing to playing piano to a show that is going to be produced by Joanne, and sung my Megan…but that might just be the Calvados. Congrats to everyone….we passed Level 2 yeahhhhh, now onto Level 3.