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Diary: December 19, 2002

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Tuesday, December 18

Yesterday and today were our final exams. We took the written final yesterday; 135 questions, including roughly 10 questions from each of the previous five tests plus plenty of new questions. I still struggle with primal cuts, and am sure I missed some of the questions about them, but at least I remembered the ingredients in a marseillaise base. We all took the written test together as a class, and it felt strange to take a test with all of us in one room at the same time.

Today was the practical final, and we were divided into two groups as usual. Chef Francois hung around the kitchens and graded us along with Chef Peter since Chef Somchet has left for her holiday. I was a part of the late group, and I reported quite early so I could get a sense of the menu and plan my approach without rushing about. Here is what appeared on the test:

Shrimp-filled ravioli, alfredo sauce

Flounder meuniere, nut-brown butter sauce

Ribeye steak with chasseur sauce, glazed carrots

Pear jalousie

The steaks were already cut for us and the frangipane for the jalousie was already made, but other than that it was up to us to get it done in three hours. I spent plenty of time writing down mise en place lists in advance since I’d arrived so early, and I wrote shorthand recipes for those items I didn’t instinctively remember how to put together. (I’d never made a sauce chasseur, despite having eaten it the many times it was on the menu.)

I started off in the pastry kitchen, getting my puff pastry together and starting off the pasta dough. I felt confident in my ability to turn out a good puff pastry, especially since I got so much good advice from Chefette when I catered that special event a few months ago. Just the same, Chef Francois watched me closely while I worked on my puff, and as a result I got a bit anxious. My dough ended up being a bit dry, and in the end it didn’t rise properly as a result. It puffed some, but not enough. I also spread the frangipane too close to the edge of the dough, so it oozed out and scorched around the sides.

The pasta dough was a real triumph. I think pasta-making is the single biggest improvement in my cooking skills when I compare pre- and post-school cooking abilities. I just have a feel for pasta dough; I’ve tried explaining to others how to make it well and it doesn’t translate for some reason. The first sheet I cranked through the machine was too thin and a little ripped, but the second sheet was absolutely perfect. I quickly piped on the shrimp filling, egg washed the dough, and got the raviolis cut and sealed. When Chef Peter and Chef Francois graded my raviolis, Chef Francois said he thought my pasta was the best in the class, and Chef Peter said something along the lines of “you’ve gotten really good at this.”

I had a fairly easy time getting the rest of the meal together. The sauce chasseur was simple to make; I think it was the first demi-glace based sauce we made at school. I’m very comfortable with meuniere-style fish dishes, and pan-frying the steak was simple. My carrots looked fairly even (they were julienned) and tasted all right.

There was only one major mishap, and oddly enough it wasn’t something that affected my food. Marta was coming up on her service time and came up right behind me just as I started to shake the pan with the chasseur sauce; my left elbow jabbed into her and she dropped her pot of glazed carrots on the floor. I felt terrible about it and tried to peel my extra carrot for her but she refused it, ran to the walk-in, grabbed a new carrot, and started furiously julienning enough for another serving. I cleaned up the mess on the floor and apologized profusely. Later she said it wasn’t a big deal since she’d forgotten to tell me she was behind me, but I’m sure it added to the usual test-day stress, and I felt terrible about it.

At the end of the day, Chef Francois told us that he’d never been able to watch us really cook for an extended period of time like we had today. He said he was impressed with our collective speed and efficiency, and he said he thinks we are already good cooks.

We cleaned down the tables and the stoves, each of us thinking about our externships starting tomorrow. (Many of my classmates have already started their new jobs, but I don’t think anybody has been working full-time while going to school.) I do not feel nervous or worried about my new job. I just need to show up and work as quickly and efficiently as possible and show that I care about learning and keeping busy. Just like any other new job.

A note about this diary: it is going on hiatus until early 2003, when it will probably return in a retooled format (weekly rather than biweekly dispatches, for example).

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I know I'm not alone is saying that I surely will miss these reports. Your 'diary' has been a glimpse into something I'm sure I'll never get to witness firsthand, and I have truely enjoyed it. I wish you all the best in your externship, and will look forward to those posts.

I will also think of you on Christmas Day as I prepare the vol-au-vents.(I'm planning on adding a few shrimp and oysters to the cream sauce. Do you think that will be good? My family will expect some seafood somewhere that day.)

Thanks for all your time and hard work.

Stop Family Violence

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I realize that I have not posted on any of your experiences. That is simply because the experience has been so thoroughly documented. You have at times, as well as resoursing the well-appointed questions, helped me through many cooking quandries. Thank you for being so open and being my robot-food-dictionary-reliable thing.

Rice pie is nice.

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I hope that you are able to take a break from the frantic life you've been leading. I have loved every report you have provided and am looking forward to reading future contributions. Don't worry about the frequency, because as I've often said, "You can call me Jimmy, cuz I'll take what you gimme." Thanks again!

Dean McCord


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Amazing job this year with your blog. You've shown all of us that you've grown into a real pro!

Jason Perlow, Co-Founder eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

Foodies who Review South Florida (Facebook) | offthebroiler.com - Food Blog (archived) | View my food photos on Instagram

Twittter: @jperlow | Mastodon @jperlow@journa.host

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Thank you so much for the excellent diary Rochelle. It's been great to read along and I look forward to each entry. Your commitment to this is amazing! Best wish for the holidays as well as your externship, and I look forward to reading your postings again in the New Year.

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Rochelle, thank you for bringing us along with you. I intend to print your whole diary and reread it as a book. I think anyone reading this knows and admires you. Happy holidays and happy externship.


Judy Amster

Cookbook Specialist and Consultant


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Well, I'm all caught up on this diary thing, and it's been a great experience.

Rochelle, congratulations completing your coursework and beginning your externship. It sounds like an exciting time for you, and I'm glad you took the time to share your experiences with us.

I begin my classes in two weeks, and it was great to get a little glimpse into what I'm getting myself into. I know it's different schools, but I'm sure there are going to be alot of similiarities.

Good luck on you externship and Happy New Year! :biggrin:

"have a sense of humor about things...you'll need it" A. Bourdain

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Excellent job Rochelle. Thanks for bringing us a long for the ride (and bringing back memories for us cooking school alumni).

"An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup." - H. L. Mencken

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Thank you for taking time out of a busy schedule to let us know what is involved in cooking school. As for myself I will be starting school this week(Jan. 13) I will be attending the Art Institute of Houston(Culinary Program).....and a qiuck note to all the others out there that think that its too late for themselves to attend a culinary school.....well...IT'S NEVER TOO LATE!!!!!!

Edited by haunted_chef (log)


Is a Member of PETA..."People Eating Tasty Animals"

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