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Diary: July 14, 2002


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Thursday, July 11

Two things of interest happened today: I cut myself twice, and a friend of mine sent me an affecting email about my diary.

The first cut happened when I was cutting a baguette up to make croutons. I lightly sawed on a cuticle with my serrated knife, but I barely felt it and assumed I had merely nicked the edge. I was quite surprised to look down a minute later and see blood flowing from my finger. I didn’t get upset or anything, I just asked Chef Peter where to find bandages, covered it up, and put on a glove. A few minutes later, I’d finished cutting the baguette and I popped some clarified butter into a saute pan to cook off the croutons. A classmate from another table came by and asked for some of my butter, and since I was holding a chef’s knife I absently popped my knife into the container to lop off a knob for her. The sharp knife went straight through the butter, through the wall of the plastic container, and into the web of my hand between my thumb and index finger. I yelped and instinctively pulled the tip of the knife out of my hand. And then I got really angry at myself, so angry I had difficulty preventing myself from crying. It took me several minutes to staunch the flow of blood, and by the time I did and put another bandage on my hand I’d missed a lot of the work for lunch service. One of my teammates asked me what had happened and I simply said, “I don’t want to talk about it.” I was afraid I’d explode if I did, I was so angry. I had to go back later and apologize to him and explain what had happened because I’d come across as short, even though I knew he was only expressing concern.

After lunch (potage egyptien/yellow lentil soup, quiche lorraine using our excellent pate brisee, and duchess potatoes) and dish duty we took our daily break, and I checked my email on my cell phone. A good friend of mine had sent me a message saying that she’s been reading my diary online, but she can’t tell from it whether or not I am enjoying school. She asked if I still thought it was the right decision. Very good questions, and ones I turned over in my head all day. Here is what I wrote her tonight in response:

“I am not exactly enjoying things right now, but then I'm not sure I expected to. I had figured the first month or so would be hard. It's a major life adjustment, and there's a lot of skill I need to acquire through repetition (especially knife skills). My lack of facility with a knife has meant that I am so focused on getting better it's hard to focus on anything else, and so I make the occasional stupid mistake. I like the fact of being in school, love my classmates, thoroughly enjoy the lectures and the tastings. But I am not yet spending much time actually cooking, and I am a little frustrated with my slow learning curve on kitchen skills.

The people in my class come from such different backgrounds that it's hard to compare myself to them. I lack physical skills, but I have greater academic facility than many of my classmates, and things like writing recipes and papers are total cake for me. I knew that the hard part would be getting up to speed in the kitchen, and once I'd broken through that to the point where basic skills not stress me out, school will become delightfully fun. But until then, it's a day to day thing how I feel. Today was particularly frustrating since I cut myself twice, and I think reading your email after that colored the way I reacted to it. Tomorrow I may feel great about school, who knows. I certainly don't think it was a poor decision, or that I don't belong there. I belong there as much as the next person. “

After today’s break, we spent some time working on the Bastille Day menu for Chef Francois. Every year, Chef Francois makes a big deal out of a fancy menu for Bastille Day, and has students help him prepare, plate and serve it. I would love to work on Bastille Day festivities this weekend, but I have a long-standing out-of-town commitment and therefore will not be able to go. I trimmed and cut two boxes of shiitake mushrooms as my contribution today. Here is the Bastille Day menu:

Assorted hors d’oeuvres

Asparagus and sorrel vichyssoise with crabmeat

Jumbo sea scallops with fennel compote and lobster broth

Ravioli of duck and foie gras with artichokes

Roasted squab with wild mushrooms

Potatoes anna

Bastille day dessert 2002, petits fours

As an end-of-the-day treat, the pastry students prepared an ice cream buffet for us. Two long tables were set with about 10 ice cream, sorbet, and granita flavors each, plus there were other frozen desserts such as souffles and bombes and homemade ice cream sauces and maple pecans and so on. One of my classmates referred to it as her childhood dream, all those plates of ice cream in bowls of ice waiting for us.

It was the first time I’d really talked to any of the pastry students. I discussed scones with one woman, and quizzed another on how she’d made the praline ice cream I particularly enjoyed. One of the students was considering purchasing the same Krups ice cream maker my partner and I recently gave our close friend Edemuth, so I talked with him about my experience with the machine and we chatted a little about the science of ice-cream making.

As things were winding down, I happened to be chatting with Chef Somchet and I spontaneously asked her, “What do you think of the state of desserts in DC?” She looked at me but didn’t say a word in response. After a long pause, I smiled and asked, “No comment?” She looked relieved and said, “Yes, no comment.” I hadn’t realized she might react that way, and now I have all kinds of questions in my head about why she didn’t want to talk about it. Who better to ask than a pastry instructor in DC?

Friday, July 12

We had a morning demo today as we usually do, but after the demo the students who will work Bastille Day will be helping Chef Francois, and the remaining seven students are expected to produce lunch for the whole school. This might have been a simple matter if we’d been given a simple menu, but today’s menu involved gratineed onion soup, our first chicken dish (bonne femme, with a bacon/pearl onion/cocotte potato garnish), glazed carrots, and even a fresh fruit tart. The seven students cooking were divided into two teams, and we got started around 10:30am for 12:30 lunch service.

I was on the team of three, and I successfully lobbied Chef Peter into having the team of four break down his demo. (Normally team one breaks down the demo, and we were team one for the day.) We immediately lost one team member to the pastry kitchen, where she worked with Chef Somchet on two fresh strawberry tarts. My remaining classmate and I got cracking on the rest of the menu. She wanted to work with the chicken, so I started with slicing onions for the soup and then tourneeing the cocotte potatoes while my onions started sweating. The other team was at the next table, frantically doing the same things.

Somehow, it didn’t occur to us to reject the team assignments and work together as one large team until the other team got really far behind on their onion soup. Chef Peter wanted to avert disaster, so he had my onions combined with theirs and one single vat of soup made. Soon we had two people working on the chicken, one person managing the soup, and other people sauteeing lardons of bacon and coloring potatoes in pans. Then some of the Bastille Day volunteers finished up, so they came over to help us. I ran about doing whatever I could see that needed to be done: setting up trays of ramekins for the soup, reminding those near the stove to watch the potatoes, washing my classmates’ knives when they got too busy to clean up. The whole operation started to get that teamwork feeling. Everybody knew what they were doing and how to get it done. We were all “in the zone.”

Lunch service ended up being close to 1:15pm, but nobody seemed to mind. Even Chef Peter didn’t give us a hard time about our lateness. After lunch and cleanup he even gave us a short break before we returned to the kitchen to do more prep work for Bastille Day. I peeled a bunch of potatoes for the vichyssoise, and then it was 3:30pm and time to go. I felt disappointed that the day was over, because I’d enjoyed the energy in the kitchen so much.

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Rochelle, then there are the burns. :shock:

No matter how proficient you will become, flesh is still heir to error. :unsure:

But as your skills become more embodied and fluent, the energy of the work becomes more and more vivid.

You're going to have a great deal of fun.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Malawry,

Beware, beware of your bread knife (serrated knife). During my pastry chef years, I only ever cut myself with that knife, and quite badly at that: once slicing a pineapple and the other time, trying to cut a frozen genoise. Very stupid, and I still have the scars to prove it.

:sad:

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Malawry, I appreciate your honesty both with yourself and with us. It's not easy to step back and evaluate one's own situation from a critical distance, but you seem to be able to do it very well.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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for me, the worst part about cutting myself was finding out how many people saw me do it--especially including the instructor. it's funny how burns aren't so embarassing .....more of a result of more experience rather than less.

also, i remember slicing pieces of my nail off trying to gain mastery of the bearclaw.....!

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The people in my class come from such different backgrounds that it's hard to compare myself to them. I lack physical skills, but I have greater academic facility than many of my classmates, and things like writing recipes and papers are total cake for me.

Do you find that your educational background alienates you at all from any of your classmates?

Also, how are you handling the lectures that deal with things you've already learned -- such as basic math (I see listed on the L'Academie website that you'll have 20 hours of "Math Principles for Kitchen Management")? Are they a welcome break or a source of frustration?

I am considering cooking school (pastry only) and I also already have a degree in another field (biochemistry), so I have quite a bit of interest in your experiences with these issues.

Thanks for any input!

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I think the math skills classes will have to do with developing an imprinted sense of proportions and conversions rather than trigonometry.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. It is fascinating, as well as beautifully written.

:smile:

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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I think the math skills classes will have to do with developing an imprinted sense of proportions and conversions...

Exactly. I'm afraid I would be a bit frustrated with the amount of time they must have to spend teaching students how to manipulate fractions and the like.

Which brings up another questions for Malawry: Do they ever use metric measurements in your classes?

...rather than trigonometry.

Now that would be fun! :biggrin:

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Malawry,

I am really enjoying your postings from school. The eloquence and honesty with which you write are really superb. I'm reminded of my early days in the kitchen, both in school and as new girl in the galley, trying to reconcile intellectually what I knew versus skills I was trying to aquire.The hardest thing for me to learn was (and still is) patience and process, especially with knife skills. Cutting yourself is so frustrating, AND it hurts like hell. I rarely cut myself these days (mostly it's all the stupid little burns that are annoying), but when I do, it's generally because I'm not paying attention or I'm tired or angry.

(Of course I always realize this in retrospect. :wink: )

My last hospital trip was due to a serrated knife, a whinning owner, and trying to finish up prep that was supposed to have been finished 3 hours earlier by someone else who forgot...I didn't know Crazy Glue worked really well putting skin back to where it was supposed to be :laugh:

I'm glad you found "the zone" - it makes it all worthwhile, the rhythm of that dance - all those booboos seem to disappear, right?

I have a question regarding the food you make for lunch - it seems so heavy, especially

for a hot D.C. summer. Do you find you're able to look at it, much less eat it by the time you're done? (This was a big problem for me when I was in school).

Best of luck - stay strong.

Monkey

We need to find courage, overcome

Inaction is a weapon of mass destruction

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Thanks for all the great comments.

I have to confess, I haven't seen yet how I stack up academically against my fellow classmates. I know there are folks in my class who never open a book, who are surprised by the extensive and detailed notes that I take, and who moan and groan about the recipes and papers we're expected to produce. Most of those people do a bang-up job in the kitchen, but don't understand the theoretical and scientific processes that lead to a finished dish. I also know there are people in my class who have a hard time grasping basic mathematic concepts, and unsurprisingly, these are often the same people who avoid the pastry kitchen if at all possible.

We haven't learned much in the way of math skills yet. I am good at math type skills, but I don't gain much satisfaction from using those skills. Meanwhile I've been interested in and engaged by all the lectures so far, but then I've longed to spend my life focused on food for so long that I can barely believe I get to rub my brain all over it all day. Lucky me! A little math discussion wouldn't affect those sentiments, I'm sure.

My academic abilities do not alienate me from my classmates. Perhaps they would if I had an attitude about it, or if I treated my capabilities in the classroom and with the homework as somehow superior to the kitchen abilities of others. I didn't go to school to learn how to write a paper, I went to learn how to cook. I already know how to write, and I completely get the ratios and proportions of various dishes. Some of the people there need more help with those things, but most of them can cut julienne in their sleep. There's nobody lacking in all areas in my class, as far as I can tell. Just today, one of the restaurant guys poked through my notes to see how they compared to his, and another wanted to see one of the recipes I'd shown to Chef Francois so he could see how he should structure his.

As for the food, that's a good question. I do not have problems with eating rich foods in summertime. Maybe I'm weird that way. I think lots of "summer foods" like ice cream and potato salad are pretty heavy when you get right down to it. I am eating only a couple bites of meat and egg dishes, and filling up more on the soups and the vegetable sides. We did a composed salad yesterday and I found myself longing to eat just that and dessert for my lunch. Right now I'm really hankering for sushi since the cream and butter are getting a little old. But checking quantities has made it livable so far. I don't go outside during the post-lunch break unless it's in the lower 80s or cooler, so I don't have to face the heat after eating all that food.

I thought you were supposed to turn the knife before pulling it out of your hand...? I'm not sure where the crazy glue comes in. :unsure:

We have stuck to American measurements so far. Pastry proportions are given in ounces and pounds.

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Since I hanker for sushi all the time I totally understand!

I guess that was the main focus of my question - all the cream and butter- after awhile it just killed me - I would taste it to make sure I understood the dish but couldn't eat more than a mouthfull.

As I have not had the misfortune of impaling myself with a knife (only attempting to slice my finger off with one), I don't know about the twisting before removing. Probably to release the suction of flesh from the blade?

As to the crazy glue - when the doctor was looking at my finger (which was sliced lengthwise with bone exposed) he said he could give me nice Frankentein stitches to sew me up or use essentially 'crazy glue'; he popped open a vial and neatly glued my skin back in place - it fused immediately and I now have a rather beautiful hairline scar that runs the length of my forefinger. So if you find yourself in this situation and they offer you the crazy glue - go for it!

Peace -

Monkey :smile:

We need to find courage, overcome

Inaction is a weapon of mass destruction

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Great Job so far Malawry! I have to wonder though if this is a good thing for me to read or not, seeing as I am starting school in a little over a month. This makes me realize I really don't know a lot. Everytime I read your entries I get more and more nervous, I try to think of a way to better prepare myself by seeing what you are going through and I have no idea how to!! :shock: Anyways keep up the good job and good luck in the weeks to come.

Chefchelle

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That comment about twisting the knife was a joke, actually. :blink:

Hey Chefchelle, with the sage experience of having been a student for all of three weeks, I'd say there's not much you can do a month out to prepare. You can try a few things, like learning how to hold a knife properly and cut a straight line, at home in your spare time. I did some background reading on French cuisine and on the science of cooking, and the result is that I already know a lot of the things we cover in lecture...meaning I can pay more attention to the demo, which is what I need most.

Whenever I think I know nothing, something happens that makes me realize how much I know. Most of the students in my class have some unique knowledge they bring to the classroom, and our instructors are interested in our knowledge if they can learn from it. You're probably no worse off than any other new student, and you'll probably be fine as long as you are enthusiastic and work hard.

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You can buy the first aid version of crazy glue at most drugstores. It'll be called Liquid Bandage or something similar, and it's essential for those little (and not so little) cuts on the fingers that even the best high-tech band-aids won't work on (and I like the 3M Nexcare band-aids best...industrial versions are used in surgery...my years working as a carpenter gave me an appreciation for good band-aids).

Anyway, you can brush the stuff on (it hurts a bit for the first layer) and after a minute or two for drying you have a waterproof, antibiotic seal. The best part is that it doesn't soak up water (or food juices) like a band-aid and doesn't need to cover so much skin.

Jim

olive oil + salt

Real Good Food

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