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Diary: July 31, 2002

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Monday, July 29

I arrived at school earlier than usual because of today’s practical. Chef Peter had told us he’d write up the menu for the practical at 7:55am, but I suspected it might be up earlier and I wanted to be through my daily cup of coffee and mentally alert before then. The menu went up at about 7:45am:

Leek and potato soup

Ham omelette

Glazed julienned carrots

Orange salad

We weren’t allowed to do anything until 8am, and so I scribbled the menu, a breakdown of tasks, and a list of mise. I also borrowed some paper clips from a fellow student and marked the appropriate recipes in my notebook. (We were allowed to work with our notes if we wanted to, which of course we all did.) My game plan looked like this:


Cut leeks, potatoes: 4-5 parts each

Paste garlic, salt

Fine brunoise onion: 1 part

BG, low on thyme

Chop parsley


Dice ham


Julienne carrots

Cut cartouche (parchment paper circle to fit the pan)

Chop parsley


Make simple syrup

Zest orange

Julienne zest

Blanch zest 3x

Candy zest in syrup

Peel a vif (remove the pith, top and tail from the orange) & slice

At 8am we were allowed to get going. I gathered all my equipment and food products and started in on the orange salad. I set a small pan of water on to boil for the julienned zest, figuring that with three blanchings ahead of me it was probably best to do the dessert first. I cut my orange into slices after I’d peeled it, but I didn’t like the way the slices looked too much. They were thick and blocky looking. I found another orange and peeled and cut it more successfully.

I was dreading the potato-leek soup cuts, because they’d been such a bitch when I did it for my team a couple weeks ago. This time wasn’t so bad because I was only making one portion of everything on le menu, so there weren’t leeks after leeks needing to be cut into identical squares. I surprised myself by zipping through the leek and potato cuts, and the carrots came out more quickly and evenly than anything else I’ve julienned to date. What a relief!

By the time I’d finished with all my cutting and dicing, the orange zest was in the syrup and cooking down. I remembered my teammate making the syrup and having to cook it for a long time to get it to thicken up and soften the zest properly when we did it in class, so I didn’t watch it so closely. Around when I was finishing up with potato cuts, though, I looked over and it was boiling up angrily. I hastily snatched the pan off the heat and poured the syrup into a deli cup I’d previously sat in an ice bath. I could see cooked syrup clinging to the sides of the pan and hardening, meaning that the sugar was starting to cook in candy stages rather than remaining a syrup. I tossed some water into the deli cup and stirred until the consistency thinned a little bit. If I hadn’t looked up right at that moment, chances are the syrup would have colored (as in caramel) and I would have had to start over. Phew!

I got off my game a little after that. I added too much cream to the soup when finishing it, and I wasn’t too hopeful about today’s chances of an A grade when I still have not turned out a perfect omelette. Indeed, I had to pitch my first omelette (the pan was too hot, so the eggs browned before I could begin to move them around), so I lost points on waste. I was worried about the carrots; they’ve been on the menu three times, but I still have not made them personally.

Chef Peter’s analysis of my menu:

The soup was all wrong. I made a standard-sized bouquet garni, and so the small serving I’d prepared took on a tea-like overseasoned quality. I added too much cream, too. At least my knife cuts were good. The glazed carrots were the best in the class, with a perfect glaze and the right tiny amount of bite to the vegetable. My omelette tasted okay but was a little underdone and was not properly folded. The orange salad tasted great, and the syrup was of a good consistency, but the zest was still a little bitter. I also lost points for the shape of my orange slices: they were a little too blocky and squared-off, but at least they were evenly sliced.

After the analysis, I cleaned up and pitched in on dishes and putting the kitchen back together. We took a break, returned for lunch (caesar salad, tomato salad, and sauteed shrimp, all prepared by the students who finished their tests first), cleaned up again, and took another short break. Then we came back for afternoon session, watched a demo on crème brulee, and then we got back our written tests from Friday.

My score: 56.5 correct out of 58 questions. The one and a half incorrect questions were about pate a chou, as I’d suspected. I’m quite pleased with my score. We went over the tests together as a class, but I already knew I’d missed what I’d missed and had looked up the correct answers, so there was nothing new in the overview. We capped off the day with another round of chicken backs, and went home. I’m exhausted but glad the first tests are over.

Tuesday, July 30

Washingtonian summers are notoriously hot and nasty. Yesterday and today were particularly good examples: temps in the upper 90s, humidity so heavy that even Kathie Lee would wilt, and so on. Some people pay to visit spas; others move to Washington. To celebrate, Chef Peter concocted the following lunch menu for our enjoyment:

Pasta carbonara

Endive, watercress, and grapefruit salad

Flank steak with shallot and demi-glace sauce

Fondant potatoes

Crème brulee

I was teamed with George and Chris for lunch service. Chris vanished to the pastry kitchen immediately to work on the crème brulee and the pasta, and I took the lunch order from the staff and then joined George in the kitchen. I took care of the pasta sauce, the potatoes and the salad. Fondant potatoes are cut like a tournee, except they have one large, flat side so they rest easily on a flat surface. They’re then covered halfway with stock and brushed with butter and baked. Rebrush them every 10 minutes and keep the stock level up. My tournee cut is coming along quite nicely, and soon I had a disposable pie plate filled with evenly cut, domed potatoes.

When lunch service came, I gathered the salad ingredients I’d prepared and got ready to toss the salad. I instinctively went back to my notebook to refresh my memory on assembly. George asked, “Why are you doing that? Just make the salad!” I responded, “I want to refresh my memory.” He covered my notebook with his large hand. “Tell me how to assemble this salad.” I gave him my best shot, and he said I was basically right and allowed me to go ahead.

After lunch, I checked my email on my cell phone. My close friend from college had emailed me about my diary and said she was surprised by my embrace of the meatier topics at school. She reminded me of when we were in college and I’d occasionally feed a friend on my meal card. I used to insist that anybody who I fed with my resources could not eat meat, because I didn’t want my money going towards anybody’s meat consumption. I’d forgotten about all this, and I’ve been thinking off and on about it since. I’m still not thrilled about eating meat and fowl, and only eat a bite or two most days…enough to taste, not enough to come close to an actual portion. If I try to explain my attitude I realize it makes little sense: I don’t like the idea of eating meat, and I don’t really mentally identify meat as a food substance, yet I’m eating it almost every day and I’m actually quite interested in learning all about its structure and preparation. There’s also little rhyme or reason to my tastes; I really like applewood smoked bacon, but the roasted pork or the sauteed chicken in demi-glace sauce dishes we’ve had didn’t do anything for me.

I got my practical exam numeric grade after the lunch break. I earned a grade in the low 90s. Seems to me I am my own harshest critic.

Wednesday, July 31

We brought in our notebooks for grading today, because Chef Francois returned from his brief vacation. There’s already a substantial number of recipes in my notebook, and I spent plenty of time checking and double-checking to make sure it was properly organized and all my French spelling was correct. I still have mixed feelings about the recipe notebooks, but I know I did a good job with mine nonetheless.

Chef Somchet has been taking some kind of class this week. She has been at the school briefly in the morning and around lunchtime, but she has not given a demo or been available otherwise. Today’s lunch menu included a repeat of the roulade with lemon curd (basically, a jelly roll), and since I didn’t make it last week I went into the pastry kitchen to put it together. I reviewed my notes and quickly assembled the cake, thinking I could go back into the main kitchen and help my teammates if I got it going rapidly. I set up two mixers and whisked egg whites in one and yolks in the other. I folded them together, sifted in and folded some flour, and got my batter into the oven quickly. As I was cleaning up, one of my fellow students came over and started asking me questions about his cake. Then, Chin started asking me, “are these soft peaks?” Next thing I knew, Chin was calling me Somchet Jr, and other people were asking me questions about the cake. I certainly don’t think I’m an expert at pastry, and I suspect I was asked because I acted like I knew what I was doing and I moved quickly. I ended up spending much of the lunch prep time in the pastry kitchen, helping a student whose egg whites wouldn’t whip up and coaching somebody else through making lemon curd.

After lunch and break, we had our second session for the sanitation course. Today’s subject: “the microworld,” all about the pathogens that can cause food poisoning. Chris ripped through a lengthy PowerPoint presentation on the subject, and chatted animatedly about tapeworms, faculative bacteria, and other unpleasant topics. I can’t get over how much this guy loves to talk about the nasties. It’s pretty cool. I still find the subject somewhat boring though, and so I took notes to keep myself engaged.

Chris let us take a short break after about an hour, and when we did we found a rolling cart with our notebooks on it in the hallway. I checked mine out: I scored a cool 100. Now it’s up to me to keep it up!

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Rochelle, excellent score. You're not only working hard but well.

"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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I spend about 30 minutes each day compiling the day's recipes and printing them out. I don't have reading on a regular basis, but I try to spend an hour or so a week reviewing topics we've covered recently in On Cooking. I spend more time on this diary than anything else for now, but as somebody suggested early on it has served in part as a study tool. I spent an hour or two a night studying each night last week, except for Thursday when I blew it off and went out for Salvadoran food with my partner, my housemate, and Edemuth. :cool:

When I cook (mostly on weekends), I typically make at least one recipe I've eaten but not made at school. This, too, I regard as homework, and it's the sort most of my friends have been offering to "help" with since I decided to go to culinary school.

My first paper is due a week from Friday, and I have had limited time to invest in researching and preparing it. This is further compounded by the fact that this coming Sunday is a school day and so I won't have much of a weekend free to play catch-up. :unsure:

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I'd be remiss if I did not chime in every once in a while to congratualte and thank you for the time and efforts you put into the diary, it is really a great addition to e-gullet. Keep up the good work.

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Great work and congrats on your excellent scores! I have a question for you--how much, if at all does knowing that you're going to be writing about your experience add to the pressure you're under, sort of like we're all "watching"? Just curious.

Thanks again for the update!

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Researchgal, there is definitely a relationship between the diary and my performance at school. This is partially why I wanted to do the diary, actually. I'm sure I'd care a lot about school and do pretty well at it if I didn't do the diary, but I think I push myself just a little more since I'd rather be proud of what I have to report. I was a lazy student when I was in college. I'm bright, so I was able to be a little lazy and still make passing grades. I'm rather proud that I've left that behind, and I enjoy how engaged I am by my studies.

I have been extremely honest about what happens, and I'm not shy about the fact that I make errors and, on occasion, injure myself. You're hearing the good along with the bad, believe me.

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I'm the college friend that Rochelle was referring to in this post, and Rochelle I want you to know that the best part of reading this column is seeing how much you are enjoying yourself. I feel certain that doing something you love is also part of your wonderful test scores. Keep having fun!

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