The second most important part of our practical exam is our cuisine exam. Finished with the pastry exam in the beginning of the week, I knew the cuisine exam is a whole more serious than the pastry one. No clues were given as to what recipe we’ll have to do. Meaning I had about 40 recipes to learn this week. These were the “rules” of the exam: 1. four groups of 6-7 people, different times and different recipe for each group. 2. just before the exam we were given a sheet with the name of the recipe, the ingredients and amounts, and the headlines of the recipe itself. 3. then entering the kitchen in a random order in 5 minutes intervals. 4. We have to present the dish exactly 3 hours and a half after starting.
It was an exhausting week: being sick, sleep deprived and weak due to being ill and having to go to the immigration office twice to take care of my visa issues. I think I developed a new technique of studying with my eyelids closed, going through the recipe in my head.
I eliminated from my studying list recipes I was sure not to be given (which was my personal opinion and I could have been wrong). I had a lot of help reading back in my blog posts, pictures and videos. In the end I was hoping the recipe is gonna be a soup, because I was really craving for a nice warm soup to make me well again.
Came to the class room on Thursday afternoon armed with tissue papers, stuffy nose medicine, cough syrup and advil. I felt like a rag and my voice was hoarse. I really wanted to get it over with. In 4.5 hours I’ll be done with it, I said to myself and out loud if I remember correct. We were kind of a funny group of 4 Anglo A girls with two of Anglo B’s guys. I got to be the fifth to go in the kitchen out of six. Chef Sebastian came in the room and handed us the ingredients of the recipe “Navarin au Primeurs“. It’s not that complicated recipe but has a lot of vegetables, each has to be taken care of separately and a shoulder of lamb to bone and cut, then braise and cook in an oven inside a cocotte.
As the guest chef this time, the one who overlooks our work and grads us was chef Montassier, the charcuterie chef who’s a very professional and experienced chef in the school. If you haven’t seen it already, look what he can do to a pig.
Three and a half hours for this recipe is not a lot, and I was ready for a race. I walked into the kitchen and started bonning the lamb. Mistake one: While studying I have been watching the videos I took, but didn’t watch these videos of bonning the lamb, sadly, because I couldn’t remember for sure which bone goes first. Maybe I did it the other way around, but the bones came out. Chef Montassier came and checked how clean were the bones. Mistake two: while cutting the onions and carrots for the braising of the meat I sliced through my right thumb. Tried to avoid attending this cut, but couldn’t because it was bleeding. I went to bandage it together with my one day older cut in the other hand which needed a new bandage as well.
Continuing the recipe I felt I was okay with times and even put the meat in the oven before planned, but not before (Mistake three) I managed somehow to cut through another finger, slicing the tip of my fingernail off. Didn’t want to ask for another bandage and work with three fingers under this rubber thing but after a while I sneaked into the box and took another one anyway.
Then I had all these vegetables to take care of: potatoes, carrots, onions, turnips, green beans, peas, parsley. That’s a lot because we had to have at least 16 pieces of each in order to have an eight people serving. I couldn’t understand if I can just prepare some of the green beans and peas and leave the rest so I did all of it. Mistake four: The green beans have to be pinched two sides before cooking and then trimmed to the size of the other vegetables after cooking. But we had so many of them, I had no time to start pinching both sides one by one. Tried to pinch them in groups, knowing I would trim them again in the end. Cooked them and put them to ice water then to drain. My mistake was that I haven’t put them straight to the fridge after. Chef Montassier looked over my shoulder and found a green bean with a stem on it (!!), and some other with the tail still intact. He had me feeling very embarrassed for doing this. Then I had to brown the onions and glaze with no color the carrots. Mistake five: I managed to do the opposite. I tried to save the burnt carrots by scraping some of the burnt area but it ruined my nice turning shape I worked for so long. I asked for another carrot and turned 6 more pieces to try to brighten up the average color of orange in my dish but it made me fall behind the schedule. PRESSURE! I wasn’t paying a lot of attention for the turning already. My fingers were injured and aching and I had the turnip to be turned as well. I did it real quick but had only about few minutes left. Checking my sauce I liked the flavor but felt like I used bit too much tomato paste (Mistake six). Nothing to do about it. I presented a very hot nicely cooked meat with sauce I believe was in the right consistency. Most of the vegetables were nice but the turnip were ugly turned and not cooked enough and the carrots also ugly and half burnt.
When we finished we had to clean up which was extremely hard for me to do, I felt so weak. Then we were gathered together and chef Montassier and chef Antoine gave us their impression and comments. It was harsh. He basically said we were too slow, could be finished in two hours, that it wasn’t seasoned enough, not cooked enough, the order we chose to do things was all wrong, the sauce was either too fluid or too reduced, the vegetables didn’t look good and weren’t cooked enough or cooked too much. Of course he reminded everyone of my green beans unpinched and made it a big deal as well. He barely threw in a good word other then we had just been cooking for 5 months now so he didn’t expect for much to begin with, so we finished in quite an upsetting atmosphere.
I took my Navarin with me to a later analyses and dragged myself to the metro when I got a message from Arnel to join dinner with friends. I gladly joined with my Navarin and ate some curry, everyone were really happy to taste my dish and it was finished and marked as a success. I guess that’s the expectation differences. It was a very much better note to go home with. And about this dinner you will be able to read in one of my next posts.