Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Day in the Life of a Culinary Student

Today is day 2 of week 2 of culinary school. I have never been so tired in my whole life, but I've also never had so much fun! It makes me so happy to be cooking good food every day. I'm enjoying learning new things every day, but also delighted to discover how much I really do know already, and that not all of it is bad habits that I'll have to break. I absolutely love my instructor. He's a good teacher, very articulate (not just a good cook, but an intelligent one!), and he pushes us hard, but he's also got a sense of humor and does everything he can to make learning easier for us. I enjoy most of my classmates. Haha. I chose the school I'm at because compared to other schools, it's a short program, inexpensive, comprehensive, and every time I visited it just seemed like a friendly, family-like atmosphere. I'm more convinced than ever that I chose the right school for me, and I'm so looking forward to what the next 8 months will bring!

My mom asked me to write a journal piece describing a typical day at school, so she could get an idea of where I'm at right now. If you're interested in mundanity, read on. If not, skip to the bottom where I will throw in a bonus recipe that I learned yesterday.

Chef Wolf gives us a grilling demo...

6:00am I wake up quite begrudgingly to my alarm clock. I think after the first week I'd broken my lifetime record for most consecutive mornings of waking before 7am! I rush through a shower, and as much as I hate eating that early in the morning, I force a nutritious, high-protein breakfast down my throat. Then I spend a ridiculous amount of time getting into my school uniform which includes a neckerchief that I haven't quite gotten the knack of yet, and the most cumbersome buttons ever. If I have time I make myself a green tea for an energy boost before leaving for school around 7.

7:30am Through a marvelous provision of God, I live cheaply and comfortably with a lady friend about 10 minutes from school, so I'm usually at school by about 7:15 and have time to get situated and go over my notes or homework for a few minutes before class starts promptly at 7:30. At which time Chef Wolf helps us go over our homework to make sure we're getting everything, gives a mini-lecture on some topic, and explains what we're going to be doing in the kitchen that day, not necessarily in that order.

10:30am After three hours of class, with two 10 minute breaks, we move to the kitchen and start our mise en place (look it up). I usually grab a couple things off the table spread with various pastries and custards and other baked goods, from the basic baking class first. I suffer through this mid-morning snack because I know I must keep my energy up for a long afternoon of kitchen work.

11:00am Somewhere between 11 and 11:30, after I've (hopefully) gotten everything prepared ahead of time that I can, we all gather around Chef Wolf's station and he demonstrates whatever we're going to be cooking that day. We all taste what he's made, and then scatter and work our butts off trying to replicate it. The class is arranged alphabetically, and I happen to be the first person on the list, so my station is right next to Chef's. Although he makes his rounds over and over again throughout the afternoon, giving everyone the personal attention they need, I feel like he's just a little bit more accessible to me if I need help, and that's awesome.

1:30pm By this time I should have finished making all the dishes for the day, and I take them up one by one to be tasted and evaluated by Chef. And now for a brief moment of flat-out boasting. Chef was very impressed by my knife cuts from the very beginning. And aside from the first day when my broccoli needed a tad more salt and my carrots a tad less dill, my seasoning has been absolutely perfect every time. Not sure if that means I have a more sophisticated palate than I realized, or if I'm just good at following directions. Either way, I'm pretty pleased with myself! Words that Chef Wolf has used to describe my food have included "very nice," "beautiful," "damn good," and "you killed it!" Anyway, after all the cooking, we work up a pretty good sweat cleaning the entire kitchen, top to bottom.

2:00pm Cleanup is finished around this time, Chef gathers us around to review how the day went and then dismisses us to either go home or partake of the "family meal" prepared for the entire school by the meat fabrication class. Or, if the occasion arises, to spend time with him for personal tutoring.

Then I spend the afternoon doing homework, vegging in front of NCIS, practicing tourné cuts (again, look it up), or working out/hanging out with my second family, Mark, Karissa & Co. Somewhere between 8 and 11 I fall into bed exhausted and pray for the night to go slowly.

This is a totally new lifestyle for me, having been home schooled and never having a normal busy-work job. As tired as I am, the long hours aren't quite as hard to adjust to as I thought they would be, and I love feeling like I'm actually doing something productive with my life. As far as school goes, the hardest thing for me so far is multi-tasking. I can be fast. I can be organized. I'm not good at doing both at once, so that's been a struggle. But I'm finally starting to get the hang of it and today was a total win -- I finished all my dishes 30 minutes early and had time to practice some knife cuts. At any rate, I feel like I'm being well prepared for entering the work force in the food industry, and I can't wait to see where God will lead me in the next couple of years!

And now, as promised, a recipe. I am not a fan of raw spinach. At all. But this salad changed that. (Funny how proper cooking methods and seasoning can make such a difference. I never liked celery in chicken salad or hard-boiled eggs in potato salad before today either. Yay, Chef Wolf, you achieved the impossible!) Anyway, this salad is amazing. Make it tonight. Well, it's way too late for dinner already so make it tomorrow. Unless you're into midnight snacks. Whatever.

* * *

Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette

For the Dressing:
1 T. salad oil
2 slices bacon, diced
1/4 c. red onion, small diced
1 tsp. garlic, minced
1-2 T. brown sugar (to taste)
1 T. dijon mustard
2 T. red wine vinegar
lemon to taste
salt & pepper to taste

For the Salad:
1 large handful baby spinach, washed, dried, and stemmed
1 roma tomato concassé (peeled, seeded, and sliced)
1 hard-boiled egg, quartered lengthwise
3 red onion rings

In an 8" sauteuse (slope-sided sauté pan -- straight-sided is a sautoir, in case you were interested), heat the oil just until the smoking point. Add the bacon and render out the fat till the bacon is lightly browned and crispy. Reduce the heat to low, add the onions and garlic and sweat (soften without adding any color). Add brown sugar, dijon, and red wine vinegar. Swirl around just until combined, lightly simmering, and emulsified looking. Remove from heat, add salt and pepper to taste. Add lemon to balance sweetness, or more brown sugar to balance acidity. In a medium sized mixing bowl, gently toss spinach, tomatoes, and as much dressing as necessary to completely and evenly coat the spinach, without weighing it down. Pile salad in the middle of a large plate, garnish with three onion rings on top, and arrange the boiled egg wedges around the salad. Serve immediately.

Until next time!

1 comment:

  1. Can you believe after all your lovely writing I never got around to reading this until now!??! Sorry. But LOVELY to read. Thanks. It's so full of you and I can just hear you, see you, enjoy what you're enjoying. Thanks. Write more. I'm sending it on to Mike and Candy. And, believe it or not, your salad up there is something I learned to make from my mom. We'll pull the recipe card and see how very close... Just saying. :P