Well it’s been a week, and I figure now is a great time to update you guys and gals on my goings-on at school. I started Foundations 2 (F2) one week ago, and in that one week, I have done more work than in my entire 6-weeks in Foundations 1 (F1). It has literally been crazy, and I have gone through just about every emotion possible this week.
We started the week by taking 2 tests. Yes, that’s right, the first day of the new class. There was a 25-question multiple choice test on the vocabulary we should be familiar with, as well as a 20-minute knife skills exam. I did fairly well on both, but much better on the written. We just haven’t had a whole lot of time to practice our knife cuts in F1. We were assured though, that by the end of F2, we will have improved greatly. Another thing to note about F2 is that it’s the first hard class in the curriculum. I was told that after the first 2 weeks, people start dropping like flies. You can tell this is true because there are several people in my class that are taking this for the second time. The chef told us that her last F2 class started with 33 students, and 18 took the final. Yikes. This actually is encouraging to me, and though I feel bad for the students that have to drop for whatever reason, it means more cooking space. There are over 30 of us in this class too, and we are rubbing elbows everywhere. One day, I almost couldn’t get to my saucepan in time because there were people working around my station. Frustrating!
Moving on though. On Monday and Tuesday we were working on getting the stocks ready for the semester. Veal stock, chicken stock and fish stock. This was a huge class effort with everyone chopping vegetables, roasting bones, watching timers and washing dishes. It was pretty fun, and a pretty good intro to the kitchen. Tuesday was a little bit more rough though. On top of making sure the stocks were simmering away nicely, we had to prepare 3 rouxs for a grade. If you don’t know what a roux is, it’s basically a cooked mixture of equal parts fat and flour, the fat most often being butter. The toughest part about Tuesday was making sure nobody was screwing around with your roux. We all have incredibly sharp knives, and I was ready to cut someone if they touched my brown roux.
Wednesday was our first “real” day. I literally lost my mind. This was our first sort-of Top Chef moment where we watched the chef demo what we had to do, and then she said “You have 90 minutes. Go!” At first, it all seemed so easy, but I also have never been in an environment like that before; I’ve never worked in a real kitchen. The task was to create 5 sauces from the recipes we had to write down. To someone with a little bit of experience, 90 minutes would have been PLENTY of time. But like I already mentioned, I lost my mind. Running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I couldn’t focus and I got overwhelmed with everything going on. Without getting into too much detail (since when has that ever stopped me), I did not finish all of my sauces, but the ones I did, I got a pretty decent grade. Wednesday was probably the biggest lesson I have learned so far in school. And I got learnt fast.
Thursday, I was more prepared. More sauces, more ingredients, a little more time. As a side note right now, we start with sauces and stocks because they are the foundation of French cuisine, and any really good cuisine, so it’s important that we learn these first off. 6 sauces were on the menu for Thursday, and while I knew what to expect more, and I prepared myself more than the previous day, I still did not finish. However, much like Wednesday, I got good grades on the sauces I did finish, and I felt a sense of accomplishment because I knew that I had improved over the previous day. That, to me, is the most important thing. I am trying my hardest and though I may not be finishing everything right now, I still have plenty of time to do well in this class and exceed. I just need to find my footing.
Friday was amazing. Possibly, the best day of school I have had to date. Have I mentioned that I love this school?! Friday was an easier day, needing only to prepare 3 sauces, but we were only given 75 minutes, I think. I was more organized, more focused, and I was ready. The two previous days were learning days for me to be ready for Friday. I had some issues, sure. We made hollandaise sauce, and my heat was a little too high and my eggs curdled. I did not freak out; I started over, and aced it! The chef said my hollandaise was “amazing.” Next sauce up is called beurre blanc, which literally means white butter and it’s essentially white wine flavored butter sauce (it’s really a spectacular sauce). Before mine was even done, the chef was walking around the kitchen, checking on everyone’s progress and she stuck her spoon in my cooking sauce. Her response? “That’s really, really good. Keep going!” Uhhh ok chef! So I keep going, and she comes back in another 5 minutes, tastes it again and tells me that it is quite good. Then, she calls over one of my friends, sticks HIS spoon in my sauce and tells him that “This is what it’s supposed to taste like.” I’m not trying to inflate my ego, but that feels pretty dang awesome! At that point, I hadn’t even finished seasoning the sauce! So when it was done cooking, I took it over to my station, season it up and take it up for a grade. Chef’s response? “This is AMAZING!” Then tells another student who didn’t quite get it right to grab a spoon and taste my sauce. Quite the contrast from the past few days! Last sauce was a remoulade, which is basically a fancy tartar sauce. I messed up the mayo base, but instead of starting over, chef made me fix it, which was a good lesson. Fixed it, seasoned it and finished it, took up for a grade and the assistant chef tasted it and gave me the “eyebrows up, slow nod of approval.” And promptly a perfect score on the sauce, telling me that it was “damn good.”
Friday was a good day 🙂 A few of my friends have contacted me about going to culinary school, either for themselves of their friends. Please, ask me questions and pick my brain! I am happy to help answer any questions about my experiences thus far, what our expectations are or anything like that! I will say this though: Being a good cook does not automatically make you a great candidate for culinary school. Liking to cook does not automatically make you a great candidate for culinary school. You have got to LOVE cooking, LOVE learning and not be afraid to be knocked down over and over (both physically and mentally). It’s already proving to be quite a challenge, and looking in the kitchen, you can kinda tell who’s gonna be sticking around, and who’s gonna have to repeat a few classes. One of my friends had never peeled a potato before he took F1, and you know what? He’s doing awesome so far! I hope he sticks through because he is proof that you don’t have to have this laundry list of experience to do well in culinary school. He just wants it more than the average bear, and I think that is really important.
This post has turned into a monster! I only wanted it to be about 600-800 words, and i’m up to 1300. Ha! I guess I love writing about food almost as much as I love cooking and eating it. I will end this post now, but only after I say…Stay positive, love your life, and play with your food 🙂