Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Exams are Over

Today, exams are over. I feel raw, going over every detail of what I could have done differently. My shaking hands at the end telling me this is tough. Taking a deep breath. Remembering the charms and good wishes in my pocket from my children...the wishbone that I was too scared to pull in case I didn't get the right end, the rock, the butterfly eraser. Wishes to help me get through a difficult event, to help me remember what's important, to help me be happy.

I learned a lot these past three months. About me, about life, but mostly about food.

I know sauces. I know to brown the bones and parure (leftover cuttings from deboning the pork) in hot fat in a sauté pan until they're so brown, but not quite burnt. I know to dégreaser to remove the extra fat. I know how to sauté the onions until they turn color to add more flavour. Then, I know to singer (add flour) to have a thickened sauce in the end. I know to add the alcohol next, the salted white wine (or better yet the good stuff from home) and let it reduce to remove the acidity. Finally, I know to add the rich, dark, brown veal stock. After this, I know to move this mixture to a smaller pan so that the flavors can marry and not evaporate into the busy, stressful kitchen. Skimming often to remove the scum and foam, I know this is important. And then I can let it do its magic, thicken and absorb all the flavors from the bones, onions, wine and stock. In an hour, this sauce is carefully strained and just needs a little kiss of salt, a spoonful of Dijon mustard, a sprinkle of julienned cornichons, and a dash of white pepper (or black pepper at my house). I've learned sauces.

I also know how to butcher...somewhat. Given a small rack of ribs, I can remove them from its clingy backbone and clean the bones (called manchanner). I can even prepare a pretty paper papillotte to hide the unsightly bone from diners' eyes.

But I can't turn vegetables. And under pressure, I can't assemble two plates for presentation without drips and overlapping veg, my shaking hands failing me. Will it be enough?

It's serving time. I'm one minute late. 60 seconds turns into 80, which turns into 90 and my hands get shakier. I can't dig out the finely julienned pickle from the strainer to display on the plate. Why did I strain it? I'd already strained it earlier. I'm flustered and the chef keeps yelling out "serve, serve, serve". Shhh. I need quiet. I need peace. I want my kitchen.

It's just food. Delicious, nourishing food (but the green beans are a little overcooked, my turned carrots are amateur, and why did I let them burn at the end?). The pork chop may have been over-cooked (but better to be over than under or it won't even be tasted). My plate is whisked away to another room to be judged by the mouths that be.

I did my best, but it may not be good enough. On Thursday I may get a phone call that says "I'm sorry to tell you that you've failed Basic Cuisine." But I've learned a lot. No matter what the chefs decide, I will remember this quote from Émile Coué: "Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better." For now, I'll enjoy the relief of having it behind me. I'll toast with a glass of wine and likely a shot of Skinos later. And I'll be inspired by Robert Crawford:


When you are faced with two alternatives
Choose both. And should they put you to the test,
Tick every box. Nothing is ever single.
A seed’s a tree’s a ship’s a constellation.
Nail your true colours to this branching mast.
I will remember to

* dream big
* do all that I can
* grab life
* live big
* say yes
* trust life
* be authentic
* be true
* be strong
* let the wind take you
* you are the mast in the wind, growing stronger every day

It's good advice.

Here is Chef's version of my exam dish: Côtes de porc charcutière, pommes purée (Pork chops with pickle sauce and mashed potatoes):

Recipe for Côtes de porc charcutière, pommes purée (Pork chops with pickle sauce and mashed potatoes)

2 pc Pork Chops
25 ml Oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

Mashed Potatoes
650 g Potatoes
250 g Milk
50 g Butter

1 pc Onion
25 g Flour
100 ml White wine
100 ml Thickened brown veal stock
10 g Dijon mustard
15 g Pickles
15 g Butter

2 br Parsley


Lynda said...

Thank you for sharing what your exam was like. It sounds very stressful. You deserve a good long break. I am inspired by your quotes at the end. You have learned so much in the last 3 months.

Rachel said...

Hi there, thanks for writing all these wonderful blogs. I have been logging on to your blog every week eager to see what you learnt next at le cordon bleu. I too have a passion for food from when i was young, but am just discovering french food and cooking methods :) so you helped me alot to understand the basics. I too would like to attend that school one day. wish you all the best of luck for the results. please let us know how you did! take care and thanks again :):) Rachel

Raluca said...

Congratulations for the first exam! Sounds like you worked hard, and that's important. I hope you'll get the answer you expect :).

Stephanie said...

A huge congratulations is in order. It's hard not to think about what could have been done differently after everything is said and done, but at least you are done! You looked at that exam, overcame any fears associated with it, and have completed it.

Inspired by eRecipeCards said...

I have been a lurker for a long time, rarely commenting, but I love this series, and the idea of this. Thank you so much for sharing, and I look forward to reading more!

GREAT for you!

Lo said...

Huge congrats! Working under pressure is never easy -- but it sounds like you gave it your all. Am sending you good exam vibes!!

Dolce said...

What's most important is indeed everything you have learned. And remembered. So what if you can't turn vegetables? Your pork chop looks perfect anyway. And I am sure it tastes great.
There is always the difference in the eyes of 1. the cook who knows and thinks he could do better and 2. the person eating the dish and loving it anyway.
Best of luck for the results anyway but don't fret too much!

Sarah Weise said...

Congratulations on all of your hard work! You just received a blog award from me. Check it out at http://the-delicious-life.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

i love that you just keep trying! my dream is to go to culinary school but i'm SO nervous that i really don't know as much as i think i do!

CaptainCrunch said...

Loved the heartfelt post. I agree with Dolce!! I know how hard you've worked and much heart you've put into this and just how much you've learned. Personally, I'm expecting a resounding "PASS!" but regardless of the result, there is nothing the Cordon Bleu folks could right now that could take away or even change all the great things you've earned/learned/accomplished so far.


AmyRuth said...

Congratulation Shari,
You've had such a memorable journey. Learned and shared with us and your family. I loved the note that you had good luck charms from your family in your pocket. That's what its all about in the end. Thank you for sharing your wonderful dreams with us. We will all look forward to more food fun.

African Sancks said...

That was a great post. Thank you for sharing the recipes. I also have a blog on African Snacks, I think you will find it very interesting. Check http://african-snacks.blogspot.com

Rabbittrick said...

Oh I want to give you a big hug! For all the bravery and the effort and the concentration. Congratulations on getting through the exams, that's the first bit. And congratulations on passing! (I skipped over to the latest post, yay champange!) So happy you did so well!