On Monday I had my first class in Garde Manger (the art of preserving for later). Of course, typical of all first days of class, they go over the syllabus and what is going to be done during the semester. It looks like it is going to be a fun class. Plenty of homework, but it would not be college with out it. We did get to go into the kitchen today. We started on the topic of preservation and curing. Not everybody got to do each of the techniques individually. Each group perform a technique and not every group did the same thing. (Nothing new there.) But my group did dill pickles, bread-n-butter pickles, pickled beans, and cured salmon/grave lox. The other groups did pickled okra, kimchi, pickled ginger, sauerkraut, corned beef, pastrami, and bacon. I haven't tasted anything that we have made yet. But last semester, I know we used some of the products the other class made in garde manger and it was pretty good.
On Wednesday, we had our first production for Fundamentals of Restaurant Operations. the first half of the semester, I'll work back of house (cooking) and the second half of the semester, I'll work the front of house (serving). The week before I was assigned to work with one other partner on soup and salad. So, he did the salad and I made the soup. The soup just happened to be Creole Gumbo. (Now I love a good gumbo.) Now the fun part begins. That's were I learn a lot from my mistakes. Our weekly homework for this class is to create a menu plan containing a Mise en Place list (list of everything needed - food & equipment), order sheet, equipment list, time line, and templates (how we would plate the dish). So, as I go through the recipes at home I immediately started to have some questions and concerns. I have eaten plenty of gumbo in my life, watched my dad make it, and I have made it once. The way the Chef Instructor had this recipe laid out did not look right to me. But it is what I was given. So, I go to class and I start scaling and prepping out my ingredients. While working, I asked the Chef how he wanted me to do the chicken, cut the sausage and the shrimp, because the instructions did not tell me what to do. And I don't know what he envisions for this recipe. When I scaled out half a can of tomato paste I started to question myself, "Um... this is a lot of tomato paste for that little amount of chicken stock. This can't be right." (Here is where the mistake comes in.) I didn't speak up right then, and I just went with it. As I started to make the gumbo and I add the paste, then I asked the Chef to come over and take a look because I don't think this is right. He asked, "Did you use tomato paste?" Of course my answer was yes. And of course the recipe didn't specifically say how much tomato paste, it just said 1 can of tomato. (So I figure the Chef knows what size cans of tomato paste we have which is only one size, which is huge, like 110oz) But, the Chef helped me fix my mistake. It did bug me at the end when the soup was finished, because it didn't taste like any gumbo I have ever eaten. But the definition of gumbo, "everything in one pot", meaning what every you have, put it in a pot. And Creole does refer to tomato base. In the end all the customers loved the gumbo. I even got ask to come to the front of the house by the Chef to talk with one of the customers who wanted to meet the person who made the soup. They happened to be from Louisiana and they loved the gumbo. I was embarrassed, because I didn't think it was authentic as I'm used to eating in New Orleans. Even my class mates thought it was good. A happy mistake in the end.
Lessons Learned: If you think something is wrong and question it, it most likely is. So, ask first or go with you gut feeling. There is no such thing as a stupid question. (I had a valid question that needed to be asked.) Next time, I'll write down all my questions ahead of time. That way I can ask them all at once.
On Thursday, in baking class, we started off with quick bread and used three methods of making them. Creaming, biscuit, and muffin methods. It was not truly what I was expecting, as how the class would run, but it was better than the cooking class was taught last semester. Each group got one recipe that used one of the three methods we were being taught. Each group put the recipe together one at a time so that the teacher could talk about it and the rest of the class got to see it be done. I still liked how Le Cordon Bleu did it better. They demonstrated each method in the beginning of class and then the students went to their station and made what the teacher demonstration. At least the Chef is teaching how it is done for the whole class. We made biscuits, cranberry orange scones, blueberry muffins, chocolate banana cake (I made this.), and cornbread with bacon and cheese.
I can't wait to learn more next week!