Sunday, November 28, 2010

Block 7: Week 2 - Cakes

We started our first real week of baking on the cake station. We made yellow cake and chocolate cake and decorated them, cheese cake, carrot cake, pineapple upside down cake, and jelly rolls.

Chef Larsen has a very strange marking system. Basically you have to make each item at least twice during the week. The first time you make it, the best mark you can get is a 7 out of 10. The next time, you can get an 8 or a 9 (to get a 10, it has to be outstanding, so I don't think he actually gives out 10s). But if you get a 6 the first time, the best you can get the second time is a 7, and the third time can improve to an 8 or 9. He doesn't provide any guidance on how to complete your tasks throughout the week, as long as you get each item made at least twice, or more, if you need/want to improve your marks. The main problem with the system is that he doesn't offer any feedback on how to improve, and the marks are somewhat arbitrary as he doesn't always even see the products before they get sold in the market.

On Tuesday, I volunteered at a dinner at UBC. There were so many students involved that transportation was provided in a tour trolley. It was very strange. And cold. There were two parties - one upstairs was a sit-down plated three-course dinner, and the larger party downstairs was just passed canapes. I got to work the upstairs party, which was good practice for Block 8. We set the table up, served drinks, served the food, cleared the table, and served coffee and tea. The food was amazing - lobster bisque, beef tenderloin, and lemon tarts. Once we were done upstairs, we headed downstairs to help with that party. The tour bus ride home was pretty entertaining, with the two guys in my class who were also there singing the whole way home. We also went out for a drink afterwards. The night ended a bit emotionally, but all worked itself out the next day at school.

This weekend, I had my first performance review at work. I was nervous - I've never had a performance review for a cooking job, so I didn't really know what to expect. It was mostly just a conversation with my chef and sous chef, and they didn't really have anything negative to say, which was good. The main things I need to work on are my sense of urgency (I'm a bit too laid back I guess) and asking more questions. I was pretty struck by how similar the review was to previous reviews I had at my actuarial job - I put myself in a totally different experience and I'm still the same person deep down. Interesting.

Next week - yeast station.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Block 7: Week 1 - Intro to Baking

Baking is awesome. I had the best week.

The baking kitchen is on a whole separate floor from the culinary kitchens, so just walking onto the baking floor, the smell is pretty wonderful. There are three stations this month - yeast, cakes, and pastry. This week, we spent one day on each station. We also spent one day making laminated doughs (a layered dough, like puff pastry). The first day was basically an intro to the kitchen, where the chef just talked about the month (no baking at all, so a pretty boring day). Speaking of our chef, he is, I say it every day, crazy. He has the most evil laugh, which kind of makes sense, because he likes to play practical jokes. If you bring an outside drink into class, he will put a raw egg into it, or tabasco sauce. He also likes to use a spray bottle as a water gun. He definitely keeps class interesting. There is a video of him on youtube decorating a cake, if you want an idea of what he's like.

This month, we are working in partners. We are still in groups on each station, but we spend most of our time within out partnerships. I am pretty happy with my partner so far - he is really competent in the kitchen, which was the most important criteria in picking my partner, but we also get along really well and have a lot of fun together. This week, we made pumpernickel bread, white bread loaves and rolls, danish dough (and from the danish dough, we made danishes, cinnamon twists, pull-throughs, and pinwheels), carrot cake, yellow cake, cinnamon buns, and fruit flans.

A was out of town this week, so I made some stew tonight to welcome him home. I can't wait until I have more time to do more cooking at home - I miss experimenting and photographing. Just over a month until Christmas holidays!

Next week - cakes.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Double Down Dinner

Since I can think of nothing better to do with myself on my days off, we invited friends over for dinner last night for a double down dinner. A double down is essentially a bacon and cheese sandwich, but instead of bread on the outside, it is two pieces of fried chicken. I also made fresh pasta, garlic bread, and coleslaw. It was a lot of work, but everything was delicious. And I think the double down was actually my favourite part of the meal.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Block 6: Week 4 - Vegetables

Another difficult week. Vegetable station is the hardest station in that it has the most volume and thus the most prep to get done each day. Two people were out on the lunch line, so they weren't available to help with prep, which added to the difficulty. I'm pretty sure every other station in the kitchen had to help our group out this week because we were so slow. Wednesday was the most painful day - we were making very time consuming dishes, and our station was a total disaster (chef asked if anyone got hurt when the hurricane blew through), so I went home that day pretty frustrated. Friday was funny though - I asked someone to help us peel potatoes and carrots and he came back two minutes later with everything already done (he had found pails of already peeled product in another fridge - perfect!).

I liked the dishes I made this week - braised red cabbage, roasted nugget potatoes, saffron rice pilaf, green beans with almonds, and potatoes columbine (pan fried potatoes with sauteed onions and peppers).

The best day for me this week was Remembrance Day, because it was my first day off in 110 days. We went out the night before and played shuffleboard, which was tons of fun. Then I had a pretty easy relaxing morning on Thursday, went to the spa in the afternoon, and cooked cardamom chicken for dinner, which was really delicious. I will post the recipe next time I make it.

I also had the whole weekend off, which was amazing. I have never appreciated a weekend as much as this. A and I finally got to spend some time together. We went out to a club on Friday night, slept in, had croissants at Thomas Haas, and went out for dim sum, which were all great, but the highlight was dinner at Pear Tree. We shared the spot prawn cappuccino to start. I had the slow poached chicken breast napped in blanquette foam with potato gnocchi, and A had pork belly with cassoulet and mushrooms. We shared the lemon tart with cracked sugar for dessert. So amazing. The restaurant actually changed my life a little. The open kitchen was really modern and looked super quiet and organized. My friend from school was on the pastry station and she came out to say hi to us after dinner. Scott Jaeger was also in there cooking, which was really cool. The prices were very reasonable especially given the quality of food. I would love to have a restaurant like that someday.

Next week - Baking (so excited!)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Block 6: Week 3 - Meat

This was a frustrating week. A couple of people in my group are particularly weak. I'm learning that I have a hard time dealing with people that need their hands held in the kitchen. Some people are also really messy and are just ok with leaving their mess for other people (ie me) to clean up for them. Sometimes I feel like I'm babysitting.

I did have fun making our dishes though. This week, the meat menu included Hungarian goulash with spaetzle, Jamaican jerk chicken, meatloaf with sundried tomato sauce, and roast chicken with lardons of double smoked bacon, mushrooms, and pearl onions. I also really enjoyed working with our new chef. He really appreciates organization, which I can relate to, he gives great and interesting lectures, and the best part is that he will spend time teaching all students, not just working with the weaker students. I learned a lot from him this week.

I didn't get to go to the junior Team Canada lunch that Chef JC mentioned last week - I guess he forgot that he invited me. There were some fun afternoons this week though, specifically Carlos, ramen, and bowling.

Next week - vegetable station.