Culinary School Week 6, Part 1: Busy, Busy, Busy

It was very busy, but not with a lot of instruction as has been the case in the past.

On Monday we took the written midterm.  We had just taken the second quiz a week ago so there wasn’t that much new to be tested on. In fact, quite a few questions were taken directly from the quizzes. I mean, the exact same question and multiple-guess answers.

After turning in the test, we were allowed a break until everyone was done, and Chef Eric informed us that our jackets were finally in. There has been snafu after snafu on this order, and we would finally be in a proper uniform.

Well, we hustled over to the bookstore where the jackets were lined up. We got and signed for them. I had been worried that they’d misspell my last name, so the first think I looked at was my name.

HOLY CRAP, THEY ONLY PUT OUR LAST NAMES ON THEM. Not just mine, but everyone’s. I was absolutely dumfounded that they could screw up YET ANOTHER ASPECT of this order. (We were told the next day that the department was working on getting this fixed, but we haven’t heard any more about it)

UniformAfter coming back from break, FINALLY in our full “uniform”, we got the grading standard from the practical midterm. Basically, a bunch of knife cuts, and then we would be required to make 1 of 4 sauces, chosen at random the day of the test. We’d not be able to consult our little metal cheat guide for the knife cuts, and we had to memorize the recipe for the various sauces from the book, converting to produce 1-1 1/2 cups of the sauce. Chef Eric said we would be graded mostly on the process, not necessarily every detail.  If we forgot to put thyme in to the spice bundle for a veloute it wouldn’t mean a fail, as long as everything else was right. That day in the kitchen we practiced for the test, mainly I did my knife cuts.

Tuesday – This was an interesting day. It was the first time we’d done something that resembled an actual restaurant experience. Wednesday of this week is advising day, a day off for us to get “advised” to make sure we are taking the right classes, and to sign up for next quarter’s classes. During the morning, a fundraising breakfast was planned for the Foundation that helps fund the school. I am familiar with this concept from my time at Whitman College, and from my involvement with various arts organizations. Tuition alone cannot pay all the costs of running a school of higher learning, so there is always a charitable arm that helps defray the costs. At Whitman, the Alumni association is always fund raising, mainly to build capital from which interest is drawn to fund the operation, or to get a fund to do capital improvements. Regarding LWIT, I don’t know the exact breakdown, but I was told that tuition, The State of Washington, and the Foundation fund the school. So the breakfast is there as a fundraiser.

We went into the kitchen and did a bunch of prep work for the breakfast. The tasks we all did:

  • Cut cantaloupe, honeydews, and pineapple to 1/4″ (small) dice for fruit salad. Also we halved a bunch of seedless red grapes.
  • Washed and quartered a bunch of new red potatoes.
  • Cracked and filtered a gross (144) of eggs.

It is surprising how long this took. We were allowed to work slowly, something we wouldn’t have if we were working in a “real” restaurant. The two people in the class who work in restaurants as their jobs pointed out that they would have to do this and do 6 other things at the same time (have something in the oven, etc).

287px-Saucisson_04The other thing that happened on Tuesday was I gave a presentation in my other class, CULA 128, Food Safety and Sanitation. I haven’t talked much about this class because it has pretty much been straight lecture. This Tuesday, in fact, was the final day of lecture for the quarter. The primary goal of this class is to pass the ServSafe exam, which allows us to be THE point of contact for food safety for a restaurant or other institution. In addition to the test, we have to do a research paper. I elected to present mine to the class rather than turn it in in writing, and I picked a topic that is an interest if mine, that being how we make dried sausages such as Salami safe to eat, neutralizing the Botulism and spoilage bacteria. I emphasized the point by buying a few dried/fermented sausages and passing them around, including one with a nice coating of white powder, which is actually a species of Penicillium nalgiovense, a cousin of the mold that produces the antibiotic Penicillin. It went well, and I enjoyed being up in front of a group again.

The last thing I did was submit a registration form to Chef Stockman. Those helping with the banquet were given priority on the next quarter’s classes. She was also doing this for all the people who were on the wait list for our CULA 116 class, and ended up being moved to Front of the House. She wanted to make sure they all got into 116 next quarter.

Wednesday – Only 2 of us from the class showed up at 5 f’ing 30 in the morning. Much cooking had been going on already by other classes (the baking people were there with some pastries, and someone turned all those cracked eggs into hotel pans full of Frittata). We took all those quartered red potatoes, oiled and seasoned them and they went onto sheet pans to roast, then we spent a while doing a Brunoise (1/8″ dice) of red peppers for a garnish. Others were there to bake some sausages.

Service started at 7:30 am, and I helped out with the actual serving of the food. The CULA 124 class, Front of the House, were required to be there to serve (they serve in our onsite restaurant), and we (the culinary students) assisted in taking plates out. I got to see first hand how a banquet is done. Basically, there is an assembly line (in our case 2 lines) where each person puts a single thing on the plate and it’s passed on to the next one. Chefs Sakai and Stockman were the last 2 to touch the plate, garnishing it with our red peppers and green herbs.

Next time you are at a banquet, think about that. For everything on your plate, a person touched it and then 1 or 2 others, before your server brought it to you.

After we finished serving, we all sat down and ate the leftovers, serving as a “family meal” of sorts. Most restaurants will provide a meal to the prep crew while the restaurant is closed before service. This is certainly true of high end restaurants that serve lots of covers every night and are only open for dinner. Often, the prep crew start pretty early in the morning and prep everything for the 2nd shift that actually cooks the food for paying customers.

After that, we cleaned up the massive amounts of dirty dishes, including some glassware that had been rented. This took another hour with everyone pitching in.

After everyone left, I sat down with my laptop to see if I got into the classes I requested for next quarter. The baking class, which is the next in the “normal” sequence, only has room for 10 people. Turns out, I made it! I’ll talk about my next classes in another post.

I left about 10:30, went home, and crashed for a couple of hours, before getting up and practicing knife cuts and making a couple of sauces for the test tomorrow.

I’ll tell you how it went on the next post.

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