So term two is over and I’ve survived another round of assessments, these much tougher than the last term’s. It reminds me of a typical quote from MasterChef announced before almost every task – “this is their hardest challenge yet!”, as though you’d expect things to get easier! Unfortunately the pressure doesn’t drop, it ramps up and I feel acutely aware of that this week.
The exams followed the same process as last term’s; I cook for three hours each morning for four days and have the afternoon off to prepare for the next day (while the second half of my class cook). We’d planned all of our dishes to fulfil the brief and ordered our food from a limited list. I’ve pasted in my menus which contain the brief I was given followed by the dish, and at the end are any tasks which also had to be completed within the time (as preparation for dishes the following days).
DAy 1 Menu
A completed gnocchi disH
Gnocchi in a tomato sauce
Flat Fish Main Course, 2 vegetables and a sauce
Grilled Lemon Sole with Peas, Tomato Concasse and Green beans, with a Dill Cream Sauce
Day 1 Tasks
Start Terrine – cook ham hock
Start Puff Pastry
Leave Starter out overnight
Day 1 felt like a bit of a whirlwind. I somehow got about twenty minutes behind quite quickly but just as unknowingly caught that time back up, probably due to over and under estimation of tasks! Luckily though once I caught up I was able to plate the dishes on time and I was happy enough with what I presented. I also had the time to pick the ham hock meat giving me a little more time the following day, which just like last term, was Terror Tuesday.
Day 2 Menu
Pan Fried Pigeon Breast with Celeriac Puree, Caramelised Apples, Hazelnuts and a Mixed Salad
Bream Main Course with Pasta
Pan Fried Bream Fillet on Pesto Linguine
Meringue Based Dessert
Individual raspberry Pavlova
Day 2 Tasks
Build Ham Hock Terrine
Hopefully by pasting in the menu and tasks I don’t have to spend too long explaining why this was such a difficult day! There was a heck of a lot to fit in in what felt like minutes on the day! I got a little behind schedule, but somehow I once again got back on track and served my dishes at my planned time. Being near enough on time doesn’t have any bearing on my marks this term but will matter in term three so it’s good practice at least. I was really happy with how my sourdough baguette turned out and was glad I’d practised sourdough three days in a row the previous weekend! To upset mood though my bream was delivered back to me by Chef Rob complete with a funny look on his face. Unfortunately this was not a repeat of him complimenting my fish dish (as he had in term one) this was him letting me know it was under cooked. Damn it!
At the end of that day I felt like something wasn’t fully right (or fully cooked!) on every dish, although I did come away less emotionally bruised than I had done Tuesday of last term’s assessments!
I should also mention that I managed to get the giggles that day! I was working opposite one of my closest friends on the course and at one point I noticed her flinching, at which point I realised I’d been repeatedly spraying her in the face with the sanitiser as I was trying to put it down! It’s great to know how inappropriately giggly I can get in the face of extreme pressure!
Day 3 Menu
Terrine with Toasted Sour Dough
Ham Hock Terrine with Toasted Sour Dough
Complete Venison Dish with Vegetables, Potatoes and a Sauce
Parma Ham Wrapped Venison Loin with Potato Rosti, Vichy Baby Carrots, Roasted Baby Beetroot, Sautéed Spinach and a Chocolate Jus
Day 3 Tasks
Puff Pastry – Folds 5&6
Day three felt like the day we had the most time available to us and unlike last term I was pleased with my terrine, although it did look a little sad on the plate sat on top of a dry bit of toast! Overall I was really pleased with my venison dish, even though I sent it out before it was rested enough. The task ‘pick crab’ looks like a small item in that list, but consumed a third of my morning. It took about half an hour to get all of the meat out of the shell and another half an hour to pick meticulously through it three times to ensure there were no bits of shell or cartilage.
Day 4 Menu
Crab Cakes with Mango Salsa and Cucumber Salad
Stuffed Quail Dish with Vegetables and a Sauce
Quail Stuffed with Herb Mousseline, Sautéed wild mushrooms, Glazed Baby Veg and Quail Sauce
Dessert using Puff Pastry
Raspberry Mille Feuille
The final day of assessments and finally no dreaded extra tasks for the following day. However, the schedule for the day was a nightmare anyway! It was only when I was finalising my prep list that I realised just how tight the morning was going to be. My fears were slightly confirmed when I once again got about twenty minutes behind fairly quickly but this time I didn’t manage to catch up at all. I served my dessert minutes before the end of the assessment and I feared my puff pastry I’d been lovingly making all week was under-baked. All made more annoying because I had it rolled out and ready with the oven to temperature, I just didn’t put it in early enough!
We went out that night to celebrate and all in all the mood was pretty different to that of last term. I remember feeling this sense of accomplishment and joy at the end of last term – we’d achieved so much and had a full 14 weeks of the course in front of us. This time around we all felt like we’d taken a bit of a battering and that without any other work to distract us our final assessment and assignment was looming over.
Once again we didn’t have to wonder how we did for too long – I went into school for my feedback session the next day just as nervous as I had been for exams every day that week! I felt like given the week I’d had it was likely I had dropped down to a lower bracket in a few modules. I was extremely surprised to hear that wasn’t the case. I had actually mostly managed to improve on last term with the exception of my desserts which, thanks to my raw puff pastry, went down to a credit. I am over the moon with my results and felt absolutely elated the whole drive back home.
That feeling of elation didn’t last long as my week off has been almost entirely spent working on or worrying about my assignment and final assessment (thus how late and short this blog post is!). The Chefs have told us this process is meant to be difficult and test us and it is sure testing me! I’m back to school in a matter of days to start term three and I’m hoping that being back in the classroom again will help restore my confidence and remind me that I love cooking and learning about food!