Week 18 – the week of my final assessments of my culinary diploma, is finally over. I’ve been preoccupied by (dreading) it for about six weeks and am most definitely celebrating the fact that it’s behind me. Before I get too into the celebrations and trying to forget about it forever, I’ll do my best to take myself back to that horrible Monday morning to recollect it for you!
This week’s assessments were longer than our previous two terms’. Each assessment was four hours long and we had five days (as opposed to the previous term’s three hours over four days). The brief we cooked to was the menu we designed for our assignment, thankfully just cooking one portion of each (rather than say 100 for the wedding!). We also had set service times for each dish, which we could serve two minutes either side of, or it would affect our marks. I’ll include the menu, with the name of the business, theme of the day and brief for each dish on each day.
The Pigeon & Puddle
Menu 1 – Modern British Gastro Pub
Wood Pigeon Salad with Honey Roasted Fig, Pomegranate Seeds and a Pomegranate Molasses Dressing
Beef fillet main course, with 2 vegetables, 1 potato or starch dish and a sauce
Fillet of Beef with Parsnip Purée, Roasted Baby Beetroot, Buttered Cabbage, Mustard Cream Sauce and Potato Rosti
Fruit soufflé dessert
Monday was probably the day I was most comfortable with, both in terms of cooking the elements and also timings for the day. I’d practised the starter on my week off, as it was a slightly invented dish after Nay had the idea of pigeon and pomegranate going together! I’d also practised the soufflé twice because the timing of it was quite tricky. It was due 15 minutes after the main and took up to 12 minutes to cook and cannot be made in advance!
I had a slight blip in the morning when I peeled my potato to see a small black spot… after trying to peel and chop it away I eventually chopped the whole potato in half to see that it was rotting from the inside out! I showed Chef (to his joy!) and asked for another, less evil, potato for my rosti! Thankfully that only cost me a few minutes and as I’d hoped my timings went well. I actually had a little too much time to kill before I could start cooking and serving dishes. I started wondering if they can penalise you for cleaning your bench and washing your hands too much?!
After I’d stalled for 50 minutes it was time to cook and serve my pigeon dish. While making the pomegranate dressing I realised the school’s pomegranate molasses was more red than mine at home, and the dressing came out blood coloured… suddenly giving a dark meaning to name The Pigeon & Puddle! Despite this gory idea I was happy with the dish, served it on time and moved onto the main. I was actually very happy with my main as well, even with the plating which isn’t exactly my forté. While frying off my beef I was whisking up my egg whites to mix with my creme pat and apple purée for my soufflé. I got it in the oven just before I delivered my main and then longingly stared through the oven door begging it to rise! Very happily it did rise, though perhaps it wasn’t quite as neat as others. I’m never sure if my soufflés are cooked to the right degree – the Chefs look for them to be a little under but not too under! At least it was one day down with no disasters.
Menu 2 – French Bistro
Mussel starter with French style bread
Moules Marinière with French Baguette
Round fish main course with 2 vegetables and a sauce
Fillet of Bream with Roasted Fennel, Beans À La Bordelaise, And Tarragon Sauce
Custard based tart dessert
Tarte au Citron with Fresh Raspberries
Tuesday was another of the lighter workloads of the week as French Bistro food is meant to be bold, rustic and simple. The bread and tart were the two most technical elements of the day, and the two I tackled first so I could relax a little once the dough and pastry were made. Oven management was important as well, as the bread had to be baked at 230°, the pastry blind baked at 180° and the tart baked at 120°.
I was happy with my dishes again, although my fish looked a little messy and may or may not have been overcooked (to make up for under cooking my bream fillet in previous assessments!). I also caught the pastry when I was blow-torching the glaze on my tart, but I walked away pleased that those were pretty small concerns. Once again it was good to have had a disaster free day heading into the more full on days of the week.
Actually Love Catering
Menu 3 – Wedding Reception
Cold plated vegetarian starter
Goats’ Cheesecake with Caramelised Onion Jam And Roasted Figs with Rocket
Celeriac and hazelnut soup
Chicken Main course, with 2 vegetables, 1 potato dish and a sauce
Roasted Chicken Breast, fondant potato, Wild Mushrooms, Sautéed Spinach With a Mushroom Sauce
Cold fruit based mousse dessert with a garnish
Blackberry Mousse with Pink Lemon Jelly and shortbread
Wednesday was the first busy day with four dishes and therefore four service times. Each day I had split my plan into my mes en place preparation time (broken into 30 minute slots of tasks) and my service time (15 or 30 minute slots with my tasks broken down into 5 minute slots). This may sound like overkill but I know that it’s the way I work best under pressure – being as prepared as possible.
As I was really nervous I was so pleased to be working opposite one of my closest friends from the course again this assessment. She gave me the giggles on Wednesday as she decided to forewarn the class of the noise her potatoes were about to make when she put them into the hot duck fat – “Sorry about the noise guys…” followed by an almost inaudible “szzz”, what an anti-climax! It’s the little things which cheer you up in high pressure environments!
My starter and dessert were both made in advance, with minimal effort required to get them on the plate during service – good planning on my part! I was happy with the taste of my goats’ cheesecake, however looking back I realised I should not have filled the mould to the top as the portion was somewhat large for a four course wedding menu! I was pleased with my soup, but not so happy with my main. The chicken looked a bit messy and I fear I may have under-seasoned the dish. I was happy with the texture of my mousse and grateful my lemon jelly went pink as it had in practice (something to do with the acid of the lemon when it comes in contact with the blackberry). However once again I realised I should not have filled it to the top of the glass. Large portions would soon become a theme for me this week!
I did also have my first wobble that day, as I had a really clumsy moment in the fridge. I accidentally put my fingers into the top of one of my classmates mousse. I told her immediately and she was very kind about it, which I was grateful for and she managed to smooth it over. I felt terrible, it’s bad enough to mess up your own stuff, but to mess up someone else’s is horrendous. I made a strong mental note to be more careful in the walk in fridge in future!
Menu 4 – Fine Dining Restaurant
3 canapés: 1 meat, 1 fish, 1 vegetarian
Crispy chicken, Salmon and Crème fraiche, Blue cheese filo bites
Hot scallop starter
Pan-fried scallops with Black Pudding and textures of Apple
Poussin main course, 1 pastry item, 2 vegetables
Roasted Poussin with a Leek Mousse Vol-Au-vent, Glazed Baby Vegetables and Sauternes Sauce
Cold Chocolate dessert
Chocolate Cremeaux with Raspberry Fluid Gel and Salted Pistachio Crumb
Thursday was the day everyone was dreading – four service times including three canapés. On my walk into school I was cheered up no end by meeting the world’s friendliest cat (he was really part cat, part monkey) who clambered all over my shoulders and tried to follow me to school! I was so pleased to have something to smile about as Thursday was a really horrid, busy, tough day for everyone. In the first hour of the day I was slightly unhappy to find out that about five of the ingredients I ordered hadn’t actually been put out so that wasted a very precious ten minutes searching for them!
I was as happy as I could be with my canapés, they were very simple and perhaps didn’t fit the ‘fine dining’ brief very well, but that was my coping mechanism for the day! I’d planned the menu to be as simple as I could get away with, using expensive, rich ingredients to hopefully elevate the dishes beyond the simple techniques. I believe my scallop dish was ok. My apple textures were a caramelised purée, pickle and salad. They tasted nice but the dish looked messy, although that mistake was overshadowed by the poussin dish!
I was around five minutes behind on getting my poussin in the pan browning, which had a knock on effect as I didn’t have the spare time to really make sure it was cooked in time. I let it rest, plated the rest of my dish and then carved the breast (it was cooked on the crown to keep it moist) to find that it was most definitely under cooked. With around three minutes to spare before the dish was late I had to put the breasts back in the oven for as long as I could. By the time I plated the dish I was right on the edge of being late, the poussin was still under cooked and every other element on the dish was stone cold. Everyone likes under cooked chicken with cold veg right?!
Moving onto dessert I was pleased with the texture of my cremeaux, however once again I’d filled the mould to the top and therefore the portion was far too large. It didn’t occur to me to just chop the end off at the time! I was also unhappy with my plating again, not great on a day where plating is an important aspect of the theme. Thursday was definitely my worst day yet!
Menu 5 – Pop-up Thai and Indian Restaurant
3 Thai snacks
Thai fish cakes, Chicken Satay, Prawn Rice Paper Rolls
Galangal soup with Mussels & Coconut Cream
Indian curry with rice, bread and a side dish
Salmon Kerala Moilee, served with Aubergine Yoghurt, Jeera Pulao, Roti
I very incorrectly thought I should have time on my side on Friday, however I also felt the least prepared for this day (correctly it turns out)! I didn’t manage to complete the practice I’d intended to the previous weekend because I ran out of time and energy and my paperwork had been the most neglected. I worked to schedule for the whole morning, so not ahead of time as I would have hoped, but no disaster. That was until it came to service time. I started cooking my chicken, cutting my wraps etc all as per my plan. Then I realised no-one else was plating up, and that I’d written the timings on my plan wrong: fifteen minutes ahead of where I was meant to be.
For me this was a bit devastating, I pride myself on being organised and prepared and I realised at that moment I wasn’t, and it knocked me. At least I was ahead, not behind. Unfortunately it resulted in me presenting very overcooked chicken with a slightly split satay sauce. Thankfully I hadn’t cooked all of my fish cakes, so was able to cook them fresh and the rice paper rolls hopefully didn’t suffer.
The soup had to be made from scratch in service, as there are no elements that can be prepared ahead of time. I was flustered by this point and accidentally knocked my wok, spilling some of my soup into my curry – at least they were both coconut milk based! I then burnt my cumin seeds for my rice so had to dash out to get more rice just as I was meant to be serving my soup. My morale wasn’t good, but I hoped the flavours in my soup were balanced and moved onto getting the last course of my assessments finished. My salmon may have suffered from my being distracted as I didn’t turn it down to a low simmer early enough. I got my curry, bread, rice and side out, on time, but far from perfect.
I was gutted to end the week on a day like Friday and went for a beer feeling disappointed in myself rather than in the mood to celebrate. I know I work best when I’m prepared and Friday just confirmed that fact. I have been trying to remind myself that the week was tough and overall I had a good one. It could have been a lot worse. I think I served all of my dishes just about on time and I was mostly proud of what I plated (massive portions and over / under cooked chicken aside!).
It just leaves me wondering how I did. Usually we get our results the same week, this time we have to wait until the final Monday of the course. Nine days of speculation and worrying. I’ll have to do my best to not let that overshadow my second to last week here at Ashburton.