Before I left for school today, I carefully pinned and a Turkish evil eye to the inside of my uniform.
When I was a teacher in Taiwan, I brought back evil eye bracelets for all the kids in my class as a souvenir from Turkey. To keep it simple, so they could understand, I simply told the students, they were "lucky".
On exam day, every student wore their bracelet! One even wrote me to say he wore his for his Senior High Exams years later, that it had always brought him luck.
Yesterday after the written exam, I returned to my room and looked over the four lists of items I had the chance of getting. Fish, chicken, quiche and consomme were the main components. I wet through each list and wrote up a game plan for each, starting at 1:00 and ending at 2:55. Between these two times I obsessed over the order of things, and tried to keep two or three balls in the air at once. I worked up the lists, re-worked them and finally outlined the places where I was likely to fall down, (serve soup piping hot!)
Sitting back upon completing these lists I looked at them realistically. I had my time planned out in 2, 5 and 10 minute increments for two hours. If I took too long on any of these tasks, my plan would be shot. There was a slim chance I was going to come in one time.
I wanted the consomme. Badly. I had done it a few times already, and felt very confident with it. I'd also nailed profiteroles a few times at home. I was rock steady with this list.
Next most desirable was trout. I can fillet one of those little guys in a few seconds! Pan searing is equally fast! The only tricky part would be the saffron velouté sauce, which is not so difficult, just a step up from a béchamel.
Next was the quiche; tedious in its multiple little steps. Make the pastry, let it rest, roll it out, let it rest. Coupled with quiche was cream of broccoli soup, lots of chopping and simmering, blending and reheating; and be careful you don't overdo it, or your soup will turn that crappy grey colour! Plus there was no "wiggle room" on this list, in the others I felt there was about 10 minutes leeway. On this list there was zero.
Lastly was the chicken. I have only de-boned one and a half chickens in my life, so I wasn't that comfortable with it, and this chicken was paired with a chasseur (mushroom) sauce that took a lot of steps, careful reducing and picky knife cuts. We did it once in the second week. Eons ago! Praying for a "pass" on this one.
Arriving at school, I walked out on the floor. On the demo tables were 6 blue trays, each filled with the main ingredients we'd need, and our marking sheet laid on top. Under the sheet I spied broccoli.
I sat and tried to clear my head. What's the flaky pastry ratio? How many eggs per liter for a custard? How much dairy? The answers were there somewhere.
My 2 hours went surprisingly smoothly. My soup remained bright green, my hollandaise didn't split and my quiche set perfectly. I nailed every single time on my game plan, which is still shocking to me. At one point I even got ahead! I actually finished five minutes early! I was the first one.
But I will say my hands shook throughout the first hour. And there was a moment where I started slicing veg that had me panicked. Chef T said, the "student with the sharpest knife always finishes on time", I'm sure he was speaking metaphorically, but I sharpened my knife to a razor's edge the night before. When I sliced into my veg and the knife hit the cutting board, it grabbed a bit. It felt different. My first thought was, "Oh my God! What have I done to my knife?!" But then I remembered this is how it felt on day one, when I first took the cover off it and began cutting flour.
I knew things were wrong though, my small diced potatoes were not exactly square, (due to shaking hands), I blanched my spinach when I didn't have to, and that made it very difficult to chiffonade it, (it just turned into spinach confetti).
I set my big tray of finished food on the demo counter for marking and retreated into dishwashing. I took a long time for Chef C to come around.
A few surprises! I got 10 out of 10 on my cream soup. This is really ironic as I was given chicken stock to make it with! I'd taste it and spit it out.
My quiche got high marks as well, but they would have liked more tomato.
My hollandaise did not split at anytime, I have made exactly 3 batches of hollandaise in my life and none has ever split. (Touch wood!)
But that small dice. Ugh!
Over all, my mark was 85%. In the 6 year history of the school, only 4 students have ever got over 90%, so I'm happy. Chef C confirmed, "you had a good day today".
But many people didn't have a good day. There were a few long faces and even a few tears at the end of the day. I saw deadlines whoosh by my classmates by as they struggled to finish their lists.
I came home and slept 2 hours, totally exhausted. As I told Chef C, outside of my first time teaching a class, this is the most nerve-wracking thing I've ever had to do.
I'm so glad it's over.
Answer To Yesterday's Exam Question
There are many ways to skin a cat. A few friends who read this blog have come up with some really good ideas, better than the "real" answer, in my opinion.
My answer was to poach the little guy till the meat was cooked through, and then using an elaborate system of stock pots filled with water and a spider with a long handle, I built a rotisserie over a burner. My answer even had diagrams, arrows and schematic drawings! When I was done, I took one look at it and started laughing! It was totally ridiculous!
The answer my classmates said was passed to them was:
- steam the bird in a steamer till it was cooked
- smear the oil over the outside of the bird
- crisp the skin using one of those mini-torches they use to caramelize sugar on creme brulé and caramelized bananas.
Easy! Logical! But not as entertaining.