Thursday, April 1, 2010

Arrrgh! Black Box.

Leaning tower of beets!

I didn't sleep a wink last night. I tossed and turned, my mind refusing to let me sleep, asking me the same damn questions over and over - What if you get poultry? Do you remember how to make tuiles? Are you going too complex? Or too simple? 

So when I finally arrived at the school at 8:15 am I was already exhausted. I set up my station and went to receive my tray of food for black box. I had four game plans in my pocket depending on which protein I would be given, and prayed the Chefs wouldn't put me at a huge disadvantage by giving me poultry. Thankfully, I was given a trout, but I was also given squash, the veg on my list I was least prepared for, and puy lentils, the grain I was least excited about. 

No time to cry about that! The clock was ticking! Two and a half hours to get 2 appetizers and 2 mains up there. I started filleting my fish and getting my grains going...

My first hour was a breeze, my station was clean and neat, I peeled everything into a catch-pan, my sesame tuiles turned out perfectly, (that just doesn't happen!) Everything was going so well! Confidence was running high! 

The Chef who would be marking me hovered around the station making notes and checking boxes on his clip-board. This is nerve wracking, because usually just his presence alone on any day will make me mess up, but that was no problem today - everything was going tickety-boo.

Confidence was still running high when I plated my appetizer, a citrus beet salad. The beet turned everything red, like I thought it would, so I reserved some squash and greens on the side so I could put it on later for a contrasting colour. Then I got bogged down when my sauce over-reduced. I thinned it out, but then the two plates looked slightly different. I obsessed over them a minute or two and took them up to the pass, only to return to my station and see my squash still sitting there! I'd totally forgotten it and it was the required veg! No time to mess around now, focus! I still had another dish to get out. I plunged ahead.

Lentils were cooking, fish was ready to go, quinoa was toasting, but my knife cuts needed doing. I tackled them with crappy results. I decided to forge on and redo them when I had a few spare moments near the end, (these moments never materialized).

My only explanation is that I must have been abducted by aliens around this time because 15 minutes of my life is lost here, (there was no tequila in the vicinity). I glanced up at the clock once to see  10:30 and then a moment later to see 10:45. What? Where had the time gone?

I looked over my game plan, I need to get a hollandaise going. I moved quickly on chopping a shallot for making a gastride but as soon as my egg hit the bain marie, it turned to scrambled eggs, and of course I hadn't heeded the chef's warning about making double gastride in case you need to try again. 

Now, of course, the Chef was hovering again! And I realized he was looking at my game plan on the counter and what I was doing, in two seconds he could see I was in the weeds!

I chopped another shallot and turned out a respectable hollandaise. (At this point my classmate sharing my stove probably heard me chanting, "Focus! Focus!") I plated the trout, and took it to the pass (miraculously) on time. The dish looked good, but there were several things that obviously didn't go to plan.

Then, for the second time in this course, I started to shake uncontrollably from nerves - even though it was over. I felt relief, mixed with disappointment and garnished with regret.

We marked our main along with the chefs this time. I marked myself lower than the Chef did in some categories. I was disappointed with the flavor, but the Chef was happy with it and told me not to be so hard on myself. He also gave me extra marks for making the tuiles and hollandaise, (I knew I was going too complex!) BUT he totally ripped apart my citrus beet salad. "Beets need to be thinner! Where's the squash? Not refined enough!"

The feedback was really helpful. This is not the last time I'll have to make these dishes, I may have to do them again as soon as next Monday, and things will be different!

In my weird sleep-deprived, alien-abducted state, I totally forgot to take a picture of my main. Possibly the most important freaking picture of the course, (since I'll have to improve on it), and I didn't get it! (So just trust me on this - my tuiles were gorgeous.)

But I did take some photos of my classmates' work. I have no idea what these are made of, and if they told me, I've probably forgotten....
Looks like a samosa with chard - one of our assigned veg.
Look at this main! Are those turned carrots? Bravo!
From the student who makes wicked quenelles.
My poor citrus beet salad. All red. 
Watch this space for improvements!
Um.. for the record, I hate beets.

Location: Alley behind the school.

We are all so exhausted. I ran into my landlord on the way home and he asked me if I was ok. I came home and finally caught up on the hours of sleep I lost last night.

But it's not over. This is just the beginning of a two week push that sums up our course. From here, things! just! get! crazier!

Happy Easter!


  1. Argh, you poor thing. But hang in there - you're doing great!

    I'm reminded of a test for a job. After it was over I found out that they didn't actually expect anyone to complete it! Maybe yours is a similar situation in that they wouldn't want to give students too little to do.

    I hope you get some rest this weekend. Happy Easter!

  2. René, you are doing fantastic...and I thought your beet salad looked great. Hang in there...
    I could NEVER do what your doing.

  3. Hey Rene!

    At least your app looked beautiful! I ended up having a mild disdain for everything that I made. Eugh!

    For a second I thought that the photo in the alley was a homeless guy. Then I recognized the scarf and the hair...