Micole Khemarrica (khromat) wrote,
Micole Khemarrica

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School Update...

This is a little later than I was expecting to post, but things got 'interesting' over the long Thanksgiving weekend.  More on that in my next post.  Let's update where I am at school, first.

After the block of academic classes, my classmates were itching to get back into the kitchen. Our next class, however, wasn't culinary but bakery and while it's definitely 'lab work' (i.e. in a kitchen), the bakeshops are structured rather differently from the kitchens.  For one, there is no 'Line' or row of cooking equipment separate from prep tables (cooks who do the grills, sautes, roasts, frying, and finishing/plating of food are said to be "On The Line" and are often referenced as "Line Cooks" to differentiate from those who are doing all the preliminary grunt work, who are "Prep Cooks").  There were two islands which had 6 ranges set back-to-back in the center of the islands and flanked by massive butcher-block-topped prep areas. Only 3 of the four 'rows' of  range-tops were actually live; the fourth row faced the wall of ovens and was used as prep area for bread slicing and the like.  There were two convection ovens, one large deck oven, and two ovens that had a 'humidity' feature (push a button, and a small dose of water would spray out into the oven).  To make matters more interesting, one wall of the bakeshop was covered with windows facing out to the Continuing Education Dining Room, where my class would lay out the breads and desserts we made for students to eat at dinner.  Our sister PM group was ensconced in the bakeshop on the other side of the dining room, which also was faced with windows to see the dining room, so on occassion we'd make faces back and forth at each other.

The class was called "Baking and Pastry for Culinary Students" and was to give us an overview of what a bakeshop is and can do (there was a matching "Culinary Skills for B&P Students" class, too. Well rounded education!)  I think the most important lesson that was brought home to our group was the intrinsic differences between the two disciplines: Culinary really is an 'art', with no one 'right-way' to do anything, while Baking is a 'science' that doesn't have recipes so much as formulas and accurate measurements are required for the chemical reactions to work in the desired way.  While we didn't have the stress of a culinary kitchen, some folks found the tasks more difficult than it would appear on paper.  In my case, I had the advantage of prior experience in baking but the disadvantage of not being comfortable with industrial kitchen equipment... so there were a couple of items I made more than once due to overcooking them at some critical moment, or having it overwhipped by the powerful mixers, or whatnot.  I literally had a battle on my hands making a batch of Tiramisu.... it took three tries with the complicated recipe, but I finally succeeded. 

Thankfully, Chef Speiss (another Swiss chef!) didn't mind us messing up as it was more important for us to learn... in fact, when it came to making ice cream and sorbets, he let is play with whatever flavor combinations we wanted, but told us any really exotic experiments would not leave the bakeshop (there is an "Ice Cream Day" in the CE dining room, and there are some flavor combinations that would unduly surprise our dining guests, who were just as often pro chefs taking a refresher course as it was our fellow degree students, and obviously the CE classes rated better than us.  The CE Dining Room had an espresso machine!)

But, all too soon, the three-week class was over and we were on to our next block -- Cuisines of Europe and the Mediterranean.  Like all of the "Cuisine" courses, it really should have been called "Introduction to Cuisines" as there's no way you can get a real education of a cuisine in only 14 days.  But, at least, the previous cuisine classes were smaller in scope: "Cuisines of the Americas" used a broad brush to touch upon regions in the US, Mexico, and a touch of Central America; "Cuisines of Asia" did an equally broad swipe at China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and India.  But "Cuisines of Europe and the Mediterranean" tried to cover the culinary styles of North Africa, the Middle East, Greece, Italy, Spain, France, and then lumped Germanic, Slavic, Scandinavian, and British Island cooking into one unit... last I checked, there are 35 countries in Europe alone, with the former Bloc countries still working out their ethnic-versus-national priorities. 

Even if you limit a 'cuisine' to something you would serve in a restaurant (i.e. home cooking translated by a professional chef to the enjoyment of both people familiar and not familiar with the home-style cooking), that still means it would take a lot more than a 14-day class to showcase half the cuisines in Europe, let alone adding the non-European Mediterranean countries into it.  In fact, the course guide didn't mention any of the Northern European styles at all and pretty much stuck to those countries that touched the Mediterranean (so, no Portugese, Scandinavian, Slavic, or Celtic styles) and it was only Chef Roe's personal batch of recipes and his desire to touch on all of Europe that provided us a glimpse into those styles.  Needless to say, as an avid Elizabethan Cuisine scholar, I was a bit miffed.  I also had a couple of anxiety attacks in the kitchen when I first started, but I got through them and by the end of the class I was in my stride....  which is when they derailed us by another academic-only block. Of course.

The Wines Class is the most challenging, rigorous, and intensive class in the whole program.  It is so thorough, in fact, that passing the class provides enough knowledge to become a certified sommalier (if you wanted to be).  Professor Kolpan wrote the textbook along with the other Wines instructor Professor Weiss, and the textbook is nearly as big as our massive "ProChef" book (the primary 'textbook' for the culinary classes, a 2-inches-thick tome which is  part academics, part techniques, and part recipes).  Contrary to popular belief, we don't get to actually drink any of the wines most of the time -- professional tasting protocol requires spitting out the wine.  We also learned how to read a wine's color, scent, taste, aftertaste, and (most important) what food it pairs best with and why.  We've been deluged with the many grape varieties (and their different names in different countries), covered wine and appellation laws in many countries, learned about terroir and why its so important in making a good wine, memorized the various styles of wines that can be made and where (and who) makes them.... there's a lot of raw information to digest, and tomarrow is Final Exam day.

Next block of classes will be "Stage"", where we learn front-of-the-house skills and banquetting skills prior to the final semester, the notorious "Restaurant Row" where we work in the various on-campus restaurants, both front and back.  Whee!

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