Sunday, May 16, 2010
Tests 2 & 3
Last week we had two exams one on Wednesday and one on Friday. They were rather uneventful and I have been beating myself up over them a bit because I passed by a good margin but by no means was I satisfied with the scores I received. The second test I was in charge of the Starter or antipasti. The dish I was to prepare was Parmigiana di Melanzan. Eggplant Parmesan to the English speakers. This is not the heavily breaded chicken substitute that we are familiar with in the states. It has all the same components but has a different and more elegant look to it. The third test I would prepare the Secondo Piato, akin to the Main Course that we are familiar with. My dish was Petto di Farona con Salsa di Pepe Verde, Guinea Fowl Breast with Green Peppercorn Sauce. This was a dish I had hoped I would get the sauce I have previously raved about in the entry “First we visited the farm and then we ate the critters” and finally I would have a chance to show what I had learned. But, first, more on the Second Test.
The Eggplant Parmesan, I apologize that there is no photo. I was in a bit of a hurry, I will explain. The test was set for as I was told 12:30PM we arrived at 8:30AM, as I started to put my Mise en Place together I found that the kitchen was out of a crucial Ingredient…The frickin’ eggplant. I was assured that the eggplant would arrive by 9:30AM. I thought “no problem, I have until 12:30 to prepare my dish I will be fine”, forgetting the fact that eggplant is full of water and in order to fry it properly the water must be removed by salting the thin slices of eggplant for over an hour. So as soon as I received the eggplant promptly at 9:45 I selected the best one of the lot, I pulled the case before anyone even had a chance to put it into the walk-in from the delivery truck. I cut the eggplant removed the skin in a striped pattern leaving some of the skin for color contrast, cut them into 1/8in. slices, salted both sides and set them aside to sweat hopefully more than myself. At 10:00 I was ready to start on my sauce. This was a pretty simple tomato sauce for which I chose three types tomato; Roma(cause the taste great but they only had two in house) Beefsteak(because I needed to extend the sauce) and cherry(to add some sweetness to counter the slight bitterness from the beefsteak). I finely chopped my onion and sweated it in a bit of olive oil being careful not to add too much oil so that the sauce would not bleed but remain whole and delicious. I had peeled and finely diced the tomato so it would cook down a bit quicker and release its secrets faster. I added the tomatoes and, over a very low heat, began the process of making an exquisite sauce. As the sauce did it’s job I checked on the eggplant, it was beginning to sweat but it still had a ways to go.
11:00 a pan of extra virgin olive oil sits on the stove top coming up to temperature I washed the salt off of the eggplant and pressed them dry between sheets of paper towel before dredging them in flour and dropping them into the hot oil. Instead of the normal stack of eggplant I had decide that I would make a small package out of the parmigiana, a technique I had been shown in class where the eggplant encases the sauce and cheese it is baked in a timbale cup and makes a, what I thought, great antipasto nice and light start to a five course meal. I had portioned the eggplant (the circles cut in half), the sauce was moments from being ready, the cheese, Mozzarella di Buffala(the real McCoy), was cut into small quick melting cubes. I went to look for the timbale cups we had used in class when the Chef said to me(I’ll paraphrase to make-up for the broken English) ‘This is a good presentation but it would be too small to serve as an Antipasto, this would be more appropriate for an Apperitve’. It was 11:30 by this point, too late to start another batch of eggplant since I only had an hour left and it would take that long just to sweat the eggplant. My portion size was off and time was running thin. Then came the Bad News.
Our guests had arrived in tow were two, 2 Star Michelin Chefs that would be judging our plates. The good news was that there would only be three judges instead of four which is the norm. I put the slices of Eggplant into 3 larger forms certain that if I stayed with the original dish I would be all right but I had to re-conseptualize my plating, never my long suit I was really sweating. As 11:50 rolled around they were calling for the test to begin and I still had a good ten minutes in the oven before I would be ready to go. So they sent out the person who was supposed to go after me at 12:00. I scrambled to find a plate three matching plates that would accentuate my dish in a rash decision I settled on three large Black Square Plates (A word on black plates, they were designed by the devil himself to punish inexperienced young chefs because when any light hits them the show every, EVERY; smudge, fingerprint, attempt at wiping an errant drop of oil, that there ever was on the plate, in its existence.) At 12:30 I served my dish to the panel, the first words out of the director’s mouth were this is that plate that was supposed to go first. From this point I was pretty much only seeing red, thanks for throwin’ me under a goddam bus. I seem to remember trying to defend my choices on Plate choice and plating in general, How instead of the traditional I had tried to make my dish eggplant parm with a secret because all of the sauce and cheese and Ham, I had used a piece of prosciutto cotto to keep the sauce and cheese in place during the baking process, was on the inside and the whole thing was topped with a trick from my Garde experience, A small rose made from the skin of a cherry tomato. All said and done Final Score 24.6/30, B -.
The next test was on the following Friday, I was quite excited about making my dish. The Fat Angel Franco Giacomino had shown me this recipe and I was chomping at the bit to make it for a test from the moment I learned it. This test would take place in the afternoon and would finish our day and week which would end in a party for the departing Japanese. The test was to start at 6:30PM but in the style of ICIF we found out at 5:30 that the test would not start until 7:30 I was unhappy because my balsamic reduction with fresh green peppercorn would have an extra hour to reduce and I was leery from the last test about when exactly to start my Guinea Fowl. For my side dish I chose to search the books given to me by the school for a suitable side dish to accompany this traditional dish from the region of Emilia Romagna, but this was to no avail. Being that it is the springtime and the height of asparagus season I chose to do a simple side of new potatoes skewered on a sprig of rosemary sautéed in butter perfumed with rosemary and garlic and a blanched asparagus lightly seasoned with salt and pepper.
My fears became reality as at 7:00pm we were informed that we should start service and there would again be only three judges two of which worked at the school. Lame, I know. With all due respect to ICIF I have seen haystacks more organized than they seem to be. I don’t mean to go off on a rant because they do provide some good things, but they are perpetually disorganized fall through on simple promises like “We will provide you with a new paper chef’s hat which you are ‘required to wear for tests and guests’ weekly.” (I have 2 in 6 weeks had to ask for a third.) I just have to keep reciting the Mantra taught to me by my father “No matter how crap the quality of the learning environment you have to maximize the learning experience”. But enough of that, back to the test.
7:00pm they tell us to start serving. I have seared my Fowl Breast and put it in the oven to finish figuring on 30 minutes plus until my dish, the third course, goes out. The oven is at an absurdly low temperature in order to keep it from drying out. The potatoes which were par boiled were in a separate oven to gain a nice golden brown. A pot of water set on the stove, boiling, ready to blanch the asparagus. And can you guess what happens next, Jessie who had the first course; a classic Piemontese dish of a roasted pepper wrapped a type of tuna salad and a pan seared sea scallop atop a bed of sunflower sprouts dressed with a blood orange vinaigrette. The funny thing about pan seared sea scallops is that after you sear them you can’t really say “Oh, you aren’t ready yet, just let me bring these to you when they have turned into, as the Spanish say, MIERDO.” Fifteen minutes later the judges were ready, and it was time to shine.
As my dish rolled around, the extra fifteen minutes had not helped my dish at all but thanks to a few techniques I have picked up over the years did not dry out completely. There was not much I could say to the judges aside from a few expletives that were rolling around in my head. They asked why I had only lightly cooked the asparagus, the judge admitted that he was used to asparagus that had been “cooked to death” I enlightened him to the fact that in the Northwest and my own personal preference is to have a bit of crunch to the asparagus to signify freshness. It is the peak of the season, when asked why I had not sautéed the asparagus in butter my reply was “I like the taste of asparagus, The potatoes were sautéed in butter, there is butter in the sauce that is on the Guinea Fowl, There is butter barded under the skin of the guinea fowl (one of those tips to keep meat from drying out). I wanted a fresh slightly cooked vegetable to give the customer some semblance of a healthy meal.” The guest judge, a wine producer, asked me if I knew where I got the Guinea Fowl. “Yeah, The walk-in in the back of the Kitchen”. “But do you know if the bird was caught and butchered locally?”. Here comes the sweet revenge that eased the pain of the bus treads inflicted two days before, “I trust that ICIF would only provide ingredients of the highest quality, the freshest and most local products available” The director’s eyes went as wide as saucers and I waited for her to choke on my over-cooked Guinea Fowl. One of the other chefs came to her rescue saying that, in fact the Fowl was raised and butchered on a farm near the school. I felt I had stuck to my guns, though in a restaurant setting I would never have served the plate as it was but I had no choice in the matter. I know if given another opportunity I would blow this dish out of the water. All in All 24.3 Another frickin’ B-, But I like to attribute this one to a bit of both my own problems and their tardiness. I think If things went as they were supposed to, were planned to, It would have at least been a B+ if not A-. But such is life. Ciao For now, Stay Tuned.