By the time you're reading this, I'll have just one week of finals to go before I complete my second semester of culinary school. Finals week marks the end of the most rigorous 16-week schedule I've experienced yet, and come Dec. 9, it will be time to celebrate!
There are days I love what I'm learning and trying days when I must remind myself of my goals. Make no mistake, culinary school is backbreaking work and manual labor. The job is very physical: standing for extended periods of time, lifting, bending and stirring mass quantities. These days, I'm feeling every bit of my 33 years of age, and the more I learn about the food industry, the more I realize just how important it is to have a passion for the field.
In my Principles of Cooking class, I've had several good moments, but my journey this semester has not been without its failures. I've scorched Béchamel sauce and had to begin again, seared my chicken breast on the wrong side and served undercooked rice. However, with every failure, I'm seeing the error of my ways and refining my skill.
Last week in preparation for a largescale event hosted by my college, I was tasked with making 18 gallons of tomato bisque. I never want to see another tomato for as long as I live. At the beginning of class, my Chef Instructor assigned me the bisque, then asked, "Do you need any helpers?" I thought, "It's tomato soup; how hard could it be?" This was before I scaled out the recipe or realized the amount I had to prepare. So, I said, "No, I should be able to handle it." WRONG. When I tell you this soup took as long to prep as it did to cook, I am not kidding! During the process, thank goodness some of my trusty classmates stepped in to help. The ingredients alone included 6 pounds of onion, 3 pounds each of celery and carrots, 72 minced garlic cloves, 54 quarts of homemade chicken stock, 10 pounds of roux and 63 pounds of tomatoes - all of which I had to open with a hand-crank style can opener, then strain. To stir the pot, I climbed a step ladder, and used the largest immersion blender I've ever seen for blending all the ingredients together (it was quite fun to use a power tool of that magnitude!).
While I was "in the weeds" so to speak, whisking the 10 pounds of roux (that's equal parts butter and flour) with all my might, sweat beading on my forehead as I stood over the gas burners, I looked at my instructor and said with gusto, "Culinary school will make a man out of me yet, or I will quickly realize this is not for me!" The good news is, the tomato bisque turned out delicious, despite my need to take a muscle relaxer the next day.
I am working harder than I've ever worked, but am convinced I am a better cook now than I was when I began.
For my final this Tuesday, there are two parts, one written and the other is our practical. There are four things I must produce for the practical within an allotted timeframe: 1) A plate with four components-protein, starch, vegetable and sauce, 2) A fabricated (butchered) whole chicken, 3) Homemade chicken stock and 4) Demonstration of specific knife skills. Our plate must reveal the techniques we've learned such as knife skills, searing and blanching. We're graded on a number of factors: plating presentation, flavor, texture and temperature of the dish, consistency of sauce, professionalism in the kitchen and what we refer to in the culinary industry as "mise en place" or everything in its place. I'm feeling prepared and a little nervous, but I know with hustle, focus and organization, I will get the job done and done well.
Pretty soon, I'll be decorating my Christmas tree and sipping on a festive libation. Until then, as I aim to finish 2016 strong, y'all be sure to send good vibes my way. Follow along on my culinary school journey by connecting with Some Kinda Good on social media. Good food and good company, that's what it's all about!
Georgia native Rebekah Faulk Lingenfelser is a food enthusiast, aspiring cooking-show host and writer. The personality behind the blog SomeKindaGood.com, she is a graduate of Georgia Southern University and is currently a student at Savannah Technical College's award-winning Culinary Institute of Savannah. Search Facebook for Some Kinda Good or tweet her @SKGFoodBlog.