Can you believe that I’ve been here for over a month? What can I say – it’s been a crazy learning experience so far and I’m sure there’s much much more to come. Last week, I told you about cutting up pigeons and chickens. The poultry journey continued after that, but no more whole birds. On Thursday, we used the chicken thigh to make a ballotine. This was a fun dish, especially because it was very hands on and I immediately had at least 10 alterations to try in mind. Consequently, I bought two chicken thighs at the farmers market on Saturday and stuffed them with leftover mashed potatoes and spinach béchamel. Making a ballotine is really not so difficult if you know how to remove the bone from the thigh: use a sharp knife to slice along the bone on the inside, gradually freeing the whole bone.
Last week’s pastry class continued with more plating. At first, I felt like plating desserts was easier for me that plating savory dishes. But as the week progressed, I realized that plating desserts is also really difficult! Dots of cream here, lines of crushed macaron there, and what to do about the actual main component? Giving plated desserts a purpose somehow requires more thought because there’s a temptation to add a bunch of unnecessary schnick-schnack (German word). As part of plated dessert week, we also learned how to make macarons. No – macarons are NOT macaroons!!! Macaroons are coconut-based; macarons are those fancy French filled almond cookies that come in a bunch of different colors.
Friday deserves special mentioning because it was evaluation day. Since it was the last day of the first month, we had tests in all classes. In patisserie, we already knew that our task would be to create a plated dessert from the components we made in class throughout the week. I decided to use a dacqoise base (hazelnut meringue), Italian meringue, milk chocolate cream, and a pink macaron to create one of my main elements. The other was a yellow macaron with pistachio buttercream. This macaron was hidden inside a chocolate dome (that was perfectly tempered!!).
Chef Pascal told me that it was a bit messy, which you can see for yourself. I also had a bit of a problem with proportions and I feel that the placement of items and whitespace is off. Any ideas? I learned from Chef Samuel that you read a plate like you read a book – that is, left to right and top to bottom. (By the way, how does that in languages that are written right to left, like Hebrew? Do Israelis read their plates right to left?)
In cuisine, we also had a test. But this one was divided into a practical and a theoretical component. The practical test was to make a dish with risotto, red mullet, and squid. In patisserie, I felt that one of my issues had been to go straight to making things, rather than to think about where I was going first. So this time, I decided to think about my plating – color, placement… My dish ended up being a classic risotto with pan-fried red mullet and squid, served with a lightly candied lemon slice and a fresh parsley-lime pesto. Instead of trying to be very fancy, I used the test to demonstrate the techniques that we learned. Unfortunately, this means that my risotto was extremely bland, since I was focused on the perfect cook and didn’t have enough foresight to actually make it interesting. The fish was actually pretty well seasoned and I thought it tasted great together with the garnishes. The theoretical component was challenging, but I think I got a fair number of answers right. For example, I remembered that coating something “à l’anglaise” is coating it in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs. Today, we received our grades. I’m very happy considering the overall results, even though I should have done better, especially on the theoretical part.
Beginning of month 2
Now we’re back to the beginning – i.e. bread and cold appetizers! But we’re taking things to the next level, meaning more components, fewer instructions, and less time.
One of the skills we’re honing in on this week in pastry is “feuilletage,” or the layers that you would probably associate with puff pastry. Each of those layers is carefully crafted. And while you might think that feuilletage is only important for making traditional puff pastry, it’s used in a bunch of other things as well. Croissants are made like puff pastry, but the dough contains yeast. We also made “brioche feuilletée.” Today, we took home the brioche as well as some pain au lait with chocolate chips. I’m really enjoying bread work and I think I’d love to bake bread from home and sell it. Want to order some?
Cuisine has been a lot about technique this week. On Monday, we learned how to prepare lobster from its alive state. It was delicious! We served it with avocado and grapefruit and the colors made a gorgeous plate.
Yesterday, we worked with agar agar to make “ravioli” filled with RAW mussels, clams, and cockles that we had to open. Definitely not up my alley… But it looked pretty fancy!
Today we started making foie gras and we also worked with popcorn. But you’ll have to wait until next week to find out what that’s for…