22 April 2006

Back at school

Chefette started back at school this week. And with the exception of a couple of choice saddle sores (as the old posterior muscles get accustomed to the cycling commute once again), it feels good to be returning for the final term.

Happily, on our first day back, the Scotsman announced that he will no longer give us weekly assignments of who we have to work with. We are now allowed to partner ourselves up each week, and can therefore tactfully avoid working with anyone who gets under our skin in the kitchen. For me, this means not having to be paired up with Shwambo. Which realisation brings unrestrained glee! The only caveat is that we can't be with the same person every week. I spent last week working very productively and contentedly with a posh lady in her early 50s, whom I shall call Berkshire. (I know for a fact she's not from Berkshire, but her accent is so plummy and she's so well mannered that she positively exudes Home Counties breeding.) Suffice to say that she's polite and sensible, we get on swimmingly in the kitchen, and we've agreed to partner up whenever possible this term.

Food-wise, I got off to an okay start last week. My first attempt at making puff pastry -- the hardest of the layered pastries -- wasn't too bad, and nor was my vanilla panna cotta with rhubarb and strawberries. But my presentation is still far short of restaurant standard, and I worry about getting left behind when I see the creativity of some of my fellow students. I have got to pull up my socks. And soon. We are supposed to be presenting restaurant-standard food by the end of this term, which means I have less than 9 weeks to get into gear. The realisation has sunk in that I've got to learn to imagine how to make a dish look better in my head well before the cooking has started. So far, the Scotsman has been too polite to tell me that my presentation skills are rubbish, but it's clear that he has sussed out my weakness. He has started giving me polite, sotto voce suggestions of what might look more attractive ...

The other thing that's going to be hard this term will be the battle to stop the expanding waistline. Food I brought home from class yesterday included fillet steak en croute, chicken liver pate with brandy, and a mixed salad consisting of green leaves garnished with lardons (fried), black pudding (also fried), and pigeon breast (yes, you guessed it, fried). Not exactly diet fare! And next week's lesson plan includes making gateau pithivier (frangipane encased in puff pastry) and a day-long chocolate workshop, making chocolate truffles, ganache, white chocolate mousse, and chocolate puddle cakes. Perhaps if I keep cycling everywhere and up my intake of baked fish??

I'm off now for a work experience day at an events caterer, helping them out on a wedding in Chelsea. I'll spend half the day at their kitchen doing mise-en-place, before accompanying them this afternoon to the venue. Am hoping to pick up some good banquet tips (and make some more contacts).

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