16 May 2006

Stuck indoors

A little pity, if you please, for Chefette. As the weather has begun to turn sunny, and all of London is out strolling in parks or sipping Pimm's at sidewalk tables, she's had to spend more and more time shut up in the flat in full-time study mode. Last weekend, it was preparation for the wine exam. Or, to give its full name, the Wine and Spirits Education Trust's Level 2 Examination, which we took yesterday.

I basically spent all of Saturday afternoon and most of Sunday revising everything we'd covered in the past 16 weeks. To give you an idea of what was covered on the exam, we had to know the basic factors important in winemaking, the characteristics of the most popular international grape varieties, and the key regions where they're grown (including both premium and bulk wine production). We also had to know about the different tasting profiles for the style of wines produced in different countries and regions, as well as the labeling terms and production methods. To top it off, there were sections of the test on sparkling wines, fortified wines, liqueurs and spirits, as well as food & wine matching and the principles of good storage and service.

Fortunately -- and thanks in large part to sympathetic efforts of the husband, who quizzed me for almost two hours on Sunday -- the exam went pretty well, and I hope I'm set up for a high mark. In fairness, I should perhaps admit that there was an extra motivation to study hard for this particular exam (in addition to the warm, happy glow that comes from academic excellence, I mean). Each year at school, the top wine student wins a prize, which includes a wine tour in France. Sounds fun, n'est-ce pas? Anyway, I'm not sure I've done enough to come top. But a girl can hope, can't she?

Not all was wonderful news yesterday. Chefette had her mid-term assessment with the Scotsman, and the marks for her classroom food are not as good as they have been in previous terms. The situation isn't completely dire, but it's not great either. Classroom marks are awarded in various categories on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 the lowest and 5 the highest. To get points towards your end of term score, you have to get at least a 4 (which is awarded 0.75 points) or a 5 (which is 1 point). Last term at the mid-term stage, I had pretty much all 4s and 5s, with a few 3s. To pass, you have to have at least 1 point in every category by the end of term. So far this term, out of a total of 31 marks, I have 8 5s, 11 4s, and 12 3s. Not as good as I would like!!

The Scotsman's take on it all is that I'm still doing pretty well, and I should relax about the whole thing. He says I need to have more fun in the kitchen, and stop putting pressure on myself. If I chill out and have more fun, the marks will come, and the food I put out will be better. Probably he's right, but when you're a slightly obsessive A-type, that kind of relaxation doesn't come easy. If I goof something up, I tend to get angry with myself and then instead of focusing on how to fix it, I get frustrated and make stupid mistakes on other things. This is exactly what happened last Friday. When I didn't go a good job of browning my lamb fillet, the next thing you know I over-reduced my jus, then undercooked my lamb in the oven, then missed my service time by 10 minutes. I ended up plonking all of the food down on my plate in a frustrated humpf, whereas if I was thinking logically I would have simply (a) let down my jus with water to the right consistency, and (b) tested my lamb for doneness with a skewer.

In the meantime, there are more weekends to spend indoors. I've realised now that there are only two weeks left before we have to hand in portfolios, during which time I've still got 6 more menus to create, a few more lists to polish off, my CV to update, and a major costing exercise to get started on. Apologies to all you friends I never see!!

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