Archive for June 2009
Once we hit the beginning of Mod 3, we were told we needed to start trailing and deciding where we’d like to do our externships. I wanted to get a head start so I contacted people right away and found a lovely restaurant right by the school. I’ve secured my externship early working in a high end Italian restaurant. I work during lunch service and in their pastry department. So, I’m the one that will send out your desserts to you. The people I work with are all really good cooks–very knowledgable. The chef I work for is a great teacher and very patient. However, with the end of the school year and family issues creeping up, I’m beginning to re-think if this career change is actually the best thing for me. Maybe I was better suited to the classroom than the kitchen–I don’t know. But I do know that right know, I’m learning a lot, enjoying my work and keeping my mind of other, more depressing happenings in my life. So that’s my real world right now.
As a student, at every level of my education, I always end up asking myself this question. A lot of times it makes sense that there would be a high correlation between grades and success in your future endeavors. For example, if you’re doing pre-med courses or if you’re on the way toward a doctoral program in a different area. Inevitably, I have come to ask myself this question as I got my grades for mod 2 last night.
I knew I did well on my quizzes and written exam, both A’s. I also knew I had an A- on my pracitcal exam. Chef had said I basically served a raw vegetable and didn’t serve enough sauce with my steak. I had expected a lower grade for serving a RAW component, but fine, I’ll take an A-. But then there’s the performance grade. And this is a whole other thing.
In most other courses of study performance/participation is usually just a fluff grade, maybe something that can only really hurt you if you’re absent a lot or if you just basically show up and do absolutely nothing. When I was teaching, this was the grade we used to bump up students who had good attendance, were never (or almost never) a behavior issue and made a good effort at the tasks presented. In culinary school, this is how they assess how prepared you are for class, how well you do your knife drills, how well you cook and how you chip in to clean things up at the end of class. I actively participated, I cooked, I cut, I cleaned and I asked questions and all this merited a B+. The interesting thing is that everyone’s grade seemed very arbitrary. For example, another student told me she got an A-, even though she didn’t see that she & I did anything in particularly different. Could it be that I had one absence this mod? One that I told, was excused since I had a family member in hospital. Then I heard that another student, who had more absences than me, also did well on participation. And I also heard that another student, who actually challenged the chef because we were not fulfilling all the lesson objectives, got a lower grade than I did. He didn’t even want to say what he got, but he did know exactly why he got it. We all suspected things were not quite right with this instructor and the proof is not only in our inconsistent grades, but also in our bad technique.
Yes, that’s right. We realized that we have developed bad technique. Chef had us make a wild mushroom risotto. I was excited, since I LOVE risotto and never really make it at home since I don’t have good stock. Chef had us mise en place everything and gather small pots for every stove. As our risotto was coming up, we all presented our dishes to the chef who wanted to taste them all for doneness. This seemed appropriate, of course. As he tasted all of our dishes, he had a critique of each one–a bad critique. They were all either too dry, not creamy enough, not cooked well, over done, over seasoned, under seasoned etc. Now, chef has been sick lately with some kind of bad bronchitis, so this can affect his tasting as well as his demeanor. (He was more ornery than usual.) But the fact that we ALL made bad risotto led us all to think that we just hadn’t learned how to make it correctly. He then asked the class if the previous chef showed us how to make it and what she told us to do. When we told him she had us use a saute pan, he immediately said it was incorrect and of course, he seemed annoyed. We proceeded to make the rest of our dishes for the night. After class however, as we were discussing the grades, we also began to realize that maybe we just didn’t learn as much as we should have from our previous chef and that maybe we’ll have a lot of catching up to do.
In other news, we were also given contacts for starting our externship search. Although I’m in the culinary arts program, I’ve realize that I’d really much more prefer working in pastry. Yes, I know it’s a stereotype–women in pastry. But the nice thing about pastry is that it’s orderly and structured. After contacting a few places, I finally was able to trail at one lovely Italian restaurant working in their pastry kitchen. For those of you who are not familiar with the process, trailing is when you work a shift in a restaurant, for free, as an interview where you and the chef decide if you are a good fit for the team. After this one trail, I have managed to find a place where I think I will fit in and that I will like and I will be starting there next week as a pastry extern! I’m excited to finally be working in something I’ve always loved to do!! 🙂
I haven’t been blogging much lately. I haven’t felt the need to write out my observations about mod 2, my classmates or my instructor basically because as this mod progressed I wouldn’t have had many nice things to say. So now that it’s finished, I will reflect upon more of the good things from this mod and try to just only touch on the bad things. I know I really should just not say anything, if I don’t have anything nice to say, but unfortunately, I’m not that polite. I will however, try to be as objective as possible, now that I’m no longer in the moment.
Mod 2 was all about different cooking methods, sauteing, grilling, roasting, braising, stewing, poaching, etc. And I did have the chance to learn how to approach these techniques in the ways they would be approached in a professional kitchen. Some of the food was really good and there were times when we did manage to work well as a group. And our practical exam was not as difficult as we were led to believe. I actually managed to do rather well!
Our chef instructor was very approachable on an individual basis. She was knowledgeable and definitely focused on the real world aspects of the restaurant business.
While our chef instructor was very approachable and knowledgabeable, she did have other issues. The first and most obvious was her lack of classroom management. Unfortunately, since I was a teacher, I did view a lot of her actions in the classroom through those lenses. She would often yell and scream at us as if we were children. She would also often swear. I know these behaviors are the reality in the culinary industry and honestly, I don’t generally have a problem with them. However, I do find them unprofessional and out of place in a classroom, even if the classroom is a kitchen. She would also make regular marijuana references in class, assuming that everyone in the class was a regular user.
And probably the most confusing thing of all, she was inconsistent in the way she judged our food. A steak that looked like a medium done steak to me, was medium well for someone else. And a rare steak was different also for different people. We were not encouraged to use our instant read thermometers, which would give us all a better gauge, even if they were not often used in a real-world kitchen
Aside from the issues with the instructor, we also had a lot of issues as a class. It was during this mod where different cliques formed. The classroom felt like high school again with the popular kids in one clique and everyone else in others. It was interesting and sad to see how a class of 16 adults managed to fall into the same dynamics most people fall prey to in high school. It was also frustrating to see how the instructor would play into those different cliques and clearly pick her favorites in the class.
After the instructor and the cliques, there was the food. One thing the instructor was really good at was telling us which recipes were good or not. However, she would also often and obviously make up “better” recipes on the fly. These “better” recipes weren’t bad, however, they didn’t usually taste like what we thought they were supposed to be. For example, we were given a barbecue sauce recipe in our class books, which she said was not good, so she gave us a different one, one that she made up. (She did later admit that she made it up.) The sauce was not bad, but I can’t say that it really did taste like barbecue sauce. Maybe I’m too used to the bottled stuff? I don’t know. It was just odd.
This week we start mod 3, advanced cooking techniques and international cuisines. I am excited to see the new things we’ll learn. I am also excited to have an instructor that I know is not only a great chef but also a great teacher. Bring on Mod 3!!