**Sorry for the long post. Once I get my site updated in the next couple weeks, my updates from culinary school will be in a separate feed. If you would like to follow along though, please do!**
Well, it’s the end of my first week at culinary school. And, let me tell you, it has been one of the best weeks of my life.
I woke up an hour before I was supposed to leave (and it doesn’t take me an hour to get ready…), I was just so anxious! I have a half hour commute to school, and of course I wanted to arrive early my first day. I walked out the door 40 minutes before I needed to be there…and I couldn’t find my keys!! I went back in, (panicking) and looked EVERYWHERE for them. My husband even woke up to help me look. Twenty minutes later, my husband asked if I was sure they weren’t in my purse. Of course I was sure, I looked there multiple times! He looked in there, and guess what, they were there the whole time! I now had 20 minutes to get there. I sped…a little..and arrived only five minutes late. I hate being late! Worst start to a first day of school in my LIFE!! Anyway. I got there and quickly settled down. Luckily two out of four other people were later than me, so that made me feel a little better.
The first day was pretty much a huge orientation. We talked about the class and the format etc. and I quickly became known as the person who would like to own a bakery one day. That is true, but mostly I just love to cook anything. If I were to make more than a hobby out of it though, I would love to have a bakery. Who knows? Maybe over the next few months I will change my mind.
We took a tour of the kitchen. It was like a chef’s dream come true! They have EVERYTHING! A lot of times in my kitchen at home I have to be creative and use what I have if I lack a certain tool I need, but I’m certain that won’t ever happen at school.
On the first day we also had our first knife lesson. We learned about the chef’s knife and how to cut properly with it. We also got to learn about different sizes of cuts. We were given some potatoes to practice cutting with – since they’re pretty simple to use. We were asked to practice cutting a “medium dice” – or a 1/2”x1/2”x1/2” cube. I did…okay. I have always had a problem with cutting things evenly. For example, my blocks of cheese at home always look lopsided (I’m pretty used to one thick and one thin sided cheese slices), and the last slice of homemade bread is always either just a top or just a bottom. My instructor said that it’s because my wrist is weak.
I went home and was determined to cut potatoes in a perfect medium dice! I cut about 20 potatoes, and measured each one. I’m getting better, and my wrist is slowly getting stronger. Let’s just say that we had diced potatoes for dinner that night…and the next.
Today we actually got to help out with an event. Another student was making a Korean dish (I forgot the actual name) for a group of about 25 people. The kitchen was at work the whole morning! One of the main things I did today was the carrots for the dish. At culinary school, you don’t buy a bag of pre-shredded carrots (who does anyway, they’re too expensive!), you cut them. So for about an hour that morning I was cutting carrots and practicing my knife skills. Carrots are a little bit harder to cut than potatoes! A lot of mine weren’t perfect, but am I improving already and I sure had a lot of good looking carrots too!
We (as in the five new students) also had the opportunity to be involved in the actual plating and serving of the meal – on our second day! I love that we get to see firsthand what it is like to make and serve our food to an actual customer, instead of just playing around in the kitchen all day hoping that I learn something that is applicable to the real-world. Today my job at service-time was to serve. I learned that you serve plates from the left, and retrieve plates from the right. (I can’t wait to go to a fancy-pants restaurant now and see if they actually do this).
There was another event today. This time we served Chicken Fried Steak with mashed potatoes and a veggie mix. All of us newbies got to make the main item: the chicken fried steak. No pressure!
We each started with an eye of round roast. Untrimmed and in the bag. Our first goal was to calculate the waste from our trimming. We learned how to properly trim the roast with a boning knife to take away all of the silver skin. Let’s just say that my instructor made it look a lot easier than it actually was. His looked way better than mine too. I didn’t do too bad for my first time though! My roast had a LOT of stuff to trim off. There was a layer about ½” thick of dermis covering one side that I had to trim before even getting to the silver skin. In the end my waste was almost 27%, which made a roast that was AP $3.75/lb an EP price of $5.13/lb. Like I said, room for improvement there.
We then had to cut our roast into 6 oz. portions. My first cut was 5 oz., so I tried to make my next one bigger and got 7 oz.! By the end of my roast though, I was able to cut them to nearly the exact size I needed.
When I told my husband yesterday that we were making this, he told me to make sure I know how to make it myself at home. So, I was careful to always be assigned to the meat instead of doing the salads or veggies.
After we tenderized and froze the meat for about an hour, it was time to do the breading. Some people may ask why it’s called “chicken” fried steak, when there is in fact no chicken (meat) in the steaks. Well, we learned that it’s called that because of the egg that is used in the coating process. Makes total sense, but I feel like it’s a little known fact.
It was next time to make some mashed potatoes – for a crowd! The potatoes were cooked in a steam-jacketed kettle. I had no idea that those things existed before this week.
Again, we got to plate and serve the dish. This time I was in charge of garnish. Simple, but necessary!
A huge goal today was to figure out the price per plate. In all honesty, I just figured that restaurants jacked up the prices to something that would give them some profit. Well, of course they do that, but how do they know they’re actually making a profit? They, of course, have to know how much each plate costs them, not just how much the individual supplies cost them.
Throughout the day we gathered prices for everything from the dressing on the salad, to the milk in the potatoes. There are SO many costs involved – and that’s just for the food! Our homework assignment was to take those numbers and calculate a price per plate. I came up with $3.44. My vegetable cost ended up being waaaay small, so I’m not sure about that number. I triple checked my calculations on that and still get the same answer. Either I’m wrong or veggies are even cheaper than I thought they were (and I should stock up since I’m so poor!). Come Monday we will get to discuss this as a group and find out what the real answer is.
I arrived a bit early today and got put right to work on one of the breakfast items. One of my instructors taught me how to cut and fold some pastry dough in a special way. I had never seen them before, probably because there is a lack of pastry shops where I live. It was neat to learn how to fold a flat piece of dough into something so beautiful.
Believe it or not, there was another event today. And this time, us newbies were in charge of the entire thing. Menu: salad, roll, pasta with alfredo sauce, chicken, mushrooms, artichokes, cauliflower, green onion and roasted red pepper garnish, and fruit tart for dessert. We met together and discussed forming a timeline for the preparation of the event. We clearly cannot prepare the whole thing the hour before service time, so we mapped out what needed to be done when, and who was going to do what.
I was in charge of the roasted cauliflower, green onions, and pasta. I know that doesn’t sound too hard, but when you’re cooking for 25 other people, and you’re in a totally new environment, it can be a little intimidating. And these 25 people are not like my husband who will eat whatever I cook, even if it’s super salty or burned.
I volunteered to do the cauliflower because on the first day we learned how to properly cut broccoli and cauliflower, but I never got the chance to practice. I figured that this was the perfect time! I cut it up and asked how to specifically prepare it, and my instructor said that it was up to me! I just needed to end up with some delicious roasted cauliflower. Now, I frequently just “make-up” stuff at home, but this time it had to be perfect (like I said…the people at this event won’t eat my mess-up food like my husband does).
I first did a practice run in a tiny pan. I put on it: butter, sea salt, white pepper, and garlic and herb seasoning. It tasted okay. It definitely needed more salt and butter. I made those changes and cooked for the crowd! It ended up tasting absolutely delicious!!
My other assignment was pasta. As a poor student, I frequently cook pasta at home. However, I always cook either not enough, or too much. I learned that the amount of pasta doubles when cooked (i.e. 2 oz. would become 4 oz., 3 oz. would become 6 oz. etc.) – so that was helpful. And, I learned that the amount of water needed is 1 part pasta : 4 parts water. Again, very useful info that I didn’t know before. I was hoping there would be a magical trick to knowing how the pasta is done, and the answer to that: taste it! That’s what I do at home, too!
Come serving time, we were all getting a little anxious. We had all of our things ready to plate, and…we didn’t have enough sauce!!! The sauce is not something you can just whip up in 2 minutes either. None of us knew what to do. My instructor saved the day and lengthened the sauce that we did have.
Overall, our meal turned out okay. I wouldn’t pay to eat it at Olive Garden by any means, but for our first meal it wasn’t too bad. We ended up serving way too much pasta. We put 6 oz. on each plate (which we had planned for), but it ended up being pretty excessive. The pasta was cooked well though! We didn’t have enough sauce for the amount of pasta we had made, so the sauce had to be put on pretty thin. And when I tasted it, it didn’t taste like much really. It seems like all the sauce did was make my pasta wet. The other elements of the dish turned out well – especially the cauliflower, salad, and dessert.
I think that next time we, as an entire group, will be able to do much better. We will know how to plan for how much to make, and know how to fit our tasks onto a timeline.
So far my culinary school experience has been great. I wouldn’t change my decision to do this for anything.