Monday, 31 March 2014

Wisely and slow..

...they stumble that run fast."
(Friar Lawrence, Romeo and Juliet)

Today was our mock assessment, ahead of next week's course finale, a three-day fret-fest of three to four-course meals prepared, presented and served by us to our chef assessors. 

I am no stranger to exams and assessment. I have even been known to willingly put myself through them when there is no requirement to do so. I am, however, strangely afflicted with an inability to grasp the fact that I am, in fact, being assessed. This is a good thing in that I don't tend to get flustered or panicked but a bad thing because I can sometimes fail to give my all in a way befitting of a be-all-and-end-all situation.

Today was just a practise, sure, but I spent time over the weekend preparing an elaborate prep list, and practised the recipes, and re-annotated fresh copies of them, and read around a bit for some technique hints. I felt pretty ready for today, and by and large, it showed. 

Why on earth I felt the need to rattle through it all quite that fast then, I have no idea! Much to my surprise, I was the first out of the kitchen having prepared and presented all of my dishes and cleaned down my section. Not only was my prep list missing some ballpark time frames, it also missed words 'BREATHE! SLOW DOWN! TAKE YOUR TIME TO GET IT RIGHT!!' in thick red marker across the top. As well as a reminder to drink water. Had both of these been included, I wouldn't have left feeling quite so discombobulated.

First course was Vichysoisse, otherwise known as leek and potato soup. By this point in the course we can work out pretty well the 'purpose' for each recipe, be it knife skills, technique, heat control and so forth. Vichysoisse is not about how the vegetables are chopped up as much as other dishes, because the cooked ingredients are then blended. Which means the focus is the flavour, the texture and the presentation.

I was pleased with how my soup turned out, and prettyfied it well with nicely chopped chives and a drizzle of cream. However, during the course we had been told that straining the soup was not really that necessary unless the potato is undercooked, which I interpreted as 'don't strain the soup unless you've undercooked the potato'. Of course, when you blend a soup in a food processor there will inevitably be bits that escape in the initial surge of liquid up the sides of the jug, so straining just makes sense. Noted. Also, goodness me this soup can take some salt. I need to focus more on 'does this taste right?' rather than 'gosh I've put a lot of salt in already!' 

Which also stands for my next dish, sweetcorn and chorizo à la française, with griddled chicken. My chicken was largely fine, cooked well and only a few tweaks needed with preparation, but the sweetcorn accompaniment needed to be more saucy, and more salty.

Tart tatin, however, I need a bit more practise with! Had I adopted a calmer approach, taken my time, been a bit more careful, the pastry would have been rolled thinner, the apple would have been cooked that fraction more and the whole thing would have been cooked more fully. If I hadn't been in such a frenzy, my vanilla mascarpone would not have been overbeaten to the verge of splitting, either. By the time I got to serving that (ironically enough, with not a plain caramel sauce, but a salted version, leaving all my salting til the end of the meal!) I was so disappointed that the cream had gone granular that I simply didn't bother presenting it nicely, and hence lost more marks than I could have.

But anyway. The point of a mock is to stop the 'Shoulda, woulda, coulda' before they start, and today did that very well. Tomorrow we learn our last assessment dish - steak and chips! This is not a week for those on a diet...

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