Lessons 12-14: The Many Forms of Gelling
Gelatin is an interesting thing.
At first sticky, wiggly glance it absolutely disgusts me. Maybe it’s because I am realizing what was in all the Jell-o and marshmallows I ate as a kid, or maybe it’s that story my co-worker shared with me about how she used it to literally gel her hair back when she was a synchronized swimmer, or maybe it’s because I just can’t imagine how something that changes form so quickly and becomes so gummy could possibly be good. Whatever it is, I’m not really a fan of gelatinous, amorphous blobs… but when it becomes a silky caramel gelee with a quenelle of cream on top, I somehow forget how disgusting I thought the blob was—momentary ignorance can be bliss.
I must admit, gelling certainly has the power to transform ingredients into wonderful desserts. We also had a chance to gel as a group this week. Instead of our usual class in Kitchen 501, we headed to Time Warner Center for a tasting and tour of Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery. Our field trip was the first opportunity our class of 13 had to get to know each other on different levels and talk about something other than dessert or recipes… though to be honest, it always came back to that anyway. Chef Nicole said, “Taste. You need to taste everything.” After meeting Sebastien Rouxel, Executive Pastry Chef, we sat for our tasting of beautifully colored macaroons, shortbread, chocolate chunk, oatmeal raisin, the TKO (Thomas Keller’s “Oreo”) and my personal favorite, the nutter butter.
Our second course was a choice of a rhubarb tart with brown butter and almond streusel or a chocolate tart with rich dark chocolate ganache and hazelnut praline with mandarin sorbet. Our class bonded over the treats, discussing which ones were our favorites and why we liked them. With our stomachs full, Sous Chef Nicholas took us through the maze of stairwells and hallways to reach the kitchen areas where we got a glimpse into the organization and precision of Thomas Keller and saw how his philosophy is put into practice each day (and night) in the Bouchon and Per Se pastry kitchens. A list of core values even hangs over the time clock as a constant reminder.
After the field trip, I gained a deeper perspective on life as a pastry student. The conversations about externship and careers at Bouchon and in class were certainly experiences that I’m fairly accustomed to as a Career Services Advisor at ICE, but I have never been on the other side. I have seen a fair share of kitchens and have met a ton of chefs, but this week it was as a student. As I started to picture myself as an extern, wondering if I would know what to do on a trail or if I would be fast enough, clean enough, quiet enough or talkative enough, a new understanding of working in the industry gelled for me. To be honest, it caused me to freak out a bit about the whole process. Great. Maybe I should go back to my first post a little over a month ago when I decided it was time to take my own advice?
Next up: Sugar, suga'.