France, Italy & China, here we come!

Lessons 43-49: France, Italy & China, here we come!

First and foremost, I promised an update as to how my Christmas culinary debut went. The good news? We didn’t end up at The Mandarin Palace. The bad news? Apparently altitude – as in 10,000-feet-plus altitude - affects cooking times and I’m lucky we had the meal I prepared for (a very late) dinner, instead of breakfast the next day.

Who knew that higher altitudes and lesser air pressure makes for at least twice the cooking time?All in all, it was a huge success and my family raved about the potato gratin, seared flank steak and unbeatable baked beans. With the long holiday break behind us we returned to kitchen 602 on Monday and began our final few days of Module 2.

There was little time to waste getting back into the groove because our end-of-module exams were less than 48 hours away, which meant my monthly spike in stress was also just around the corner. In all honesty, our chef instructors prepare us beyond any doubt for both the written and practical exams. And despite studying like I’m headed into my last shot at the MCAT, I still get nervous. Module 2’s practical exam consisted of preparing sautéed haricot verts, Pommes Persillade and a sautéed strip steak with red wine pan sauce. We set up the kitchen with our usual cutting board stations and then Chef Sabrina had us draw numbers out of a bowl to determine our cooking order and to stagger our presentation times. I walked up to draw my number while chanting in my mind, “don’t get number 1 … don’t get number 1 … just please don’t get number 1.” I got number 1.

The clock struck 8:05 a.m. and I was off and running … I had methodically timed out every step the night before, so I took a quick glance at my mise en place list and then headed straight to the fridge. The next 90 minutes were a blur of the following: wash the parsley; dry the parsley; wash, peel, dice potatoes; mince garlic, parsley, shallots; blanch potatoes; season steak; trim haricot verts; sauté potatoes and haricots verts; cook steak to 125°F; let steak rest; make pan sauce; plate and serve. I put my nervous energy to use and before I knew it, it was 9:35 a.m. and I was seated in front of Chef Sabrina for my review. Aside from some less than crunchy potatoes, all went great! I had such a feeling of satisfaction that I not only orchestrated this small one-man production, but that I actually knew how to make all of these delicious foods. Mod 2 was a success and I can hardly wait for Mod 3’s global culinary tour as we head off to learn the cuisines of France, Italy and Asia.

Coming up next: Presentation & Plate Design, Advanced Cooking Techniques and Time Drill: Potatoes & Mirepoix

A look back: Lesson 1: Mise en Place Lesson 5: Medium Dice & Mirepoix Lessons 6-10: Fabrication & Stocks Lessons 11-14: Meat Fabrication Lessons 15-19: Classic & Contemporary Sauces Lessons 20-24: Soups & Sauteing Lessons 25-32: Frying, Braising & Beyond Lessons 33-37: ‘Tis the time to tourne Lessons 38-42: Now we're cookin'

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