Whew-hoo!!! Final cooking exam over!!!
I woke up early this morning and ironed my uniform, had a cup of coffee, showered, put on make-up (I’ve been ragged lately), dressed smartly, put my grandmother’s locket on for luck, and went over my recipes one last time. As an actor & director I can tell you that there is a personal ritual to every opening night. I felt that today was more than a test, it was an opening performance. Going through my small rituals always helps to calm my nerves; once everything is in order then I know that I can focus.
Now you might be laughing at the triviality of this, but there’s nothing more humbling that staring at nine recipes wondering which one you’re going to get in the final and not wanting to waste all the money you’ve spent on a big fat “F”. Or even worse, being the only person to fail in the history of basic cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu. Or even worse, letting some twenty-somthing show you up, or even worse letting some sixty-something show you up. Or even WORSE having to tell your blogging community how lame you are!!!
The pre-cooking exam jitters are akin to waiting for your first entrance onstage muttering your first line like a mantra so you don’t forget it: “Okay, if I get the veal I trim the bone and then tie it and then sear…or if I get the dorade I gut it , skin it, and lightly fry it in olive oil– not butter….or if I get the duck (shit, I hope I don’t get the duck!) I whack off it’s legs then truss it, sear it, then stick it in the oven and turn a million turnips…or if I get the fish with that hollandaise sauce (jeez, hollandaise sauce is for eggs not fish) then I whisk the eggs until foamy and beat the living daylights out of them over a bain marie then drizzle warm clarified butter.”
I arrived early to study with my classmates, but it was difficult because everyone was so hyper with nervous energy. Normally when directing a production this would be the time where I bring everyone together and we do energy circle and focus… “Okay everybody, let’s stand in a circle and close our eyes, and I’m going to send around a squeeze, when you get it pass it on…”
After our study session we nervously settled into class for our very last three hour demonstration (before our final). It was probably the most delicious menu of all, but I’m afraid most of us were studying notes or or were too frantic to focus on the rack of lamb recipe with gratin potatoes, safron rice stuffed tomatoes, stuffed zucchini, turned carrots, something else, and oh yeah, baked Alaska (set on fire–so cool!). It was hard to concentrate knowing that in a short time we would be drawing our fate for our final test. Thankfully our great Chef Bruno served us a glass of champagne with our little meal which calmed down most of us (I’ll have to remember that the next time I direct a show). He also gave each one of us the customary two kisses for good luck. This really surprised some of the men in the class, but I don’t think any of the women complained.
After our last demo we put on our full uniforms and trudged upstairs to our cooking classrooms for our exam. I narrowed the nine recipes down to two based on data that I collected from other higher ranking Cordon Bleu members. “It must be the Dorade (fish) with fennel or the Duck– as long as it’s not the Blanquette de Veal in that icky thick cream sauce…” Just as I was thinking “Not the veal…” I was notified that it was going to be the Dorade and the Veal. Uggh…
But as luck might have it, I chose my fate last at the classroom door and thankfully pulled out a blue chip signifying the Dorade recipe. Neither recipe was easier than the other, but I don’t eat veal and I really didn’t enjoy making the blanquet de veau in the practical because you use 3rd category veal that is grissly and gummy and hard to prepare. It also has a long cooking time due to the toughness of the meat. The fish is tasty and fresh and uses South of France touches like OLIVE OIL (revolutionary here at L’Ecole de Beurre). There are a million little steps to prepare the dish in it’s beautiful pastis sauce, but the process is so much more enjoyable when you like the recipe.
Everything was off to a beautiful start until I realized that none of my burners were working. (Panic!) I was waiting for my fish fumet to boil– the secret ingredient to the sauce and the most time consuming. I kept moving onto other projects thinking that it was just taking time to heat up. Finally I told Chef Bruno that my stove wasn’t working. He went over re-turned on all the burners and voila!, they were heating up again. He quietly whispered to me in his broken English, “I have magic”. And I will happily acknowledge that he does. The man is extraordinary. If I didn’t already have three dads I’d gladly include him in my family because his passion for cooking and his joy of teaching makes the price of the class worthwhile.
I took my time in the exam and told myself that this might be the last chance I get to cook at Cordon Bleu for awhile, so I should enjoy it. I did enjoy it. It was fun. My Dorade with pastis sauce, julienned fennel and dill, lightly glazed tomatoes and chives was beautiful and tasty. I also knew that by finishing towards the end of the classtime my plate would still be warm for the incoming judges who taste and make notes on all the dishes.
I left my dorade with my number tag next to it along with the two Whitings (Merlans) that we had to fillet for the technical part of the exam. Cleaned my knives, cleaned my station, wished Chef Bruno a bon Soiree! and left to join mes amis for drinks at General Beuret. I think we all did pretty well overall. I guess I’ll have to wait until Friday to find out how I really did on both exams…