Following a late night at the famed Escoffier restaurant…and bar, Chef is all set up for a quick game of ” Culinary Jeopardy”. He wants to see what we, the collective we, have remembered from our week. Like the real Jeopardy, there is a selection of categories (Knife skills, Thickening Agents, French Words, Kitchen tools to name a few). Teams are ready with their hands on the buzzer, let the games begin! I really thought I would have an advantage in the “French Words” category, but it appears we have a few francophiles in the crowd. All week long my ears were abused with such mispronunciations, some new to me. It’s something I have gotten use to over the years, but kitchen terminology not often spoken were plentiful this past week. The best of the best…”mirapooh” for “Mirepoix”. I guess mirapooh is something you have if you eat too much mirepoix. My team didn’t win but the winning Team 3 left the game room with new measuring spoons! I must say the collective knowledge after just four days was impressive. Congratulations to all of them!
The final cook off began. We were all given a “market basket” list of ingredients and had to design a menu, inclusive of an appetizer and entree, using most of the ingredients. Sort of like “Iron Chef”. Teams had been in discussion for several days, deciding on a menu. Some more serious than others. When you need to consider and include a variety of cooking methods, colors, textures, tastes and presentation, it does challenge you . Our team’s grand finale menu included french lentil salad & Parmesan toast, medallions of lamb a la Robert (thinking that French words would give us more points) with caponata a la grille (more french words) over lemon scented couscous. Stepping back, you could see a more confident, organized effort comparison with Monday’s rat race. One teammate described Monday’s effort best… “watching all these highly accomplished people try to work in a professional kitchen…priceless”.
Following our last meal, everyone participated in the critique and kudos of our morning cook off. It was clear, we all had learned a ton! This was Chef’s final commentary and inspiration to send us off more confident, more daring, more curious and certainly more skilled!
Top 10 Lessons (for me) from the week. (Recipes to follow next week once I figure out the scanner!)
1) The importance of a sauce and the role it plays in puling a meal together.
2) Perfect pan gravy(what’s left at the bottom of any cooking pan and what you do with it) is more complex and time consuming than I had previously practiced.
3) Just two knives of great quality and sharpness is all you need. French chef and pairing knife.
4) The use and mix of fresh herbs to most dishes can be magical.
5) Don’t be afraid of high heat…it delivers flavor (as long as you don’t burn anything)
6) The importance of the size and cut of vegetables for consistent cooking and appearance.
7) The right pan for the right effort. Using the right pan makes things easier and efficient.
8) “Mise en place”, having everything ready before you start.
9) One third of your time should be spent resting meats and presentation.
10) Americans don’t drink enough!
On so many levels, this was one of my great experiences. Filling a room with mostly like minded passionate foodies, experienced with life in a way that keeps things real and who allow themselves to learn and make new friends. A true recipe for life. Here is to the graduating class of February 2011!