Day two began with a great start. My team and I met a few minutes early to ensure that we had the bones ready in the walk-in before 1:15. We prepped the stock and thankfully, did not have frozen bones so there was no need to blanch first. We had 120 pounds of bones again, so we needed the same ratios as before and had everything ready to go. However, things very quickly began to unravel.
Somehow we all had forgotten that each station needed 6 quarts of beef broth so that everyone could make their soup for the day. Therefore, when chef was ready for his demo, we all were behind because no one could start their soups on time. This delayed the whole group by about thirty to forty minutes. There were a few other delays by other groups as well, the equipment team hadn’t set out all necessary equipment at each station, the food stewards also hadn’t finished their duties on time either so not every station had the needed ingredients. We all appeared to be frantically running around like chickens with their heads cut off.
Later in the day, we had our knife skills tray which consisted of 1 onion sliced in 1/8″ slices, 1 onion small dice, 1 shallot brunoise (1/8 x 1/8 x 1/8″), 1 potato medium dice, 1 potato batonnett, 1 potato allumette (same size as a Julienne but apparently the french wanted to make the humble potato feel special so that size cut 1/8″ x 1/8″ X 2″ is called an allumette, every other vegetable would be a julienne), 1/4 bunch of parsley finely chopped, 3 cloves of garlic minced, 1 tomato concassé (peeled and seeded then quartered and for every seed Chef finds on the tray one point would be deducted), 1 sachet d’épiece and 1 bouquet de garni. We had 70 minutes to cut all of the above and every day we have to do this same tray but we lose ten minutes on the clock. This is to prep for our midterm knife skills practical which is 40 minutes. I just barely finished at 70 minutes in the beginning.
Know What’s On your range
Then it happened. That day I made one of the most mortifying mistakes I have ever made. This was bad. The epitome of having a sense of total doom, embarrassment and utter stupidity wash over you.
Chef would demo each dish and preparation before we were to make it, and he used the same range I used. Lucky me, right? I knew this, but there was also one other classmate of mine who shared the range as well, Jim, the Taiwanese prodigy. Chef only used the range during demo so we had more than enough space, but if something is on the range that’s not mine, I assume its either a shared waste bin (for degreasing our soups, which I was told would be placed there by the sanitation team) or it’s Jim’s. Well, it turns out, this thought process was not completely accurate.
Chef had placed his broth in our hot water bath and I hadn’t noticed. I saw that it was a darker liquid and assumed it was the degreasing bain marie. So, I was continually degreasing the fat layer off of my broth into the bain marie. I thought it was strange it was so full, but I figured they put water in it too in order to try and clean off the ladle.
It wasn’t until the sixth or seventh time that Jim saw me and said in his very thick accent, trying to keep a whisper, “Noo! That’s Chef’s broth!”
I don’t think my eyes could have opened any further. I was stunned frozen. What had I done? Chef’s beautiful broth was ruined! And I ruined it. Talk about a face-palm moment.
“What should I do? Should I degrease it?” Normally in a situation like this the back-up emergency protocols come to my mind and I race through them to try and find the best solution. In this case, I didn’t know enough to have emergency protocols! There were none. At least none I was confident about.
Jim, who had his own things to worry about, and probably didn’t want to be caught associating with the girl who ruined Chef’s broth the first official week of class, simply shook his head and looked down at me (he’s very tall) through his square glasses,
“Don’t worry about it, just put grease in here.”
He pointed to a very small ninth pan holding water and a 2 oz ladle that was filled with warm water and grease. Naturally, Jim had placed his grease in the correct pan. I didn’t feel good about just leaving it, but what else was I to do? I tried to skim what I could out of it while Chef’s back was turned yet those tiny little droplets of oil calmly laying on the surface betrayed me with every milliliter of their being.
Later, Chef came around and asked my benchmate — the Indian boy on my team, I’ll call him Charlie — to strain his broth because “someone” (Chef looked at me as he said that particular word) degreased their soup into his broth.
I opened my mouth to say it was me, but something stopped me, (exactly how would you begin explaining something like that to the person who holds your future in their hands?) and before I could utter anything, Chef turned on his heel and was gone just as quickly as he had sprung up. It was a little creepy how he did that actually.
I was on his list. I knew it – that would not be the last I would hear of that. He didn’t ask me to degrease the broth, yet he knew that I had done it. Charlie wasn’t working on that range. Furthermore, let’s be honest here, we all know Jim definitely didn’t do it.
Suffice it to say — Week One at the Culinary Institute of America was not going as smoothly as planned. Every day I could only hope that it would get better and better.