It’s been a few days since my final exam at the International Culinary Center, and I’m already missing my foodie friends so much! Over the past six months I spent every week, 9:00am to 3:00pm, with these amazing people. They not only taught me so much about cooking, they introduced me to New York and the city life. I’m happy to have found some life-long friends that I’m sure I’ll share a meal with many times down the road.
Reflecting back on my final exam, I wish I could say it was completely smooth sailing. However, I didn’t start off on the best foot. At 8:30am my classmates and I entered the kitchen to take our final written exam. We had to write all the ingredients and procedures for our white gazpacho with pickled shrimp dish. The written test went fine, as we’ve made that dish so many times I could cook that recipe in my sleep. Unfortunately, this is where things started going downhill. When turning in our test, we also picked a letter-number combination that would designate us to the two dishes we were to complete for our final practical exam. I reached into the bowl and dug around to ultimately pick B3…the asparagus and soft boiled egg appetizer, and rolled and stuffed lamb entrée. Of course this is the one combination I really didn’t want! The asparagus appetizer is really straight forward, but it is chalked full of components and incredibly time consuming. As well, the lamb entrée only has pommes puree (mashed potatoes), roasted baby eggplant (easy enough), a lamb stock based sauce, and a rolled and stuffed lamb loin. Again, very straight forward, but I had never made that dish completely from start to finish. The “lamb unknown” was making me nervous, but at that moment I just had to put my big girl panties on and get to work.
We then as a class walked to the kitchen in room 402 (our level 2 kitchen) and started to cook. I had to have four plates of asparagus ready at 12:57pm, then another four plates of lamb ready at 1:45pm. I knew that my first task would be to reinforce my lamb stock. Reinforcing a stock means you take bones (in my case lamb bones) and brown them in a screaming hot pan with a little oil. Once browned, you then reduce the heat and add some mirepoix. Cook the vegetable until it’s softened, then cover the mixture with the desired stock, add a bouquet garni (thyme, parsley stems, bay leaf, and black pepper corns), and simmer for at least one hour. This brings more depth of flavor to the stock, and ultimately to the sauce you make with the stock. So I ran to the reach-in looking for bones and found nothing. My first thought was “crap, how do you make a reinforced stock without bones?”. Then I took a deep breath and asked chef where I could find the missing bones. Sure enough I just wasn’t looking hard enough, and they were actually wrapped up nicely and placed behind the actual lamb loins. At that point chef tossed me a bag of bones and I got my reinforced stock going. Little did I know that I had just made a monumental mistake.
About an hour into the final, one of my classmates realized he had no duck bones to reinforce his stock (another dish we had was rendered duck breasts with beets, fingerlings, frisee and a cherry sauce). This brought on a huge search for the missing duck bones. I bet you can guess who had them simmering away in their stock…me. I reinforced my lamb stock with duck bones. How dumb, right?! Who can’t tell the difference between the bones of a small bird and a relative large farm animal? I guess when I originally asked chef to help me find bones, I asked for duck bones instead of lamb. So when he tossed me the bag, he thought I wanted duck, and I was too stressed to take a second and realize the difference between each protein bones. Chef told me to just continue on because if I were to remake the stock, I would be completely in the weeds. My sauce would just be slightly different in flavor. So as you can see, I was not off to the best start on my final at ICC.
After the bone debacle, I quickly prepared the asparagus appetizer and presented on time. I then returned to the kitchen and put the finishing touches on my lamb dish. The final plates turned out nice, but I was so distraught over my lamb sauce that I had complete tunnel vision and just wanted the day to be over.
At the end of the day when we all had finished cooking, it was time to hear our critiques from the panel of judges. That’s right, judges! Real, working, highly regarded New York chefs were tasting our dishes, and I presented a ridiculous lamb sauce! But what could I do? At that moment I just had to smile and hope that they still appreciated my presentation and dishes as a whole.
The judges were tough and very critical, but how are you going to become a better chef if you’re not critical? It all was okay because everyone in my class did great. I’m also happy to announce that they didn’t even mention my sauce, so all is definitely well! All in all, the final could have been smoother for me, but I’m proud of my whole class for doing so great and showing how much we’ve grown through each plate of food at ICC.