The First Exam

We had our first exams… we had the written exam where we were tested on vocabulary, technique and overall knowledge of what we have learned so far.  When I left the classroom I felt like I kicked butt! Then on the drive home, I kept thinking, “oh no! I think I got that wrong…” I won’t drag this out, on Friday I found out I got a 99%! – can’t beat that, I mean I can, but I’m so proud of myself, it reiterated that I am right where I need to be – culinary school.

Friday night, was a different story.  We had our practical exam in the kitchen.  Starting out already feeling stressed (I was running late to school, and arrived with one minute to spare) and nervous, I knew this was going to be a challenge.  I calmed myself down, and walked into the kitchen with as much confidence as I could muster.  We had a menu of a few items that needed to be executed in 3 hours. As the night progressed I was watching the clock and was performing well.  Then Chef J announced “36 minutes left” and then all things spiraled out of hand (I wish I was exaggerating).   First, my perfectly cut carrots – or so I thought, fell on the floor as I was plating them – I had to show  off my newly acquired knife skills; julienne, brunoise (1/8in cube) and small dice (1/4in cube).  Thank goodness Chef J told me to just pick them up and finish plating them (he wasn’t eating them).  Try to picture me in a my uniform on my hands and knees frantically trying to find and pick up 30 pieces of cut carrots – it was a sight to be seen.

Then the nightmare of my culinary dream started.  HOLLANDAISE SAUCE.  I screwed it up twice. First, I accidentally made scrambled eggs.  Then the second time, it broke as I was trying to combine the yolks and clarified butter, meaning that the components separated and would not whisk back together to form a smooth sauce (kind of like oil and vinegar). She makes it look easy in this youtube video but her “trick” to re-emulsify the sauce once it breaks only works if it just barely breaks.  By this time, I was out of clarified butter and the time – 3 hours flew by.  I still pushed through, I clarified more butter, and I completed the hollandaise sauce on the third try, taking a hit on my score because it was now 9:26pm. 16 minutes passed the 3 hour mark.

Chef J came around and graded my efforts.  My perfectly-cut carrots were too skinny but consistent.  My other food was bland, something I’ve never struggled with as of yet but I suppose the pressure I built up in my head really got to me.   Nothing was done to my best ability, and so I left tired and defeated. I definitely learned a lesson – stay calm and confident.  Next time, I’ll be ready.  One down, five more stand between me and graduation.

Over the weekend, I was determined to win over hollandaise sauce, so I went to the store, bought a dozen of eggs, butter, and a lemon.  I came home and whipped it up, successfully the first try!  Hopefully this means the “three-times a charm” theme I had going has come to an end.

The concept of learning from your mistakes is definitely true.  In hindsight, if I did it perfectly the first time, what would I have accomplished?  This cooking technique is now stuck with me if I like it or not.

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