Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Garnishing for a slow, painful death

Today may have been one of the worse days ever there was. It was epically bad. It's the kind of painful day that I'll recount to my kids and their kids. It was just dreadful.

It's started positively enough (maybe that's why the negative twist in the afternoon seemed so much worse) with JJ and garnishing. It was so much fun to take food a little less seriously than we had since starting school and I was excited to just play a little. For the first ten or fifteen minutes, we watched chef demonstrate all the different techniques and show us some garnishes he'd prepared the day before. Some seemed much, much easier than others, like the onion blossom (basically the same as an battered and deep-fried onion blossom) and the leek pompom. Both were really more about the consistency and location of slices into the vegetable than they were about any artistic creativeness or carving skills. I managed to make a pretty decent onion blossom, but when I showed it to chef, the inner Frenchman proclaimed it to be not good enough. Sigh.

The one thing chef mentioned that all of us should be able to do was the tomato peel rose. So after the disappointing onion blossom, I started on the tomato. Peeling it was harder than I thought it would be, but I was extremely happy that I was able to actually peel the entire thing in one long strip. I'd tried several times with an apple in the past but to no avail. Even though I cut off the end prematurely (I should have sliced off the bottom part to give it a better base) I think it turned out really well. I'd love to try it again but I don't think my student's budget will allow for foods to be used purely for decoration. Maybe I'll revisit it when I make a little more money.

Some other things he showed us left the class pretty much speechless and realizing how over matched we were by chef's ridiculous knife skills. There was a carved vase made from a butternut squash, a few roses carved out of beets, a daffodil carved from summer squash, flowers from acorn squash shavings, sculpted mushrooms; it was just an endless jungle of beautifully designed foods.

Feeling confident after making a rather spiffy looking tomato peel rose, I decided to try my luck carving the rose. I decided to do a test run on the top end of a butternut squash. For a first round try it turned out pretty well. I was only able to carve out two rows of petals before I completely destroyed the center. The rose looked bulky, rough and very square not at all like the lovely and delicate rose shaped beets. Even the petals on the beets looked like the soft textured petals on a rose. After seeing where I went wrong on the first rose, I decided to give the beet rose a try. I think my end result was an improvement from the first one but I think that I would have done better if I had a lighter knife. I think a lighter knife would give me more dexterity and I would have to worry so much about gripping it well enough. (I think I could have probably done a better job of not stabbing myself in the hand so many times too if I had a more appropriate knife for the job. Oops!)

But the fun of the morning didn't last. After everyone tried their hand at the various garnishes we had a quick lunch and prepared ourselves for the four hours of health inspector fun. Ha...