Friday, October 12, 2007

Restaurant Day


Today was one of the best and longest days we've had since the start of the program. It was a great day for us to really test our skills and become our own cooks. I think we were able to really see how we work together as a group and give us a sense of our overall skill sets and our ability to trust each other.

Even though the menu had a good range of cooking techniques and touched on all the mother sauces, it wasn't terribly complicated. We also lucked out that it was a buffet and not a dinner service as it saved us the time consuming effort of plating and presentation. I don't think we would have made it on time if we had to plate it all individually.

Mike and I were put on roast beef tenderloin which was to served with two sauces, a bordelaise sauce and horseradish cream sauce. Mike and I decided to divide the work, especially since I wasn't really going to be able to do a lot of heavy lifting with my hand injury. Mike worked on seasoning and cooking the meat in the rotisserie while I started in on the prep for the sauces.

For the proportion of sauce that we needed, I had to finely dice twenty-five shallots, which surprisingly took me a long time. At the same time I needed to re-heat 2 quarts of demi-glace. While I waited for the demi-glace to come to a boil, I also graded a cup and a half of fresh horshradish for the cream sauce. Because our sauces didn't need to be made for the last minute and because the meat was taking care of itself, Mike and I spent most of the morning bouncing around and helping others where we could.

An hour before service I started in on making a bechamel sauce for the hroshradish cream sauce and Mike pulled the beef from the oven to let it rest. I added the graded horshradish slowly at first while tasting it the whole time, but couldn't get enough kick from the fresh stuff, and had to start using the canned spicy horshradish. I never would have guessed that the fresh stuff would be less potent than the canned stuff. It seems like it would be the other way around. In the end, I used nearly two cups of fresh and half a cup of the canned to get enough flavor and spiciness into the sauce.

The bordelaise sauce took much longer than anticipated. The initial mixture of shallots, bay leaf, thyme, black pepper, and red wine took a long time to reduce down. John's recipe called for the red wine mixture to be reduced by at least half. We were reluctant to use a rapid boil for fear of burning the sauce if we were distracted or otherwise unable to constantly stir it. When the sauce had finally reached the right consistency, we added the tempered demi-glace. John had recommended that we bring the demi-glace to temperature to reduce the time it would take to bring everything to a boil again making the second reduction much faster.

After simmering for 15 minutes, we strained the bordelaise sauce through a fine chinois to remove the shallots, bay leaf, and thyme. The strained sauce was returned to pot to be finished with butter. Its around now I start getting nervous because I am an appallingly bad saucier. I have never successfully made a butter based sauce. They have a tendency of separating on me (through no fault of my own, of course). "I like the nuts". I called Mike over to finish the sauce because I did not want to take responsibility for a ruined bordelaise, and thank God, because Mike's separated a tiny bit, had it been me, it would have completely separated and we would have needed to start over.

Once both the sauces were in their serving containers and being held in a warm, undisclosed location, Mike and I set to work on carving the beef for the buffet. We were a little worried when we started carving it because we noticed it was a much closer to well-done than we'd hoped for. We lucked out a little when we saw the very center of some of the beef tenderloins were still pink and arranged those closer to the front of the pile to cover up our err. What's cooking if it's not about covering up mistakes occasionally? We used the juices that ran off the beef during carving to help pink it up a bit more for presentation, but we were still worried about what everyone would think.

Wouldn't you know it? The for the first time in my life I saw people as for well-done pieces of beef, it was the best timed mistake I've ever made in my life. People were relieved when they saw the meat was on the medium-well side with several of them saying, "Oh great! I normally don't like how pink the center is on these things."

I think our first time really working together went really well, we all listened to each other, worked together and pitched in whenever necessary. A promising view to the future and our final graduation meal together. After everyone had left, we ate together and got to try all the food that was made for the buffet. I was a really big fan of the salad, soup and arancini (risotto balls in sauce) that we'd made. And, even though I prefer rare cuts of beef, I think Mike did a great job seasoning the beef because each bite was very flavorful, I didn't really notice that it was cooked through.

I wasn't really a big fan of the steamed fish with orange hollandaise. I didn't like the heavy, buttery sauce with the light tasting fish. It didn't make sense to me and I thought the orange tasted out of place. The chocolate bread pudding didn't come together right, it wasn't custard-y and pudding-like enough to really be called a bread pudding and I didn't feel like the chocolate was fully incorporated enough into the dessert. I'm a lover of bread pudding, so I might have slightly higher standards, but it left me wanting real chocolate.

I loved the pear crisp. The pears inside had held their shape well and some pieces had a slight bite to them still giving the dessert a sense of freshness. I would love to make this again, I think it was the perfect Autumnal sweet.

I feel like today was the first time I really met some of my classmates. We were left to our own devices and because of that, we were all able to really be ourselves and talk freely about things and work together. I had a great day with the class and think we all lucked out, none of us are jerks.