The first week or so of culinary school, we’ve spent a lot of time talking.
Of course, this is to be expected. We need to learn some basics. Study some things. Find out what uniform is required (and for many, wait on their ordered elements to arrive).
But the reason we attend culinary school, the real reason, is to get into the kitchen. I finally got to do so last week in Baking I.
My co-bakers and I had about an hour of lecture, and our instructor gave us a list of products we would be making. He also divided our class into five groups of four. Then there was a little delay as we waited for the class ahead of us to finish up in the kitchen, and we were going a little crazy. The promised land awaited us.
To pass the time, I wrote out the recipes from our enormous textbook so I wouldn’t have to carry it: croissants, French bread, yeast rolls, focaccia bread and sourdough starter. Quite a bit for one session in the kitchen, but I was ready.
We entered, and it was practically a free-for-all. The class was spread out down one long hallway of workstations, as well as in the main kitchen, where our group worked. We scurried for Kitchenaid mixers, scales, bags of yeast and the right kind of flour. Over the next three hours or so, we knocked out one recipe after another, putting one dough in the proofing box (you know, like they have at Subway) as we started the next.
The instructor hopped from group to group, demonstrating techniques and inspecting our progress. I appreciated that he was willing to check things and answer questions as we went. Every so often he would call the class together for a quick demo on smoothing the rolls or shaping the French bread.
In our group, at first, I found myself taking over a bit, as I often tend to do in the kitchen. My natural inclination would be to make everything myself. But the others were just as capable, so I gave myself a quick mental slap in the face and let go. We worked together very well, measuring ingredients and setting up equipment for each other.
At one point, while I am dodging the next class in the hallway as I put French bread in the proof box, the instructor of the other class barks a question at me: “Do you know how hot this box is supposed to be?”
Of course, I did not. “I’m new here,” I squeaked. “This is my first class in here. Ever.”
I think, at that moment, he realized I was not in his class, and his countenance softened. “It’s supposed to be 98 degrees. What does that say down there?”
I looked at the temperature reading, and it said 125. Too hot. “Why don’t you reach down there and fix that, dear.” Done.
Some of our product was not turning out well. The yeast rolls were a little hard and misshapen, springing up like strange mushrooms on stems in the oven. And you could have beaten someone with our French bread, which hadn’t had time to rise properly before time to leave.
But the sourdough starter seemed to come together well; we’ll use that next week. One of my teammates rolled out a lovely rectangle of softened butter to use next week in making the croissants – not an easy task. And our focaccia bread, although not getting the benefit of a second rise, was pretty darn tasty. We were allowed to flavor it however we wanted, just the kind of kitchen exercise I really love. I raided the fridge and the walk-in for shallots, garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes and blue cheese (feta would have been better).
The instructor seemed to be fairly pleased and forgiving about the whole thing. He knew there were some circumstances (not to mention a plummetous learning curve) leading to less than awesome performance that day, and it was OK. It was the first day in the kitchen.
A very fun, crazy, delicious first day.