Some of the most demanding classes we take at Pulaski Technical College’s Arkansas Culinary School are the Food Production classes, which we presumably take each semester (hence FP1, 2, 3 and 4). These classes develop all the basic techniques needed to cook and present professional-quality food.
I just completed Food Production 2, which was terribly exhausting (especially at 8:30 a.m., 30 minutes from where I live) but equally rewarding. The practical final was like a little capsule of the whole experience: terrifying and exciting.
Did I mention I made an A in the course? By some combination of miracle and loving a challenge, I pulled it off!
For our practical final (as opposed to the written final, which was a week later), we were going to have a “black box,” kinda like what you see on Chopped. (Turns out it wasn’t nearly that glamourous, as the ingredients were just hidden in the fridge, but same difference.) We’d get a few minutes to plan a menu after hearing the ingredients, which had to demonstrate at least two different cooking techniques (i.e. roasting, boiling, steaming).
- A whole chicken
- Arborio rice
All the other students in the class proceeded to cut up their chicken to use the quick-cooking breast or other smaller pieces. As I am severely deficient in butchering (that’s a class next semester) and I rather like whole roasted chicken anyway, that’s what I went for. Risky, considering we only had a little over an hour. But doable.
We had roasted whole chickens just a week or two earlier, and you’d think none of us had ever cooked before. We took nearly an hour just to get our birds prepped, trussed and in the ovens. This time, I had it down in under 10 minutes, stuffed with rosemary, garlic and onion and drizzled with oil, S&P. And it was bee-u-ti-ful.
Of course, the arborio rice had to become risotto for all of us. But I may have had a slight edge because I scoped out the dry storage the day before and found dried mushrooms. (Hey, the chef said we could go look!) I reconstituted these in some hot water, used that water while cooking the rice, then added the mushrooms at the end. I have to say this was the best risotto I’ve ever made!
For the veggies, I wanted to do a simple steam, but with finesse. So I cut the carrots down into large dice (something we haven’t had to do since “boot camp” Food Production I) and trimmed the broccoli down into small florets.
The chicken came out just before the done temp of 165, letting it catch up with carryover cooking. I cut out a small (6 oz-ish) breast portion, trying to not load up a big, heavy plate. But then I got worried it wasn’t enough, so I cut two!
We also had to make a sauce for the chicken. Although I chose a simple cream pan sauce, it took too long and put me past my assigned presentation time! Ughhh.
But when my next time came up, I had it together. Frazzled, not sure the chicken was really done, but still fairly proud of what I had done, I turned in my plate.
Usually, we get immediate feedback, but this time we had to wait until the next class (a whole week!) for a response. Mine: The sauce was runny. The chicken was fine. Top marks on veg and rice. Yay!
I was supposed to take Food Production 3 next semester, but as much as I loved this class, I need a break. My kids need some attention, and my poor body needs some rest! I’m prone to illness if I get stretched too thin, and I’ve gone there too much lately. But I’m sure I’ll love my other classes just as much. More later on my next schedule and the *surprise twist*!