Sunday, May 10, 2009

Confessions of a Stagiere -- Week Six

Normally I head into Lumiere at noon. This week I got in a bit early -- 10 am. The purpose was to learn to set up the amuse bouche station from start to finish.

By noon everyone's there, absorbed in completing their mise en place. Music's blaring, it's warm to very hot depending on where you're standing.

At 10 am, the kitchen was almost totally quiet. It was cold. Only three other people were there, working away in relative silence. Most noticeably missing was the delicious scent of food. That would come later. It was nice to come in and start the day with everyone else, rather than catching up to them.

The first thing I was supposed to learn was how to make the pea soup. Key to this, besides the actual taste, is keeping the peas as vibrantly green as possible. You achieve this by cooking them as little as possible. When it came time to cook them, I noticed the pot we were using was impossibly tiny for the massive amount of snap peas I just had to prepare.

"Is that pot going to be big enough?" I ask.
"Yeah, probably not," is the response.

Which leads to us having to use a bigger pot, with additional water being put in. That is not boiling. Meaning the peas will have to be cooking much longer than necessary. Which means they will turn an unappealing brown colour. Which leads to another cook getting a look on his face like he's just seen a particularly repulsive sexual act being performed on one of his relatives.

This is a very valuable lesson for me to absorb. Learning from other people's mistakes is just as valuable as learning from my own. And less humiliating on my part.

Luckily for everyone there is a bit of a culinary cheat, involving spinach puree. Spinach puree is the colour of Romulan/Vulcan blood. It's a beautiful, deep bright green. And it virtually has no taste. So you can put it into food you want to be greener and no one's the wiser. Well, until now anyway.

After a while the sous chef pulls me aside to make pea ravioli filling. It's a pretty simple set of ingredients: snap peas, leeks, spinach (read above), mint, shallots and fennel. Cook them (not too much) and then puree them. Then pass them through a sieve. Smooth and delicious.

I did learn how to make bacon foam for the pea soup that's part of the amuse bouche. You have to saute bacon with other delicious ingredients, boil it with milk until it splits. Then you strain and blend the milk until it comes together, then add soya lecithin, which makes it foam better.

I've noticed some of the cooks keep notebooks to write down recipes. This is a great idea that I haven't put into practice yet. I really should do that.

Slowly...I'm becoming more assertive. It's funny because in my "normal" life I have absolutely no problem with this. In fact, I'm pretty damn bossy. But when I'm in a situation where I have no authority and no knowledge I keep my mouth shut. When it came time to plating the beef dish, however, I spoke up. I pretty much told the entremetier to give me the garnish I needed, much to the amusement of everyone who was seeing me act authoritatively for the first time. When the expediter tried to take it away before I'd added it, I all but grabbed him and said, "Stop". Finished the dish. "Go".

The sous chef said to me afterwards, "Be like that all the time".

Ha. Just give it time.

On another note, I finally told my boss at CBC about what I've been up to on Fridays after she kept trying to rearrange my work schedules to work Fridays (I currently work Sunday to Thursday). She agreed to try and keep my Fridays clear. It's been very weird trying to explain to my other co-workers what I'm doing. Either they think it's great or they look at me like I'm an alien. I don't really blame them. But hey, when you can't afford to go to culinary school and you want to follow a do what you have to do.

I already can't wait for next Friday.

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