Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Epic Fail

Culinary Foundations causes me a fair amount of anxiety. The night before class I was up ironing my uniform, double checking my supplies and going through my already-completed homework to see if I missed anything. Same story when I was walking out the door. Turns out the thing I forgot wasn't my homework or any part of my uniform, it was the day's recipes.

I expect even more anxiety before next week's class because this week was a complete and total disaster. The assistant chef described it pretty accurately as a clusterf***. Thankfully, it wasn't just me. Only two people in the class of 15 actually wrote down notes for the four recipes we were responsible for reproducing today. Chef Tim demonstrated Pommes Anna, a classic dish of sliced and crispy potatoes, and then set us lose on Pommes Duchesse, twice baked potatoes and a creamy baked spinach dish and that's not even considering the steaks. I jumped in a group of very capable boys whose names I didn't have time to catch until the end of class because we were running around boiling water, sauteing onions and making a general mess of things for the next five hours.

Our Pommes Anna did not fall out of the cast iron skillet in a lovely floral pattern the way they were supposed to. Our twice-baked potatoes didn't even get baked once, and while the spinach and Pommes Duchesse looked alright, they were completely lacking in all flavor. What had come of the cheese, the salt and the pepper? The steaks were the only things that turned out--all completely thanks to the boys who were practically running each other over to get away from the potatoes and onto the grill.

But, but, through a miscommunique, we only plated one serving of steak, potatoes and spinach. We got to the tasting and the chef looked at our empty places and sent me and two of the guys from my group back to the grill. There were exactly three steaks left in the fridge, which we haphazardly grilled. My first presentation to the chef was a completely raw but carmelized New York strip with perfect grill marks--the only good thing about it. I had tested the temperature of the meat on the grill and it registered improperly as much much much hotter than it actually was. I sat at the grill turning and poking and sighing until I was the last one there with my medium rare steak serving the chef who said he would take it even though it was undercooked. I thought for more than a few moments toward that I might cry. I coped by imagining lying my head on the steering wheel of my car and heeving heavy tears, thinking quite poorly of my skills and wondering what in the hell I was thinking going to culinary school. This is nothing like cooking in my own kitchen. It's frenetic and nothing I make tastes good. But by the time we had finished cleaning, the moment had passed. It was a "there's no crying in baseball" moment. There's no crying in the commercial kitchen. There's certainly plenty of reasons to cry--I made the worst steak ever, that cow died to make nothing delicious--but that's just it, there's just no crying.

If I were 22-year-old Lainey, I would be having a complete existential crisis at the moment. But somewhere in the past four years, I stopped flipping out as if the world were coming to an end and I just reimagine the world--probably as it will never be. I live a lot in my head. Obviously, I will not be working at a steakhouse. I don't know exactly where I'll be, hopefully, it will be in at a home writing about food and people. Or maybe it will be a nice, happy, open kitchen that serves caprese salads and cheese plates with mini gherkins alongside house wine. My sister, serendipidously, sent me a link to this cafe she discovered in London called Look Mum No Hands! It was opened by cyclists who love good food. Allison saved the day, because while I now have the utmost respect for the steakhouse, what I really love is a niche cafe.

And when all else in my mind fails me, I will go to this moment, sitting outside at a street cafe in bustling Madrid sipping this exact coffee.

Even with all the people running around in the street, that is such a quiet memory for me.


Jess said...

Oh Lainey,
God, I completely related to this post.
I called my mother immediately after getting out of class and said, "Mom! I just don't understand! I love to cook! People generally tell me I'm good at it! Why do I suck so bad all of a sudden?!"

I felt like I was back in my music performance days doing auditions all the time. Nerves ALWAYS get the best of me. I think it's a confidence issue.

Anyway, don't get discouraged...and I'll try to take my own advice as well.

Anonymous said...

Hang in there, baby!

Allison said...

well, i'm glad i unwittingly saved the day! i'll come and eat at your niche restaurant all the time, i promise.

i actually thought the same thing, about living in my head, this morning on my way to work. i was looking around and the "ugly" buildings that everybody passed by and somehow i found something good about them. guess we spent too much time in our heads as kids!

Daphne said...

what a great post.

i took the orientation and sanitation class with chef tim over the summer. i can totally imagine what that scenario must have been like!

stay strong--i'm sure you'll be super confident by the end of the semester. and you'll know how to make all the basics, right?

Maria said...

Hang in there, Lainey! You'll look back at this post and laugh when you're a steak and potatoes expert one day.

Lainey Seyler said...

oh maria, i will never be a steak and potatoes expert. i will only ever know just enough.