Monday, December 19, 2011

Lessons in Plating

One great thing has happened that directly impacts this blog: I have an iPhone! Which means that I have a decent camera with me at all times, ready to document all my culinary adventures. And believe me, there have been a few this past week.

Right now, I'm enrolled in baking production class. It meets twice a week for like 10 hours--until the school's restaurant Sage Bistro closes on Monday and Tuesday--and we make the baguettes for the restaurant along with any desserts for catered events. The class meets at the same time as the Plated Desserts class, which essentially has students be the pastry chef for the bistro for the quarter. There happens to be only one student in that class this quarter, and she is responsible for producing four completely unique desserts each week. So alleviate her insanity, our instructor is having different students from my class fill in to help her each week. I got to go first, along with my friend Katie. Let me say, thank goodness I had Katie to bond with, freak out with and laugh with because it was a complete cluster.

We we responsible for two desserts: creme brulee (pretty easy really) and this thing called a tian (refer to the strawberry-orange dessert displayed above). I would be very happy to never make that dessert again.
The thing was Chef Mar's idea. She brought us a print out of the concept: cookie, marmalade, mousse, and packed with fruit. She said we could reinterpret it how we wanted. So we made a sable cookie, used some in-house marmalade, I made an orange-vanilla bavarian cream stabilized with gelatin, and then we chopped up a bunch of fruit. Monday morning before the restaurant opened, Chef Mar hated it. It was all wrong, she said. The fruit looked disgusting--it kind of did. Katie and I were clueless. I had no idea how to fix it. Finishing things is not my forte--Katie is much better at it than I, but we were both at a loss. Finally Chef Mar came over and showed us what to do, but not after an agonizing period during which time we flubbed around with the dessert. We got out of the kitchen after more than 12 hours of work without more than a 15-minute break then we turned around and came back the next day for more.

I had made a batch of the mousse on Monday to use Tuesday and Wednesday, except that by the time we left the kitchen at 10 p.m. or so the mousse was still a runny mess. I was paranoid that it wouldn't set and that there wouldn't be enough time to make another batch and set it so that it stood up on the plate long enough to travel from the kitchen to the dining room. The only way I got any sleep was to give it up. I thought, "There's nothing to be done now. I'll just arrive and remake it." But Tuesday, miracle of miracles, the mousse was solid enough to work--barely. Tuesday went much better. Katie and I both had a handle on what we were doing and what to expect, and we left planning to leave everything to the student managers on Wednesday and Thursday. That is until some of the Table Service students tried to eat our dummy dessert.

We had to make a false dessert to display to the restaurant's customers. The creme brulee was really, but the tian--not being shelf stable for hours--needed a stunt double. Katie made this perfect model out of Crisco and a little food coloring. It looked so realistic that the students got hungry and ate the creme brulee and started in on the mousse. The student manager caught them before they finished it, but they had effectually ruined the dessert. I got called in to remake the dessert for Thursday's service. What a week.

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