Welcome to my tales of cookery school, food and travel

The first 30+ posts of this blog describe my experiences as I complete a nine month cooking course - the City and Guilds Diploma in Food Preparation and Culinary Art. I did this after I moved out of full time employment and it was purely selfish - I love food, cooking, eating and drinking. Subsequent posts are about, food, travel and adventures.

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Sunday, 24 July 2011

Week 2: Potatoes, carrots, kiwifruit and oranges

Oh, and onions and tomatoes. Such is my life this week, and by the end of it I am SO TIRED. Our first week in the kitchen sees us learning vegetable and fruit cuts. I didn’t expect standing over a bench concentrating on miniscule and precise vegetable cuts for four hours a day to be so tiring, but take my word for it, it is. My sympathy now lies with hairdressers, shop workers, supermarket checkout operators and anyone else who stands in one place for most of their working day. Good shoes are important!

The pattern for this, and most future weeks, is one hour theory and four hours in the kitchen each day. Monday to Wednesday is learn and practise; Thursday is assessment of skills. Our tutor judges us competent or not yet competent: the latter means a re-sit (and a $50 fee) the following Friday. If we are competent, then we achieve a pass, merit or distinction.

This week most of us achieve merit – I suspect that is partly because we lack the skill for distinction, but also because they don’t want to discourage anyone at this early stage and assume everyone will improve with practice – God I hope I do. Everyone gets much the same feedback – inconsistency of size or shape, and we are talking mm here.

In fact I feel pretty good, as getting 30grams of five different cuts of equal size is rather demanding! If you don’t believe me, get out your carrots, peeler, knives and rulers and have a go....
julienne 4cm x 2mm x 2mm

brunoise 2mm x 2mm x 2mm

macedoine 10mm x 10mm x 10mm

jardinière 2.5cm x 5mm x 5mm

paysanne - shapes 1cm in diameter x 2 mm; rounds triangles, squares, diamond.

Then we turn potatoes, or to use the French term, tourné. If you fine dine you may well be served  turned potatoes, and it is unlikely you will appreciate the torture the prep chef went through in learning to prepare these for you!! Take one spud and transform it into a 6cm long, perfectly formed oval with 8 sides (or 7 or some other number depending on the chef). Go to You Tube and watch a couple of the videos if you are interested in the technique, but bear in mind they make it look easy.

Tomato concassé sounds more impressive than it is - skinned, cored and seeded tomato (no seeds! Chef says “if I can see them you should be able to see them and the customer will definitely see them”) cut into fine dice, a bit bigger than brunoise and smaller than macedoine. Next time you see Seafood timbale with a crayfish cloud, croutons, tomato concassé, micro herb and citrus salad on your menu, you’ll be able to impress all your friends by describing the tomato cut. Remember, you learned it here first – or not.  

Onions we slice and brunoise. If you have watched any of the early episodes of Masterchef, slicing and dicing onions is one of the tests they have used to make people cry – mostly by dropping them out early.

Fruit is relatively easy in comparison to vegetable cuts, but the standards are as exacting. Segmented orange (no pith or segment fiber, equally sized segments) and shingled (yes, just like roof tiles) kiwifruit. equal slices 2-3mm, evenly shaped no skin.

On assessment day we all finish within two to two and a half hours, but if feels like days.

My mind turns to a Sunday lunch when I was about ten and refusing to finish what was on my plate. My mother told me I was lucky to have food and the “starving children in Biafra” would be pleased to have it.  I suggested she package it up and send it to them and I do believe I suffered punishment for my cheek, but I have blocked out what it was! However, I am constantly in mind of those starving children, though these days substitute Somalia.

I know a skilled chef can get four or eight turned potatoes out of one large potato – yes, just watch you tube!  We get one – and a poorly turned one at that! So some of us angst about the kilos of carrots, potatoes that aren’t destined for a plate. The tutors emphasise nothing is wasted in a commercial kitchen and Executive Chefs will pounce on any chefs who cost them money through wastage. In the Weltec kitchen a lot of the vegetable cuts are used in stocks, soups and/or are vac-packed and go to the City mission or wherever. So if you book dinner at Bistro 107, the Weltec restaurant and there’s carrot soup on the menu you know what has been happening in class! http://www.weltec.ac.nz/SUBJECTAREAS/Hospitality/Bistro107/tabid/558/Default.aspx  

It’s been a good week getting to know the other students and chefs a little better. Things are panning out in terms of numbers and it’s the last week for withdrawals without penalty. I am still not sure exactly how many are in our class as a couple of people are off sick or have other issues. One of the other issues may show just how prescient I am! Remember in the first blog I said there were a couple who looked like they should be in jail? One of them hasn’t turned up all week and was seen outside the courthouse, so who knows. I’ll let you know if he arrives on Monday.

Our group, Novotel, is a really good cross section of society. One man has a student support person with him all the time so has some kind of learning difficulty – haven’t worked with him yet so I’m not sure what it is. I have noticed he seems to have a good sense of humour. I’m not the oldest in the class! Pony Tail guy is 58 and having a career change from props work in film and TV. He is keen to work up in Rarotonga in one of the resorts or hotels. Hat guy works as a grill chef at a pub in town, fitting work in around course hours. In the past he has worked for two years in the kitchen at Logan Brown. We have one international student, from Kenya. Jiggly guy is getting his life together. He tells me he is 37 and has wasted a substantial inheritance, mostly on drugs of various kinds, but is five years clean now. He “went cold turkey last time I was inside”. He has 4 kids and misses a day this week at Family Court and another few hours at CYFS trying to keep his younger kids safe from the mother’s partner. I like sharing a bench with him: he’s so focused on doing well, works hard, cleans as he goes, and isn’t afraid of sucking it up and getting on. He was absolutely thrilled to get a merit this week in assessment and tells us it is the first thing he’s passed in about 25 years.

Most of the young women are young, starting from about 16 – Tongue Stud girl left halfway through year 12 “cos I couldn’t stand Maths and English and that stuff” but loves food and cooking and has been cooking at home for years. She is terrified they’ll make her take out her tongue stud, but it seems safe so far. Another did a year of Health Science at Otago but when she realized she wouldn’t get into Med School, changed tack and enrolled in our course – she wants to work as a chef on cruise ships.

The general consensus in the girls’ changing room is that we have a good group. We are so pleased we haven’t got a couple of know-it-alls as Ibis group has. We share theory sessions with Ibis. However these guys may well pull their heads as Jiggly Guy tells me a couple of his mates in Ibis have told I’ve-been-in-the-business-all-my-life-guy to shut up - they are there to listen to the tutor, not to him!

So, week three looms with promises of Eggs Benedict – yes we are on to stocks and sauces.