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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Monday, 24 October 2011

Week 15: They let us cook for paying customers

Excitement! This week we are the chefs at Bistro 107, the restaurant attached to Weltec.
- the fiery pit where hospitality students practice their dubious and imperfect skills on the unsuspecting public. And customers pay for it! But not much.
$25 buys you two courses, $35 three courses from a set menu.

As I mentioned last week, our group, the fabulous Novotel, divides into two and I am in the group cooking the lunch menu on Monday and Tuesday. Our Chef Tutor tells us to arrive early and bags the dish we want to cook. 
And the menu is:

French Onion soup
Niçoise Salad
Mussels Grilled with Sauce Provençale (dinner only)

Layered Gnocchi Romaine
Chicken Breast with Herbed Rice Pilaf and Madeira Jus
Grilled Sirloin Steak with French Fries and Béarnaise Sauce

Lemon Meringue Pie
Vanilla Pannacotta with Raspberry Coulis and Praline (dinner only)

The upside of the lunch service is it isn't as busy as dinner so we have time to find our feet. The downside we don't find out til Monday morning - as the first service of the week there is no prep done for anything so we are starting from scratch.

Having perused the dishes and recipes over the weekend, I decide I want to do the gnocchi dish. It has several components (gnocchi, wilted spinach, tomato sauce, and mornay sauce) and that makes it interesting.  Also, more challenging than anything else on the menu, and more appealing than hand cutting kilos of potatoes for the fries.

Duh! I should have known better. Do you know that, in Italian, gnocco means an idiot or a stupid person? I do now.

The gnocchi  for this recipe is made with semolina which, you will be as surprised as I to know is the purified wheat middlings of durum wheat. If you have made polenta  (cornmeal ) before, this is the same way I now make the gnocchi. Bring milk, garlic, nutmeg and seasoning to the boil and then "rain in" the semolina in a smooth stream, beating like buggery all the time so to avoid lumps.  This is all well and good when making it at home in small quantities, but I am beating 720gms of semolina into 3 litres of milk in a BIG pot - think thick porridge and lots of beating.

As I don't have guns like Madonna, so I find this somewhat of a task (note to self: go back to the gym one day). I do manage to avoid the  glassy lumps that can occur if you do not beat hard and fast. After adding butter, Parmesan and egg yolk to the mix  I wrestle it into trays to cool before cutting it into shapes and frying it off in preparation for service.  In between all this I am making the other sauces, and washing and destemming 2 kg of spinach. Spinach doesn't weigh much, so 2 kg is a lot of destemming and cleaning.

You'd think 4 hours was a looonnngg time to do all this prep. At least that is what I think as I look at the recipe and time it out in my head the night before. But nooooo, I fail to factor in how much longer large quantities take to prep and cook. Lesson learned.

The various other characters in my group also manage their ends adequately. The lazy ones of course select the dishes that require the least effort (they think! until they have to peel and slice kilos of onions for the soup) or the safety of what we have done before in class (Lemon Meringue Pie). All in all, Monday's lunch service passes without too much drama as there are only about 17 covers - restaurant talk for how many people get fed during a service. 

Tuesday, some of us switch around after a bit of heavy encouragement. There are pros and cons to doing the same dish. You tend to be faster the second day, and if you are a reflective type, will have decided what to do differently or more efficiently. I have a much easier day of it by doing the Niçoise Salad, the side salads that go out with the main courses, and helping out with the dessert section. Taking over the gnocchi, our little china boy burns the first batch and then fails to stir the second lot well enough to avoid lumps and finds himself in a world of pain. Overall however, it is another slowish day so generally more relaxed. We fear for our Novotel colleagues who will do service the following night, as they haven't been in the production kitchen before and have 40 covers for dinner. Yes, we fear for them while chuckling in a evil manner and twirling our moustaches, thankful our introduction to commercial service was more gentle.

Even though there is a lot of left over prep from our service the day before and the other group's dinner, we do more prep to make it easier on the next shift, so there isn't really any down time. And, of course, there is always the big clean up. No dishies (dishwashers) in our kitchen.

So a short but intense two days and then some days of leading up to Labour weekend and the BIG MATCH. How come I don't feel like we won when we did? The weeks are going by fast. Next week we are baking again, but this time it is bread and buns and other yeasty goodies.

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