It’s astonishing how quickly 9 months can fly by. It was only yesterday that I was cautiously writing my first blog about moving to Chicago and the anxiety I was feeling over starting a new chapter in my life. In my final weeks of culinary school, those fears seem alarmingly far away. It hasn’t been the most perfect of journeys of course. There were several bumps and bruises along the way, and this is cooking school, so I use those terms literally. Just last week I stabbed my finger and the next morning, bam a huge infection was spreading through my hand. Goodness gracious. I was more annoyed by the fact that I had barely touched my finger with the knife then by the terrifying possibility that losing my finger could become a true reality.
Anywho, my point is that it hasn’t been easy getting to where I am now. The great thing about another year of school after receiving my bachelor’s degree was that I was actually enjoying the work asked of me, and the last few weeks were absolutely sensational. We ended our culinary school experience in catering and buffet and for our final practical, we put on a huge “Thanksgiving” buffet for the school and everyone that happened to be on campus that day. This buffet consisted of basically every single food item we had learned how to make starting our first day. We had roast turkey breast and two pork loin roasts. We made various types of canapés with quail eggs, duck confit, foi grais mouse and smoked trout. We put together Caesar salad croquets with parmesan crisps, had chafing dishes filled with a delicious mashed sweet potatoes with pecans and brown sugar and sautéed brussel sprouts and green beans. We baked up some homemade biscuits and made a honey orange compound butter to accompany them. At each buffet that we put on we hand out comment cards so that we can hear what everyone thinks of our buffets after eating them. We had outrageously awesome comments on our final buffet. The only bad comment we were given was that we did not make enough food. (Which in reality is more of a joke than a serious suggestion seeing as we made enough food to feed an army.) It really was some of our best work.
On our actual last kitchen day Chef Mike decided that he didn’t really want to use the giant deep clean list that we were given to do, so instead we made ourselves some food. We each made our own pizza and our own uovo en raviolo, which if you are unfamiliar essentially means egg in ravioli. This dish is meant to serve only one piece of ravioli, which is why it is called raviolo. You make a small amount of pasta with one egg and about a half a cup of flour. Mix it together until a ball begins to form then roll it out onto a flowered surface and knead until it becomes taught but pliable. You want to be able to push your finger into the dough and have it spring back at you. Once you’ve reached this consistency, let your dough rest in plastic while you make the filling. For any type of ravioli you want a smooth almost spreadable mixture for the center. Because we had some left over from the buffet, we decided to make a minced tomato, chive, cream cheese and duck confit filling. We rolled out our dough to about an 1/8 inch and used a biscuit cutter to cut out large circles. We then rolled out our circles even further. You want the dough to be as thin as possible because you have two layers, which will take longer to cook together. Take one of your sides and place a large scoop of filling into it. Form a well in the center ensuring that the sides of the filling are quite high, it is essential for keeping the next step in place. Once you have your well, separate an egg, reserving the white, and place the yolk gently into the center of the well you formed. Use the egg white to rub the sides of the bottom piece of pasta and gently place the top on without disturbing the egg yolk. Push the sides down until you are certain they are shut, and use a knife or biscuit rolled to cut off any excess pasta and to form a shape. Have a pot of light boiling salted water and place in your pasta, making sure that the egg is on the surface. You are going to have a properly cooked piece of raviolo with a poached egg in the middle. We finished off our pasta with some brown butter and pieces of tomato. It was quite delicious.
For the pizzas that we made, my partner and I shared ours. We made a classic margarita pizza with garlic oil as our sauce and a pear and blue cheese pizza. Both of which were quite enjoyable and didn’t last very long. Our final assignment for the class was to put together a menu with 5-7 appetizers, 3 soups and salads, 5-7 main course dishes and 3-5 desserts. We were also required to put together a description of the restaurant and the type of cliental our business would be serving. Seeing as I did something similar for my creative entrepreneurship class in college, I was slightly ahead of the game here. Not to mention opening a business is my eventual goal, I already have an idea of what my business will be. My best friend Lee helped me out once again with an awesome design for the menu logo. (He put together the guest blogger series logo on the Hungry Dudes home page). I wanted something whimsical and elegant, similar to how I (sometimes) see myself. The past few years I have had so many ideas running through my head all the time it was hard to keep them straight. After a talk with one of the chefs at school who happens to own quite a few businesses, he put my mind at ease and I have since then started to refocus and reengineer my idea to fit to what it needs to be to succeed. And it’s wonderful. I truly would love to share some of my menu items with everyone but you see, I may end up using them one day, and I would much rather you all come to my place of business to try them out yourselves then have me ramble on about them here!
This has been an incredible experience and I want to thank everyone who stuck with me each week. I know I may have been repetitive and hard to understand at times, but sharing these lessons with others truly helped me to learn them better. After today I am required to do a three month externship at a location of my choice, and I have been working there for the last month. Some of you may have heard of it before, it is a small wine and cheese artisan market called Pastoral. This is very similar to the type of place I hope to open for myself one day, and each day I am learning something new about the business. The owners of Pastoral have been incredibly kind and giving when it comes to the experience I am going to receive there. They want me to learn as much as I can and they don’t want to hold anything back. I love going into work every day and even better I love the people I am surrounded with. My graduation date from Le Cordon Bleu is June 23 and I hope to be able to share some moments and photos from that day with all of you as well. Thank you again for everything! This won’t be the last you hear from me! Bon appetite!