Tag Archives: L’Ecole

International Culinary Center – Level 6 Working at L’Ecole

Chocolate-Pear Cake with Bourbon Ice CreamPatissier – Chocolate-Pear Cake with Bourbon Ice Cream, Bourbon Jelly, and Cocoa Meringue

There’s just a little bit over a week left in Level 6 at the International Culinary Center.  Actually, I have just two more classes, and then the last day is when we take our final exam.  In Level 5, we started working in the kitchen at L’Ecole, the restaurant run by the school, preparing meals paid for and eaten by the general public.  I’ve fumbled quite a bit in both of these levels, but I’ve also learned a tremendous amount, and not just about restaurant cooking.

Patissier – Pumpkin Soufflé with Eggnog Sauce

Before the beginning of this level (as with Level 5) we were given pages of recipes that we’d be making during the class.  We were also given photos of what each of the completed dishes should look like before they are delivered to the tables.  As I mentioned in my previous post, each plate is given a once-over by our supervising chef before it leaves the kitchen.  The expediting chef (who relays orders from the waitstaff to the cooks) also double-checks them and wipes them clean of any stray sauce stains before they head out to the dining room.  To say there’s a little bit of pressure, even for us a students, to get it exactly perfect would be understating it just a little.

Poissonier – Scallops stuffed with Crayfish-Shrimp Mousseline on a bed of Sautéed Leeks and Sunchoke Purée

There’s the additional component for us in Level 6, as we rotate through the different stations as part of our lessons, that these recipes are the ones that we’ll be called upon to reproduce in our final exam at the end of the level.  Next week, we’ll be drawing slips of paper to see which two of the eight dishes that we’ve been making these past few weeks will be the ones that we have to prepare as we’ve been taught to do and to present before a panel of judges, who are chefs and will be our new peers in the culinary industry.  So the learning process at this stage is even more intense.  It is about honing technique and really absorbing all the information from our previous classes as well as the tips the instructors have been trying to instill in us as a culinary second nature.

Poissonier – Grilled Swordfish with Stir-fried Vegetables, Coconut Risotto Cake, and Ginger Beurre Blanc

This course level, I started off in Garde Manager (appetizers) and worked my way around through Poissonier (fish), Saucier (meat), and am finishing up in Patissier (pastry), which was were I started out in Level 5.  At each stage I feel like I’m really getting better with some aspects of this work, but I’m definitely still messing up on others.  Getting my speed up in this environment is still difficult for me.  I feel like (and I’m sure my instructors would concur) that I still second-guess my abilities and over-think the process.  I’ve been told that with time and with more experience working in kitchens this gets better.

Garde Manger – Fettuccine with Arugula Pesto, Shrimp, and Preserved Lemon

I’m still in awe of how much goes into working in a restaurant kitchen: the drive, the stamina, the reflexes, the massive expenditure of energy.  I keep being reminded of how everyone who has been in the industry for a while talks about how this work is “really a young person’s job.”  Seeing my much-younger classmates (truly, as most were born after I’d finished college) seemingly breeze through prep tasks and service without so much as breaking a sweat or becoming flustered, ever, I can’t help but agree with that assessment.  I watch our chef-instructors who just seem to handle pulling these dishes together as though it was just like breathing.  Sometimes, I feel more like a guppy gasping for air, as I work alongside them and some of my more talented classmates.

Garde Manger – Porcini Consommé with Butternut Squash, Seared Squab Breast, and Sage

At the same time, this experience, as part of the structure of a larger culinary education program, does help to tie together a lot of the various aspects of what we’ve been doing these past few months.  The dishes that we’ve been making build upon lessons that we had as far back as the beginning of the program.  The overall concepts and techniques and standards are reinforced every night we are in the kitchen.  My hope, now, is that I can remember all of what I’ve learned and reproduce these dishes to the standard to pass my final exam.

Buon appetito!

International Culinary Center – Level 5 Working at L’Ecole

GM - Pork Belly dishGarde Manger – Braised Pork Belly with Prune Glaze, Bulgur & Tomatillo Vinaigrette

It looks like it’s been a bit quiet around this website, I know, but the reality is that I hit a really busy patch with classes, volunteering at events, and developing and executing the menu for a major project that we had due in class last week.  About a month ago, my group changed over to the next level in the programme at the International Culinary Center to working at L’Ecole, the restaurant that is affiliated with the school.  This step is to prepare us for the reality of working cooking on the line, a job many students take as their first step in their cooking careers.

Portioning out the pork belly to serve it

In this level, we rotate through the various stations in the restaurant, preparing the dishes that are on the menu that is served to the public.  I don’t have any restaurant experience, so for me, this level has been an interesting almost “baptism of fire” into this realm of cooking.  I’ve helped out at culinary demonstrations, chopped vegetables for a food distribution organization, and worked catered events, but I haven’t worked on the line doing an actual service at a restaurant until now.  It’s definitely a different from my other cooking experiences where we just prep and prepare the dishes, plate everything, and then serve it all at once to everyone at the same time.

Patissier – Cranberry Linzer Torte with Chestnut Ice Cream

The first part of the lesson each evening consists of restocking the mise en place for that day’s service.  Then, when the menu changes over from the professional chefs fixing the meals to the time when we, the students, take over the stoves, with the supervision of our instructors, we put together the plates and give them to the waitstaff to be served, just as in any other restaurant.  Given how hard we all work, and how much experience some of the students already have, it was a bit distressing to me to find out that at least one website has advised possible patrons not to come to the restaurant during the time the students are working their shifts.

Poppy Seed Cake with Lemon Curd and Baked Apple

My first station in the kitchen rotation was in Pastry (Pâtissièr).  So our assignment was to figure out what we need to plate each dish when the orders come in and then make the amount we think we need to fill the orders that night.  With the guidance of the instructors, we make all the individual recipes, like the lemon curd, cake, and baked apple in the photo above, and then organize our stations so that we can respond quickly when the tickets arrive.  The chefs call out the orders and then we plate the dishes per the sample plates that they’ve shown to us.

Gooey French Onion Soup – tried to get to it before my classmate ate it

As the clock starts to tick towards 8:00 p.m., when the student part of the service starts, the chef instructors push us to get everything together and our stations cleaned up and everything in place so that we can work efficiently and quickly when the orders start being called.  From Pastry, I moved over to Garde Manger, where we prepare the appetizers on the menu.  There are two other students in my class with whom I rotate through the stations.  There’s also several other students from the class level above ours who have their own separate recipes to prepare, plate, and serve.

Cooked pork belly

One of our dishes, the braised pork belly, actually takes a few days to prepare.  We start a couple of days earlier by trimming a piece of belly of its tough, exterior skin and rubbing a cure of spices, sugar, and salt on each side of the belly.  This then gets covered with heavy cans and weighed down for about 24-hours.  Then, it is cooked and pressed again at least overnight.  After that, we cut it into serving portions and set it aside until it is glazed with a plum sauce and cooked again right before it is served.  It’s probably my favorite of the dishes I’ve worked on in the restaurant so far.

Seared Scallops with Squid Ink Risotto

After Garde Manger, I moved over to work the Fish Station (Poissonier), which I’ll be doing again tomorrow night.  Here the system works the same way: we arrive in class, do the prep work, and wait for the orders to come in to fill them.  The scallop dish is very popular at the moment, and we seem to fill lots of orders for it every evening, keeping our station pretty busy.  My next turn will be at the Sauce Station (Saucier) where we have a rabbit dish and a pork dish on the menu.  With each rotation, I hope I’m getting better at improving my speed at working in the kitchen.  That’s the goal for this level, as well as having us get used to the pressure and flow of restaurant service.

Buon appetito!