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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.