Saturday, January 29, 2005

Confidence Game

Faithful Readers,

It seems to me that particularly in the pastry arts one must have confidence in one's abilities. Not to malign the grill or saute stations, but in pastry and plating so much appeals to the eye over the taste.

It also seems that on the culinary side of things, a type of brashness (ala Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential- no pun intended) exists. I suppose this comes from the confidence of working with flame, and raw meat, and the ideal to do it faster and better than anyone else. I know from my general education classes the culinary students seem to be in a perpetual state of frenzy.

But in pastry it is the detail, the exquisite and painful attention to detail that takes a plating from just homemade to four star. I like detail. In fact in my previous career incarnations as an accountant that was what I was known for. God (and the devil for those of you who believe in such things) is indeed in the details.

So, how does one find the confidence? And how does that play into self-esteem? My spouse says that in Boot (slang for Basic Training--you Marines know all about this) confidence came from finishing something you never thought you would get through. It would seem that to be confident you must have a measure of esteem in one's own abilities.

I'm going to mull some of this over.

This week I have five or six major projects due. There is a final in my plating class, a Powerpoint presentation due, a paper on cake decorating, and gen ed paper as well.
Thanks for reading

Friday, January 21, 2005

Temper, temper...

Faithful Readers,

Well, I am not my fun-loving self today..I'm feeling like dropping out of school..So those of you who are brave enough to read on..brace yourself, it's going to be a bumpy ride...

What happened was this..I normally am involved in a lot of the clean up after finishing a kitchen session (my station is near the sinks, and a lot of the other students just kind of hang back). Anyhow, we were tempering chocolate today and I was melting down the scraps to place back on a sheet pan for future use. Easy as pie, except that I did not check the level of water in the bain marie (someone else had filled it) and when I transferred the chocolate to the sheet pan some of the condensed water contaminated the chocolate. Of course, the chocolate was ruined and the Chef was upset.

After class, I apologized for the f&2#-up, (although just don't do it again) and asked the Chef if I was wasting my time. What I mean is that do I have any future trying to be a pastry chef? I seem to be struggling again, I don't feel I'm artistic enough, or that I fit in. It's expensive to go to this school and about half the tuition is coming out of my own pocket.

The Chef said that he could not answer me directly (I understand this..I mean he can't jeopardize the program). He said that it was still early for us, but that in his experience he recommends very few people to potential employers. He also said that if I was in one of his advanced classes and did the same thing I would be washing dishes for a long time.

It's not just the screwup I made but the whole thing. I'm losing confidence in my abilities, and I'm losing energy. I'm twenty years older than many of the students, and maybe I'm just a big joke. I can't talk to any of the Chefs about this.

So, I am a little down. My spouse says keep going, you love it..Well, yes, I think the things we learn are way cool, but maybe I just don't have any natural talent. Sorry to be such a bummer today. So should I quit?
Thanks for reading



Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Shoe Paste

Faithful Readers,

Surely one of the most versatile recipes in a pastry chef's repetoire is pate a choux (Or as one of my Chefs pronounce it, "shoo paste"...(It took me several seconds to understand what we were making that day!)

That being said, making pate a choux (one of the few pastry items that are cooked and then baked) is a very useful tool. Not only do you learn proper mixing technigques, but also piping (do you want an ecair or a profiterole?), filling and decorating. It helps you to learn about presentation and design, and controlling the plating element. It seems that pastries (and for that matter food) is just as much about the taste as it is the appeal to the eye.

My piping has definitely improved..(although I find that when I make rosettes if I think too much about it I lose the 'flatness') and I really enjoy some of the fluid designs. Like anything else, in piping it is handling the pressure as well as maintining flow.

The school is starting to talk to us about internships..ANd today I'm having one of those days where I think I don't fit in.. And since I did not leave my last job in optimal circumstances, I'm wondering what I should do..MOre about this later....

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Baking: Science or Seance?

Faithful Readers,

Sometimes it takes several seconds to translate what Chef II is saying. In discussing the evolution of baking and artistry, Chef II talked about baking not necessarily being a "seance". I thought of the many times this past quarter I did my mini prayer to the baking gods that my breads would brown or that my pie crust would not fall apart. It only dawned on me several minutes later that what he really meant is that baking is not a "science". Chef II knows the artistry very well, I'm just having difficulty understanding some of his words. Still, I think that this title, "Baking: Science or Seance" would make a great article.

(Does any one remember the Disney movie, "The Little Mermaid"? There was a scene in which the chef was chasing the shrimp and shouting , Le Poisson. Well, to amuse myself and I know to the annoyance of my station mates, I frequently say Le Poisson, le poisson, how I love le poisson! Bon!

We made some "biscuit" (pronounced bis-kwee) decorations this past week. For the longest time I did not know what bis-kwee was. Was it a biscuit? Was it a cookie? Was it BISQUICK mix? Still, it's pretty cool. Using a silicone form, a thin layer of cookie dough is scraped on the form. After chilling, the bis-kwee is spread on top of this form and then baked. The form is then pulled off carefully. My understanding is that this bis-kwee decoration can be shaped and formed into cake and cookie layers. My only complaint is that I don't know the purpose of what we are doing.

Personally, I'm not as engaged this quarter in my schoolwork as I was last quarter. It's a new school, with new equipment, new setups, new instructors etc. It's a big change. I''m not connecting as well as I did last semester. Perhaps some times that's just the way it is. I still remember what Chef I said about how getting along with people you don't like is a very important skill.

Personal programming note:
We are still waiting for the outcome of the fire investigation. It is very frustrating. I think we may try to see a lawyer. And there is an employment situation that I will discuss in future post.

Thanks for reading


Sunday, January 02, 2005

What I Did On My Winter Vacation

Faithful Readers,

It's been a while since I posted but I think I have a fairly convincing reason...

On December 13, there was a fire at our condominium. No one was hurt (we were both at work at the time) and there was no damage to the other two units above us. But, damage to our unit was extensive (the kitchen is completely gone, the dining and living room is gone, smoke damage in every room, twelve windows broken). Damage is estimated at about 50%.

The fire is still under investigation (and so the insurance is in limbo). We are living about four blocks away. And, among other things all the bread and cook books I collected are gone.

I'm trying to stay positive, but it is hard. It didn't seem like much of a holiday season. I start school tomorrow.

Thanks for reading...

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