Sunday, 2 October 2011

The Inside Chef

I have just completed my first week of kitchen time in the pastry shoppe. I cannot begin to explain how amazing it feels to be up to my elbows in flour and butter, to have blue berry stains all over my apron and to come home at the end of every day smelling like bread or carmalized sugar. It is a tremendous opportunity, one that I dive into a little more every day. I will do my best to describe the sheer joy of kitchen life in the pastry shoppe.

Wednesday was the first official day in the kitchen and it was a mad house! I have never been so confused, stressed and so over come with joy at the same time. Chef Richard gave us a run down of how the ovens opporate and vaguely told us where everything was. His intentions for us that day were for us to hit the ground running and learn how to get to the finish line on our own. After giving us a mischievious and giddy smirk he said, "Ok guys, go make bread." Somewhere an inaudible starter gun shot off and we scurried through the kitchen like aunts trying to reasemble their hill after it being kicked. Mixers were flying off shelves, people crowded around flour and sugar, and we all got lost in the dry ingredient storage closet. I took a moment to stop and look around at everyone and we all looked like a herd of deer caught in head lights. General conversation consisted of, "Where is the cocoa? Have you seen the lemons? What does this do? Am I supposed to mix the egg in the flour before the yeast? Where is the Chef? WHAT AM I DOING?!" I burst out laughing! Of course we all knew what we were doing, and we all knew when to mix the egg with the flour, it's before you add the yeast in case you are wondering, and we eventually found the cocoa but in those first 30 minutes of glorious confusion we felt like babies learning to stand. Wobbly but adrenline rushing with the anticipation of the goal at hand. As the morning went on we found our groove, got into our element and the energy in the shoppe shifted from terrified to comfortable. Between mixing flour, measuring vanilla, and kneading dough we found moments to encourage and tease one another and slip into comfortable conversation. An air of comradery and support wafted through the shoppe, mixing with the fresh aroma of bread.

Chef Richard is excellent teacher. His enthusiam makes the kitchen an enjoyable atmosphere to work in. If you should make a mistake or mix up the steps he doesn't scold you, rather he "over zealously corrects" you. I was the recipient of such correction when I began kneading my danish dough after it had rested in the frigde. Chef Richard saw my mistake and said, "Ah! Stop! Your danish dough is a baby, don't knead it, or you will have to let it rest again and it will take longer." He then announced to the class my mistake but left my name out of it, however the sheepish look on my face let them know it was my bad, but I didn't mind, Chef patted my back and encourage me to keep going.

Chef Christian is quiet and moves around the shoppe on stealth mode, observing you closely, but not scrutinizing. I was having issues with my Vienna rolls and he showed me an easy way to get them to roll perfectly. It took me a while but he stayed by my side until I got the swing of things. Before he drifted to another struggling student he said, "Don't rush yourself or get upset, focus on quality first, speed will come later."

After the last challah loaf had been baked, and all the Vienna rolls were snug and safe on trays ready for the dinning room, we left the pastry shoppe, holding a small selection of the fruits of our labour, feeling immensly proud of ourselves and of each other. We were beaming and Chef Richard and Chef Christian looked like proud parents. I felt at home.

Thursday was spent making danish dough and fillings. What makes danish dough so amazing is the layer of butter between the first fold. After spreading it out evenly you fold the dough over three times, let it rest and repeat ever 30 minutes for a total of 4 times. The continous rolling out and refolding allows the butter to spread throughout the entire dough making it flakey and irresistable. Between foldings I made the fillings: hazelnut, blue berry, and pastry cream. The hazelnut and blue berry filling were a success right away but my pastry cream was stubborn. First of all pastry cream involves boiling milk which is already tricky, I have never used a propane stove before so that in itself was an adventure, not to mention extremely hot. I stood there for 10 minutes patiently waiting for my milk to come to a boil, finally my patients broke and I yelled, "Stupid milk why aren't you boiling? Get your ass in gear!" Such abuse didn't make my milk boil any faster but it gave my classmates a good laugh. Eventually the milk boiled and eggs, vanilla, and sugar were added, and the most delectable Christmas vanilla tasting pastry cream was created.

Friday was a big day for me. On the menu was croissants and danishes. As I rolled out my danish dough one final time it suddenly hit me: "I am making danishes today. Legitimate danishes. Danishes that you buy in the store, not at Tim Hortons, or Coffee Culture, but real danishes that you buy from a bakery. A legitimate, real life bakery. I am making danishes! I am a pastry student! I am at the best culinary school in the country and I making danishes!!!" I felt terrified, exhilerated and proud. Before I formed my first croissant I asked Chef Richard to show me how. After he rolled out two perfect looking croissants I stared at his creations and felt an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. "I'm terrified!" I exclaimed as I gently held the formless croissant triangle in my floured hands. Chef Richard replied, "Terrified? Why? You're not going to the moon. It's just a croissant." However in that moment space travel seemed more achievable than croissants. To top the morning off I had my first kitchen injury. I was unsheathing my chef knife, a glorious culinary weapon with a gleaming 8 inch blade, I looked up for a second to listen to Chef Richard explain glazing a danish and when I looked down again there was a decent cut on the palm of my hand. I shrugged my shoulders and went to the first aid station to grab a bandage, hoping to avoid hysterical reactions. But to my discovering the glazing station was conveniently located beside the first aid, as I held a paper towel against my hand to stop the bleeding Chef Richard, who was now at the glazing station miming glazing techniques, saw my injured hand and looked at me as if I was dying. I was touched by his concern but assured him I was fine. After administery first aid to myself I went back to work and in the end my croissants and danishes turned out beautifully.

This week has been amazing. I have learned so much in the three short days I have been in the kitchen. Every day I learn something new, add another recipe to my files, and improve my skills, and it's only been a week. Imagine what 8 more months will do.

                                          Lemon cinnamon challah bread & Vienna rolls

                                  Chocolate hazelnut challah bread, croissants, & danishes

                                       I have a pastry brush and I'm not afraid to use it.

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