Posted on 21 September 2010 by Mădălina
The last two weeks left me a little overwhelmed. For some reason, I anticipated chef school to be a lot easier than it turned out to be. The schedule is absolutely brutal, the course load is demanding, and the chefs have a zero-tolerance attitude.
It’s one of those things that you really have to love, or else you’re just not going to last—the good news is, that I really do love it.
On most mornings, I’m up before sunset and the rest of civilization, just so I can catch the train to Toronto. My skills course starts at 7:30 a.m, but the chef expects us to be in class at 7:00 a.m. sharp—this means I’m out my door at 5:15 a.m.
My first few days were pretty embarrassing—I felt like baby Bambi learning to walk for the first time (or whatever the culinary equivalent of that would be). In a simple knife skills lab on the first day, I cut my fingernail on my middle finger quite severely. I was too embarrassed to say something, so I just cleaned it up, bandaged it, and moved on.
[Scottish Baps, ready for the oven]
[Shiny Scottish Baps]
That was day one. Day two, I burnt my left hand picking up a hot tray that just came out of the oven. I routinely bake, so DON’T even ask me how I managed to f*ck that one up. I blame it on the first week jitters; it’s really challenging to be expected to bake in a foreign kitchen.
This semester I have five courses: Hospitality Math, The Art of Eating and Dining, Baking and Pastry Theory, and Baking and Pastry Skills.
The theory course consists of literature and complicated food science stuff—this is where you learn how gluten formation affects bread densities, or why your cookies came out flat.
[Cloverleaf Rolls, ready for the oven]
[Cloverleaf Rolls, a little burnt, but thats okay]
The skills course is the grunt work—this, in my opinion is the most challenging, but also the most satisfying of the courses. The skills class is around 5-6 hours long, usually with no breaks. WHAT? 5 HOURS? …yep. For the record, 5 hours passes by really quick when you are prepping for 4 or 5 different bread varieties.
The usual process for every skills class is that the chef demonstrates a recipe, then you head back to your station to follow the demo accordingly. The pace of the class is quite fast, and you have to be on point with your time management, or you won’t finish the recipes set out for that day.
[Fantan Rolls, ready for the oven]
[Fantan Rolls-- not quite perfect, but that's okay]
If you are not in full uniform, pressed and clean, you might as well stay home because you’re not allowed in class. Oh, and not to mention that if you miss more than 3 classes throughout the semester, you fail.
Weeks 1 through 6 are spent strictly on learning how to make bread– we’re half way through week three, and I’ve had my carb fix. There’s so much work that goes into proper making bread, that just repeating it exhausts me: First there’s the scaling, then the making of the starter, then the proofing, then the shaping, then the bench rest, and then finally the baking.
I now walk through the bread aisle with a greater appreciation for perfectly round dinner rolls, or lump free loafs.
What I’ve learned so far:
- Having a compatible, and competent work partner makes a world of a difference
- You can’t rush bread—it’ll be ready when it says it’s ready.
- NEVER touch a hot pan that just came out of the oven. Yes, it’s hot and yes, it hurts.
- It’s okay to suck—I’m LEARNING.
- It’s weird going to bed before the sun goes down, and even more strange waking up at what I used to consider the ‘middle of the night’.
- Don’t go out to a TIFF party the night before your morning class, because you’ll be tired and you’ll curse the entire time you’re in class.