It’s been a while. I know. It’s already the end of February, so I truly owe you all an apology. You see, I had my final post about Baking & Pastry all ready to go at the end of 2009…and then it never got posted. 2010 began, and with it I began my internship at Chicago magazine, which I had been offered a few days before I left for break. Between working at the magazine four days a week and six more weeks of classes at night, I just got REALLY busy. I know that’s a poor excuse, but that’s what happened, so I’ll try to catch you up in abbreviated form to where I am now — still working at the magazine and doing my externship (the six-week practical kitchen experience/the capstone to my certificate) at Bake, a lovely bakery that’s just down the street from my apartment and thus an ultra-convenient 5-minute bus ride away.
So here is my photo-sprinkled synopsis. First, here’s how my Baking & Pastry class ended up! Behold, my final platter:
In case you can’t read my scrawled pink captions, that’s nine each of chocolate brownies, tea cookies, chocolate-raspberry tarts, vanilla cheesecake, carrot cake and macarons (French spelling) with raspberry filling — all in petit four size. I was pretty proud of putting this together over our 2-day practical, and though Chef wasn’t a fan of the whipped cream garnish shapes on my cheesecake, or of my over-mixed macarons, everything else was to his liking. But rest assured, I did NOT eat all those treats! Instead, since we were all on sugar overload and couldn’t bear eating any more sweets, a group of us took three big trays of desserts to a favorite bar, and let all the other patrons feast on our final product. Adriana even went table-to-table — we wanted to make sure it all got eaten!
We also had to turn in a portfolio that included every recipe we used in class, both formula of ingredients and method, as well as photos of all our final products and class notes. I’d be happy to send you the PDF if you’re interested! Even though it was a bit of work to type everything up and format it, I’m very glad to have it as a resource when, say, family members ask me to bake something special for them! I held a croissant lesson while home for Christmas and New Year’s…have to make the most of my two-week break from school!
Then, when I got back, I began Cuisines Across Cultures, my final culinary class. We covered a lot of ground in this class, but the format was somewhat different: We were divided into three groups, and each group made a different dish or set of dishes for that night, all following the same theme but not necessarily from the same country’s cuisine. Chef demonstrations were minimal, and we were mostly on our own following recipes. Themes went along the lines of “Grains of Asia,” “Grains of Western Europe,” and so on; the next week, it would be “Noodles and Doughs of the Americas,” “Noodles and Doughs of Asia,” etc. It was a little confusing to keep skipping all over the place country-wise, but we still ended up doing a lot of different recipes and discussing a variety of ethnic ingredients. Adriana and I remained partners in this class, which was of course a highlight, and made everything from sopes with shredded pork and all the fixings, to a failed attempt at some sort of African turnover, whose dough was made from cassava and plantains and a shrimp-dominated filling. We discovered that when in doubt, deep-fry (that may seem obvious…but really.), and that even though it was our last class of culinary school, it was probably the least demanding. It was fun to make lots of ethnic dishes — some I’d enjoyed many times, some I’d never heard of — but since we cooked so many random things, I don’t have much to share. We had three written tests (plus a final), but no practicals in between, so I might as well just skip to my final practical.
Oh wait! The day before the practical, we took an ethnic cuisine field trip! We went to Uptown’s “Little Saigon” neighborhood. We shopped in a large Vietnamese market — I came away with all sorts of fun ingredients and a matching set of miso soup bowls/spoons — followed by dinner at a Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant. Here’s a few photos:
The final practical threw everyone a little off-guard. After we completed the written final exam (including a chili pepper identification section, using unmarked peppers on a sheet tray), we knew we’d be asked to prepare multiple dishes, and that they could be any of the recipes we’d done, even recipes that other groups had made, and thus that we hadn’t. As it turned out, we were each assigned an appetizer and an entree (there were three options each from which the assignments were drawn), and then we had to come up with a side dish that would make sense with the entree, based on the dish and its culture. All the available ingredients were laid out on one side of the kitchen, and I have to admit it felt a little Top Chef-esque. My assignment was pierogis and a Moroccan lamb tagine (spiced stew), and I decided to pair it with spiced rice. Couscous would have been ideal, but I couldn’t find any. I was a little flustered because I had never made either one before, and didn’t even have a recipe for pierogis. But I tracked one down and somehow my potato-and-egg filled pierogis came together. They were about the size of empanadas, mind you, so much too large and certainly not perfect, but they came together. My tagine started out fine, and I was even able to find the ras-al-hanout spice blend among Chef’s stash of ingredients, so my spiced rice and stew both had authentic flavor. My stew was nearing completion, but the meat still wasn’t quite tender enough, so I uncovered it to let it cook more but made sure to keep the heat turned down. As I tended to my pierogis for awhile on another set of burners for a few minutes, I returned to find my burner had been turned up and my stew scorched and smoking. I panicked for a moment — was the stew that had been on the stove for an hour and a half and ready to present for my final practical of final class REALLY ruined?!? — but, with the help of calm-and-collected Stu, I was able to salvage enough of the non-scorched part to plate and serve. I stretched out the little sauce I had to work with by adding stock and letting it reduce back down. It worked and I presented my dish: a molded mound of rice and pile of stew, garnished with hard-boiled egg, parsley and lemon zest. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Chef must have seen my near-failure experience (or just caught a drift of the burning smell), because among the comments on my grading sheet was “Good recovery.” Ha.
And with that, it was all over. My last class came to a close, capped off with champagne (courtesy of Tony) and an ice cream cake reading simply, “DONE” (courtesy of Val). We celebrated for the next two evenings before starting our externships and knowing we wouldn’t see each other four nights a week anymore. I was a little nostalgic, for sure — it was nothing like the end of college, but still had that same element of wistful finality.
And that brings me to now, the externship phase. I have friends working everywhere from Alinea to Moto to Vie to Bice Bistro — and the list goes on. As for me, I’m perfectly content at Bake, a bakery in Wicker Park that’s only been open for a few months but has already gotten well-deserved acclaim. (Vote for them in Time Out Chicago’s Eat Out Awards here!) I love coming into their kitchen, mixing doughs or assembling tarts or cutting brownies and bars, and not even feeling like I’m working! The days go fast and I feel very much at home there. Every day’s a little different, and it’s a nice schedule (I don’t have to be there too early…). I LOVE having my evenings back and have already cooked several post-work meals to be proud of.
Again, my sincerest apologies that you had to wait so long for this post. Once I have a little more time on my hands (read: post-externship. Hopefully.), I’d ideally like to start an actual food blog…so more on that to come. Thanks for following my experiences!