Sunday, September 12, 2010

Friday, 9/10/10 – Level 6 Day 1 (Saucier)

First official day of Level 6! It's finally fall here in the great City of New York, and I find it hard to believe that I started at FCI back at the very beginning of January, as the Christmas high was wearing off and the few dreary months of blizzards and bitter cold still lay ahead. I've now been through a beautiful spring, where the flowers bloomed pink and yellow up and down Park Avenue, and a miserably hot summer, when I went through so much iced coffee it was sinful and spent spare weekends lounging by the city pool. The year is coming full-circle, and it's hard to believe that next month I will be leaving what has become my home-away-from-home to forge off into the culinary world with a fresh degree in my hands. In fact, just a year ago I was unmarried, professionally miserable and hadn't even considered the possibilities of culinary school. How beautiful life is sometimes.

We're already feeling comfortable in our new level, searing off lamb loins and duck breasts like crazy. One thing I know for sure, though, is that the Level 5 students are going to have a loooong five weeks. It's not my place to assume or discuss what happens over there at their station, right next to ours, but all I know is that as their chef was screaming at them at the top of his lungs, the kitchen was so quiet I could hear the seam splitting open on the back of the three shrimp searing on the burner over in Poissonnier. I could also hear the liquid boiling inside the veins popping out of his forehead and simultaneously exploding out both ears like a teapot. It was bad. Then again, some of them aren't the brightest bulbs in the box. For example, we share one long counter top with the Level 5 Entremetier and Saucier, and the boundaries of each are clearly distinguishable. One particularly dim light went through his station (Entremetier), through his class's Saucier station and over to ours to plug in his blender and prepare a sauce on our countertop.

"Hey dude, could you please take your blender back to your station? We need our counter space."


"Hey, how's it going? Cool. Um, yea, I'm going to have to ask you to move your blender back to your station. This is our counter space."

"I'm ignoring you because your sh*t is filling up the entire counter, and I had nowhere to place my blender."

Oh no he didn't. "Do you realize that I'm in Level 6, and you are now encroaching on our space? Therefore, take your blender back to Level 5 and resolve that issue with your own classmates."

"Oh…….ok." (Right foot is slowly raised then inserted into mouth.)

For realsies, buddy, open your eyes. I mean, no one deserves to be screamed at by a hot-tempered older gentleman (or a hot-tempered, pale, 20-something hellcat), but sometimes you have to learn a little respect, humility and responsibility, and if it takes having your mistakes pointed out to you over and over again then maybe that's the solution. Then again, it's easy for me to say because now we're BFF with our chef (usually), but I've been yelled at in the kitchen and told I don't know what I'm doing and hey – I turned out just fine! (*your opinions on this subject are not welcome)

We had our first lecture about the upcoming final exam, and of course chef made it seem like it's going to be the hardest, worst day of our lives. It's formatted similarly to the midterm, where we must cook either an appetizer and a meat dish or a fish dish and a dessert…by memory. We will present them to a panel of real judges, usually famous chefs and restaurateurs, and be judged not only on our kitchen presence but final dish taste, accuracy and presentation. We were cautioned to think of the final constantly, with every step we take over the next five weeks, so of course I've turned that into all-around obsession. Unlike Level 3, where we cooked each dish at least ten times before being responsible for it on the midterm, we will only have a crack at each recipe TWICE this time around, and must be constantly vigilant and aware of what the other groups are doing as well. Now might be a good time for me to just take my knife kit and run…far, far away.

The good news is that I found a new mecca this weekend – Eataly by Mario Batali, Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Joe Bastianich. It's not only an Italian marketplace but a collection of restaurants and all-around teleportation to Italy, in the center of Manhattan! I was in absolute heaven walking around the 50,000-square feet of salami, espresso, gelato, fresh pastas and produce unlike anything I've ever seen. In fact, there were several items I've never actually seen in person (such as the topic of one of my favorite Louis Prima songs – the cucuzza), yet also some veggies I'd never even heard of! Cranberry beans, lobster mushrooms, pous-pide sea beans…where does it end? They also had mini corn IN THE HUSK…how freaking cool is that!! I took the opportunity to buy a little of everything – some sea beans, cranberry beans, zucchini flowers and heirloom tomatoes and used the weekend to conduct a series of tasting experiments. I did a lot of Googling – how is this cooked, what is its origin, etc. – yet made a few misjudgments and mistakes. In a past life I was a biologist and have always loved the creative freedom a laboratory can inspire, so my kitchen has become my own little experiment. The nice lady at the checkout counter sarcastically pointed out that our $8.00 bill made us a few spontaneous big spenders livin' large, but we were happy to just take in the experience and enjoy all Eataly had to offer. I'll have to wait a few months to visit the real Italy, so I think I'll be frequenting this new spot to get my googootz fix.

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