From the 5:30 wake up call, to the rush during service, Laura Davidson shares all the dirty details of a typical day as a culinary school student.
By Laura Davidson
5:30 AM : My alarm goes off. I snooze for another 5 minutes—despite my cat meowing in the distance to be fed—and finally get up. I get dressed and turn on the hot water kettle to make instant coffee for the road. Despite not being hungry at all (it is way too early), I usually grab a sad breakfast of either a banana, yogurt, or anything easy to take in the car with me.
5:50 AM : Grab my knife bag, bulky uniform bag, and notebook and head out the door!
6:20 AM: One positive about waking up so early? No traffic. It only takes me about 30 minutes to get to school, despite the 20 mile commute. I grab my stuff from the car, go to the locker room, get dressed, and head on over to the kitchen…
6:35 AM: Despite the fact that class doesn’t start for another hour and a half, I have lots to do. My fellow early-risers and I check the list for ingredients to grab from the commissary and start getting each of our tables set up. I take out my knives, grab a utility bucket for equipment (ladles, spoons, spatulas, and the usual necessities), and a couple of cutting boards, bowls, and deli cups.
I then grab a pound of butter and start to clarify it on the stove top. We pull out our venison bones, which we had started marinating two days prior from the fridge, drain the marinade, and start to dry them out to sear during production…
I also am put in charge of making a large amount of vinaigrette in the Vitamix.
7:00 AM – 7:45: We organize all of Chef’s mise en place for the day’s demonstration, including scaling out ingredients for desserts, getting mirepoix and other ingredients together, and making sure the classroom is stocked with the regular equipment. I start peeling (and de-germing) Chef’s whole head of garlic, as well as shallots, which are a daily requirement. My hands constantly smell like garlic!
7:45: Grab coffee, water, & and my notebook and head into the classroom!
8:00: We greet the following menu on the whiteboard and all start copying it down in our notebooks.
L’OEUF DE CAILLE EN GELEE
LA SALADE EN COURONNE DE PAIN
LE MEDAILLON DE CHEVREUIL POELE
LA SAUCE GRAND VENEUR
LES TROIS PUREES
LA POMME DECOREE
LA TARTE CHAUDE AUX POMMES
We are responsible for taking notes throughout the demonstration and typing up each of the recipes for our notebook—essentially a massive 5-inch binder that gets turned in for grading on exam days. A menu this long would have petrified me during Phase I, but now it’s the norm…
8:00 – 10:30 AM: Our two chef instructors, with the help of our assistant, demonstrates the day’s menu, while we are all scribbling down notes in our notebook. I grab a piece of scrap paper to write out a vague idea of how I should organize myself during production…
Each dish has multiple “baby recipes”—our made up term for a dish that has multiple recipes and components. Those are the worst! I try desperately to keep my brand new notebook organized.
We are using two new-to-us ingredients today: venison tenderloin and aspic—consommé with gelatin. It basically is a meat-flavored jello. It is accompanied by a beautiful salad of mache, endive, lolla rosa lettuce, and arugula perched in a bread basket, essentially a large crouton, which is shaped into a ring.
10:50 AM: We end demonstration a bit later than usual and service gets pushed back to 1 pm. Chef wraps up the day’s menu, plates the dishes, and we all stand up to take pictures of the final dishes and taste everything. I am intrigued to try our first course, which is a poached quail egg encased in aspic and garnished with a flower that we assemble with carrots, chervil, and chive “stems”. We then head in the kitchen quickly to get started on our dishes, since we need to start service in just two hours…
10:50 – 1:00 PM: Service is usually a blur. My partner and I come up with a vague system of how to split up some of the day’s tasks. We both quickly jump on the main course’s sauce—Grand Veneur—a classic currant jelly sauce served with game–which involves a complicated process that includes searing the marinated bones, and eventually having the sauce thicken and reduce in the oven—the pot sealed with dough to prevent steam from escaping.
I also decide to take on the aspic dish. Luckily, we are provided with aspic, which I need to chill (without setting) so it is in liquid form. I start assembling the molds, which I need to slowly assemble and chill between steps. I also put on a pot of water for poaching quail eggs—and crack them (with a paring knife) into small cups.
I also start getting together the “flower” garnish, which is made by making channel cuts into a carrot, slicing it very thinly, and cooking. I also cut chives for “stems” and get together the chervil (which acts as the flower leaf).
We also start rolling out puff pastry for our dessert, as well as peeling apples. Our main course is served with three purees (1) chestnut, 2) carrot, 3) celery root)—to help get everything done in time, we are dividing the purees amongst teams. We got assigned to do the carrot puree, so Blanca and I also start putting that together to start cooking on the stove
1:00– 1:45 PM: Somehow, it is already time for service and the rush begins. We are waiting to “fire” the Venison tenderloin per Chef’s orders, as well as waiting to put the apple tarts in the oven so they can be hot for service. We start plating our first course, putting them on trays, and delivering them to our front of the house guests…
Our team is serving four people, as well as a guest today—who sits at our station as we are putting together the dishes during service—which means we need to quickly grab silverware, a stool, and organize our table. We also learn that our table is serving the director of the school today, which means we have extra pressure to put out great dishes (otherwise, he will come back and let us know).
After delivering the first course, we quickly head back to the kitchen to start plating and firing our second course. We need to put our dessert in the oven, as well as start searing our venison steaks, and put the finishing touches on our sauce…
We also need to put together our garnish for the venison, which were puff pastry small cups (which we had to make during production) to which we added in red currant jelly + horseradish mixture and garnished with toasted pine nuts.
Usually, by the time our main course is out the door, I breathe a sigh of relief. We quickly plate the desserts and service is over. I am always amazed by how we much we accomplish in so little time!
1:50– 2:10 PM: Service is done. I grab a plate and throw myself together a quick lunch of leftover salad and some venison (depending on the day, I’ll eat different things). Honestly, I usually am craving water more than food at this point. I also grab a piece of our apple dessert, which is quite delicious. I head outside to the picnic tables behind school, with the rest of my classmates, where we relax a bit and get some fresh air.
We also take this time quiz each other a bit for our upcoming theory exam in the afternoon. Then it is back into the kitchen to clean up, which usually takes anywhere from 30-45 minutes. Today my team is responsible for the commissary, which means I quickly start rounding up any leftover mise en place ingredients and bring them back to the walk-in, as well as take a quick inventory of the fridge.
I then head back to the classroom to help finish up sweeping, mopping, and taking out all the trash…Not a fun part of the day, but at least we’ve gotten more efficient at it since we started back in January. Plus—we have the added bonus of not having to trim chicken bones for stock!
3:15 PM: Somehow it is 3:15 and we are just sitting down to take our 5th theory exam, which consists of 50 questions, as well as some costing exercises (our 3:30 “dismissal” time clearly isn’t happening…a norm). Luckily, the theory exam goes well and I’m done in 20-25 minutes, and I’m back at the locker room, ready to head home for the day to get mentally prepared for our 5th (and most difficult) practical exam…