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Sooooo much to catch up on! Feeling a little overwhelmed here and have been putting this off for longer than is acceptable.

First off some updates with school, after my practical exam on Monday, I’ll officially be done with level 2. After kicking level 1’s ass, each week has gotten increasingly difficult, although I haven’t had as many depressing, frustrating, flustered days as I had at the start of school.

I know I haven’t written much, if anything, about level 2 so here’s a quick recap:

This past month the focus has been on pastry and nutrition with a few other random lessons thrown in (offal, cheese, pasta, etc.). Pastry threw me for a loop in the beginning since I never bake and hate the idea of having to measure every little thing out. The other thing that bugs me about pastry is the fact that unless you are an experienced baker, most of the time you won’t know if you did anything wrong until the very end. With cooking, you can almost always adjust the flavor and consistency along the way. With pastry? No such luck. Game over. Start again. Do not pass, “go.”

Cheese day was a trip. We began by making ricotta, but out of whole milk instead of whey. Ricotta means, “recooked,” as in the whey was cooked once to separate it from the curds (presumably to make some other cheese) and then cooked once more to turn it into ricotta. To the milk we added a half tsp. of ascorbic acid and a tsp. of salt. A little cooking, a lot of stirring, a bit of straining, and an hour or more of hanging/draining. After that was some mozzarella pulling, which consisted of cutting up mozzarella curds, sprinkling them liberally with salt, and pouring simmering water on them. Once they’ve melted a bit from the water, you dunk your gloved, iced hands in and start mashing the curd chunks together. Once they’ve homogenized, the pulling begins, similar to…taffy, I imagine. The pulling develops that stringy texture that’s so lovely in mozzarella. It becomes shiny and smooth and then you form it into the familiar ball shape (you can also braid it if you so choose).

In the afternoon we did an extensive cheese tasting of cow’s, goat’s, and sheep’s milk cheeses that included Boerenkaas Gouda, Stilton, Ossau Raty, Pierre Robert, and Casinca. They ranged from LOVED IT (Stilton and Gouda) to meh (Idiazabel) to a polite no, thanks (Hoja Santa, Pierre Robert). We began with tasting whole milk from each animal. Then moved on to yogurts for each. After that the cheeses were tasted from freshest (fresh goat and feta) to most pungent (Persille and Stilton). It was an incredible afternoon (not counting hearing one of my bone headed classmates tell the instructors he really preferred Kraft Singles to most of these).

So about that practical tomorrow. A lot of people have been asking me about the grading system of school so I’ll lay it all out now.

For each level (each month is a level with 6 levels in all), you receive a grade. This grade is based on the written quizzes, performance evaluations, practical exam, and written final exam within that level. They’re all weighted differently. The written quizzes are exactly what they sound like, written two page tests every week or so with simple questions such as “Bechamel + (blank) = Sauce Mornay” (answer: gruyere cheese) and “Define gluten” (answer: an elasticity formed when the protein in flour comes in contact with liquid and is worked) mixed with slightly more complicated questions asking for procedures and recipes, like how to make a pate a choux, the dough used to make cream puffs and eclairs, or how to make hollandaise.

There are two performance evaluations per level (so far, anyway) and this is where the chef instructors grade you on 20 different criteria in the kitchen like “respecful towards instructors,” “works in a clean and hygienic manner,” “multitasks well,” and “presents well seasoned food.”

The practical for level 1 was astonishingly simple, involving a lot of chopping and dicing and boiling some carrots. This time around things get a bit…dicier (HA!). I have to say the rise in difficulty is a little abrupt and disconcerting. We go from slicing onions to filleting a trout, quartering a chicken, making mayonnaise, and carving some more potatoes (remember those footballs I mentioned awhile back?). Quite a leap away from boiling carrots.

The written final exam is just a cumulative test of everything we’ve learned this level.

Okay, off to practice quartering some chickens. Wish me BON CHANCE!

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