After 14 weeks fo learning techniques and anxiously awaiting what my fate would be, we finally made it to our final projects. We would be preparing one of three planned menus. The appetizer was completely up to us, so long as the ingredients would be available in the kitchen. The three assigned options for entree and dessert would be steak with a red wine sauce, a puree, and a vegetable, and profiteroles filled with pastry cream for dessert; a whole roasted chicken with a jus, a puree, and a vegetable, and a roulade cake filled with pastry cream for dessert; and a skin-on fish fillet with a sauce, a grain, and a vegetable, and a puff pastry fruit tart for dessert. We would have a day to prep and a day to execute our three courses.
I did not sleep well the night before our prep day, as I kept running through my three menus in my head. My menus were so distinct thematically that I came up with three different appetizers. Each one I had only practiced once, so I was hoping for the best.
The morning came and we were faced with the Sorting Pot (that’s what I am calling Julia Child’s stool and pot where we drew our final project). The Sorting Pot spoke, and I was to make fish with the fruit tart.
I must admit I was relieved. I truly did not want the steak, because the flavor profile just didn’t speak to me. That menu was the hardest for me to create and felt the least authentically me. The chicken menu I created was exciting, but it was overly ambitious. The fish menu was not only the most practical to execute, but it was the one that felt the most true to me. The theme of this menu was next-gen Millennial cooking. This menu combined my new skills of learning classic techniques with ingredients and dishes that you would find in my kitchen.
Sometimes, I can be a walking cliche, and I don’t mind. My menu featured some stereotypical Millennial ingredients, that also happen to my some of my favorite foods: Brussels sprouts, quinoa, and cauliflower. I almost threw kale in there, but I made a last minute menu switch thanks to advice from our lead chef. As much as I do love kale, I realized I was putting it in there because it felt like the Millennial thing to do.
The final menu I presented was cauliflower leek soup with homemade bread; arctic char with walnut pesto, roasted Brussels sprouts, and herbed quinoa; and a pear tart with caramel sauce and cinnamon whipped cream.
I felt good about my menu. The part I was most anxious about was trying to make a yeasted bread. It was a risk for sure. The last thing I did on prep day was to make a French bread dough and put it in the fridge to ferment over night. Putting a yeasted bread in the fridge helps to retard fermentation. So, it is a good option if you can’t tend to your dough all in one day. I chose this option because I certainly knew I couldn’t start from scratch all on Wednesday. I was barely going to have time for the fermented dough to be ready to serve as it was. In two hours, I had to warm up the dough, scale and shape it, proof it, bake it, and let it cool enough to serve. This was the only part of my meal that I had no idea if it would make it on the plate.
Even though this was a huge risk, I felt I could do this. I figured even if my bread weren’t perfect (which I was not expecting it to be) the chefs would be impressed by me tackling such a task in short period of time. I put on my menu that I was serving a baguette, which means that I needed steam during the initial baking process. I used the convection oven and put in one shot of steam. In hindsight, I should have put some extra steam. My bread browned nicely, but it did not form that classic hard crust you’d find on a baguette. In reality, what I made was a pretty decent Italian loaf. Had I labeled my dish as being served with “bread,” I could have spun it as if I meant to make an Italian loaf. Since, I called it baguette, it was clear that I did not produce exactly what I intended.
However, I made bread! I wanted to challenge myself, and I did. This may not have been a baguette, but I was sure proud of myself. I know the bread needed more time to proof, but I had to throw it in the oven in order to get it on the plate in time. Still, I was quite fond of the bread. I snacked on it a bit in between working on some of my dishes. Plus, the chefs did acknowledge a job well done for the time given. I have not made bread many times in my life, so I was not pretending to show I had mastered this difficult skill yet. I did want to show what I have learned in the class, and I feel I did that.
My appetizer was this luscious, creamy cauliflower and leek soup. The bread was served on the side for dipping. My soup was garnished with browned butter cauliflower and thinly sliced chives. The soup base was a recipe I got from one of the chefs. The flavor of the soup is quite delicate, but the cauliflower and leeks shine through. This is a “creamy” soup that is actually healthy, as the vegetables are cooked in water, and only a little bit of creme fraiche was used. Overall, I was quite pleased with this dish.
Next up was my entree. I pan-seared two skin-on fillets served over a walnut pesto sauce. The pesto was something we made with one of the chefs during appetizers class. I loved it’s earthiness from the walnuts and saltiness from the parmesan cheese. I could see me keeping a batch of this in my fridge to through on meats and vegetables or even to dress grains.
I also served some roasted Brussels sprouts and quinoa with a lemon herb dressing. After speaking with Chef Chris, I decided to exchange my idea of kale and quinoa to some brighter notes with fresh parsley and lemon zest. The quinoa itself was cooked in vegetable stock with some lemon juice added. I have made a quinoa like this before, so I felt confident I could do it well. Unfortunately, the quinoa was the part of my dish I was least satisfied with, as I overcooked it. I really didn’t have time to make another batch, so I served what I made. The chefs didn’t think it was that bad, but I thought it was too mushy. I love quinoa and make a ton of it, so I picked an excellent time for the first time to overcook it. My Brussels sprouts, on the other hand, I thought were great.
The chefs thought I did well with my dish, but they did have some notes for improvement. Some thought my fish was a little too rare in the middle. I had intended to serve it medium rare, but I made have underdone it slightly. They wished my sauce had been thicker and that I had added more acid to the dish. I certainly understand all of those comments. I hadn’t intended for the sauce to get so thin, but I made the decision to add extra oil (canola) because the olive oil I used that been too strong in flavor. I was also rushed at the last minute, so I was trying to squeeze lemon juice on the dish, but I clearly didn’t add enough. Still, I was happy with what I presented.
Finally, my favorite part of the meal: dessert. I have long known that I enjoyed baking, but I didn’t quite understand how passionate I am about it until this class. The pastry classes were my absolute favorites, and I lit up with undeniable joy every time I learned a new pastry skill. I thought I wasn’t going to like making these puff pastry tarts, but now I want to keep making them. I feel so confident about making the rough puff pastry that I can’t stop thinking about dishes I want to try with it, both savory and sweet.
We had the option of making our tarts with apples or with pears. I decided to go with pears, as I liked them better for this dish. The only issue was that they were incredibly underripe. If I had more experience, maybe I would have thought to pre-roast the pears or poach them to help the cooking along. Instead, I sliced them as thin as possible on the Japanese mandolin and spread them around the tart.
I thought the tart was absolutely beautiful, and so did the chefs. The fruit, however, they thought was undercooked (still had a slight crunch). I did feel the fruit was a little under, but I didn’t think it had crunch. I just think it could have been softer. I still enjoyed eating it. I used a quick glaze made from melting down apricot preserves to provide a sheeny finish to the tart, but I also drizzled my caramel sauce over top. I had actually made four tarts, so I practiced one to make sure the glaze and the caramel didn’t clash. Finally, I dolloped some fresh cinnamon whipped cream. I loved the flavor of the cream with the perfect balance of cinnamon and sweetness. I did need to whip it maybe another 15 seconds though.
I know there were plenty of mistakes I made on my final. Yet, I felt good about what I presented. I could not have done put together a meal like this before this class. We have all put in a lot of hard work over the past 14 weeks, and we learned so many new skills. I was proud of each one of us for what we produced for our final projects. I was relieved to have the stress behind us, but I was also sad because this meant our time together in the kitchen was coming to an end.