Culinary Arts Project

We Made It!!!!!!! The Practical Exam, Tequila, and a Pigeon – Day 79


  • Add calvados to your apple tart to make it “pop”
  • Add grand marnier to your chocolate mousse to make it pop
  • Add tequila to your lemon tart to make it….you guessed it…pop!

We all made it…yahoo!!!!!!! Congrats to everyone!!!!!!

Waiting outside the kitchen trying to guess the dishes
Waiting outside the kitchen trying to guess the dishes on the exam
Cooking up a storm
Cooking up a storm

Today was the dreaded final practical exam. We all arrived early but were locked out of the kitchen until the official start time. What were the required dishes going to be? We all peered through the kitchen windows trying to figure it out. There were apples on some of the trays so the apple tart was definitely one of them (good sign), but we couldn’t be sure of anything else. At 9am we all walked in and could see on the board we were either going to get apple-skate or pork-poached egg. Phew, no lemon tart. We each picked a number out of the hat (I got C5 which meant I was doing the skate-apple tart at 12.43 and 1.39pm …..yes, the stars we aligning, this was the easier combination and wasn’t the first start time. Plus my station was on the oven side for the first time and by the sink (these are all things that make it easier).

Miyako entering the judging area
Miyako entering the judging area
Judges Chef Mark and Chef John tasting our food.
Judges Chef Herve, Chef Marc and Chef John tasting our food.
Chef John evaluating Spencer's creations
Chef John evaluating Spencer’s creations

The first part of today’s exam was the recipe test. We were given a blank piece of paper and told to write down the full recipe for the skate grenobloise. After handing this in, we were given another blank piece of paper and were given 10 minutes to look at our books and write down anything we wanted about our dishes. I wrote down all the ingredients, measurements, and oven temperatures for both dishes. And then we were off……I had till 12.43 to carry a completed tray of 4 skate dishes across the hall to the judges, which I thought was plenty of time but it turned out I only made it by 30 seconds. I had my plan of attack pretty clear in my head: tart dough first, then the tart compote, do the first pass on the potato cocottes, fillet the skate, make the croutons, roll out the dough, butter and bake the tart, fine chop the parsley, prepare the mise for the brown butter Grenoble sauce (butter, lemon supremes, lemon juice, capers), qc and second pass on the cocottes and then boil them, sauté the skate, make the brown butter sauce, plate and deliver the skate, pick my mint garnishes, whip the crème Chantilly, apricot glaze the cooled apple tart, plate and deliver the tarts! I was a bit nervous about my dishes, but Chef Dominique had tasted my skate and said that it was very good which brought down my apprehension level a bit. I thought my tart dough was a bit too crunchy, but it turned out Chef Hervé likes a crunchy tart dough so that all worked out. After we were all finished, we were called in one at a time and told by the judges how we did. My potatoes were cocotted very well but weren’t quite hot enough, and my plating assembly could have been better, but overall I did pretty well. I took the opportunity to have a good conversation with Chef Hervé about which alcohols to put in various desserts which was fun.

Me getting my evaluation (and talking tequila) with Chef Herve
Me getting my evaluation (and talking tequila) with Chef Herve
Erik and the obligatory flambe shot
Erik and the obligatory flambe shot

After we were all done, we all did high fives, but it was a bittersweet celebration. This was the last day of classes and we are all separately off to do our externships for the next two months and aren’t going to see each other until our final written exam in April. (After our externships are over, we come back to school for one day to write a final written exam and make a presentation about our externship.)

“hot hot hot”

We all went to Toad Hall to celebrate with Chef Dominique and Chef Joe afterwards which was a lot of fun. Tequilas all round!!!!! Congratulations to everyone, I’m going to miss you all!!!!!!!!

Of course, the entire day would have been a disaster had it not been for a pigeon. I got home yesterday so exhausted that I didn’t set my alarm properly so it didn’t go off, but  I was woken up at 8.17am by the sound of a pigeon at our window. Had it not been for that pigeon I would have slept right through the morning exam for sure.

Moving forward, I’m planning to write about all our experiences at our various externships, the tips we’re each learning at our various restaurants, and then what we’re going to do culinarily afterwards. The adventure continues….

Culinary Arts Project

The Final Practical Exam is tomorrow, and three incredible days at JoJo – Day 78

Luis adding a little love to his plate
Luis adding a little love to his plate
Dalal and her two tarts. The first tart didn't make the grade.
Dalal and her two tarts. The first tart didn’t quite make the grade.

Tomorrow is the day that all of Level 4 has been leading up to. We start 30mins earlier (we all had to sign a sheet okaying this), walk in, pick a number out of a hat which will tell us what and when we’re going to be tested on.

If we pick “A” Garde Manger (salads & soups) + Saucier (meats) then we will have to cook on one of
1) Consomme Printanier
2) Poached Eggs
3) Salade Nicoise
plus one of
1) Pork Chops
2) Chicken Grand Mere
3) Beef Bourguignon

If we pick “B” Poissonier (fish) + Patissier (desserts) then we will have to cook on one of
1) Sautéed Skate Grenoble
2) Striped Bass Papillote
3) Grilled Salmon with White Wine Herb Sauce
plus one of
1) Apple Tart
2) Profiteroles
3) Lemon Tart

Emma and Erik discuss the weird goings on in the kitchen... missing pasta, plates getting moved, etc..
Emma and Erik discuss the weird goings on in the kitchen today… missing pasta, plates getting moved, tension, etc..

The easiest combo for me is definitely the skate + apple tart, but who knows what combo chef has in store for us. Time to start reviewing these recipes.

After school on Friday I had my “trail” at JoJo Restaurant, Jean-George’s first New York restaurant. It was totally trial by fire. I first did some prep, but then was quickly put on Linden and Genevieve’s garde-manger station, which meant we were putting together all the salads and the desserts. It was also the last day of “restaurant week”, where hundreds of restaurants have a special “discounted” menu. In Toronto we call the equivalent Winterlicious. What this meant was that JoJo was jam-packed and it was pure craziness in the very small “French style” kitchen, but it also meant that most people were ordering similar items, so for example once I got down the 13 steps required to assemble the carrot salad, I handled those when the orders came in. It was a great learning night, because I was able to add value very quickly. Nevertheless, it was mayhem. Near the end of the evening “Stewart, the chef wants to speak to you downstairs”, Uh oh. I had screwed a couple things up, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It turns out that Chef Ron felt I was a good fit and offered me the externship which I accepted right away. He said that I could go home if I wanted, but I knew Linden was still under pressure so went straight back to the kitchen to finish the night. Right then a huge wave of orders hit, and so it was back into the mayhem till very very late. It was a very long day. When the last order was filled, the whole kitchen crew all high-fived, but really I was read to collapse……..but what I didn’t realize is that this was just the beginning.

Assembling a made to order eggs benedict crab cake at JoJo.
Assembling a made to order eggs benedict crab cake at JoJo.

I asked when I could work next…. “how about brunch tomorrow?” So for Saturday and Sunday I worked the full day shift manning the meat station. Saturday was a bit less stressful, because the guy doing the meat station was there showing me the ropes, but on Sunday it was just me on meat, reporting to Remi who was doing all the fish and the eggs and running the show (with mastery I might add). It was supposed to be slow day, but all of a sudden there were 40 more “covers” than expected and a wave of pure panic hit. Plus, there were orders for courses I hadn’t cooked yet just as Remi got swamped. The head chef had to step in and help out. I didn’t do a perfect job and screwed some things up, burnt myself several times, but got through it. It’s a tough place to be in when everything is new, you’re not in control, really under pressure, and making mistakes, but I actually started to gain a little confidence by the end of it. PLUS we were making some pretty fantastic tasting food (more on this to come).

I have my recipes to study for the exam tomorrow and then I’m going to collapse (apparently there’s a superbowl thingie going on today as well). It’s back to JoJo on Tuesday.