Sunday, May 06, 2007

Day 1 at the CIA

Say "Day 1" to anyone who went to the CIA and they just shake their heads. Every 3 weeks at the Culinary Institute students start a new class. Here in this large culinary campus that means that students are in a new kitchen classroom. Cooking in a busy kitchen is a dance. When you get to know where everything is and know how everyone else around you moves it is graceful to watch. But, put 15 people in a kitchen that is foreign and ask them to cook food at a 5-star quality for paying customers, and, oh yeah, you only have 3 hours to get ready for them...that is ugly. The one thing that is constant is that the same 16 students are, pretty much, together for 21 months. They become a tight, highly functioning team.

So, my Day 1 was not nearly as bad as I remembered from 10 years ago. At 1 p.m., I met 3 other students in the store room to pick up the food we will need in the kitchen will I will be cooking. We take the foods to the kitchen and put them away before meeting in a classroom at 2 p.m.. There are 15 of us in the class. A couple of people have come and gone in the group, but 14 have been together for a majority of the time here. From 2 o'clock to 3 Chef LeRoux (yes that is his real name) lectures. from 3-5 we will do food prep. 5 - 5:30 we eat dinner and then go into dinner service. Last reservations role in at 9 p.m. and we finish service and clean-up around 11PM. This is the life of a student in the Back of the House (BOH) at the Escoffier Restaurant (E-Room).

The E-Room is a 5-star restaurant that is one of 4 restaurants on campus. We serve about 100 customers each night. The 15 students are broken down into classic brigade system stations. I am working the Saucier Station with a classmate Mark. For the next 3 weeks we will be making 2 plates for the menu: Supreme de valaille "Mousseline aux Morilles" Sauce Creme (Chicken Breast with "Morel Mousseline," Cream Sauce) and "Ramier" Poele, Puree de Pois Frais, Jus au Balsamic (Roasted Squab with Fresh Pea Puree and Balsamic Jus).

One thing that is shocking is that Chef LeRoux does not have any recipes written for the menu. During the lecture hour he described how he wanted the food put together and said, "go do it". This was a surprise for all of the students. They are used to being able to go to CIA's website and pull down the classes lecture materials and recipes.

It turned out to be a wonderful thing. I looked around as the students went into the kitchen. They were all talking about what they had learned in previous classes and how to do what Chef had talked about. This is the last cooking class all of the students will have. And, they were proving what they had learned. In 2 hours we had everything ready for service and the kitchen was not a disaster!

After Day 1, I am very excited about the next 3 weeks. The students are very cohesive and the know their skills. I am happy that our instructor is the same instructor I had for my first cooking classes 12 years ago; ironically, the first group he ever taught at the CIA. I am happy that 15 students danced on day 1 without stepping on each others toes.

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