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Having completed Advanced Patisserie, all that stands between me and my future as a culinary nomad is one more college course: Evening Dining.

Yes, after eight weeks of pastries and petit fours, cakes and chemical thickeners, chocolate and choice desserts, I’m returning to the Prairie Lights kitchen for one final shift; my college swan song, my academic last hurrah.

Truth be told, I’m anxious to get back into the kitchen after so many weeks in the pastry lab. I yearn for the heat of a proper kitchen, the speed of a working line.

I have no doubt I’ll get my wish; the standards are quite high in the Prairie Lights kitchen and the expectations our instructors have of us by this point in our education even higher.

You’re more than welcome to see for yourself if my classmates and I can hack it: the restaurant is now accepting reservations for the evening session.

We’re open from March 1st through April 20th, Tuesdays through Fridays. During that time, we’re offering three menus, each running for approximately two weeks.

Have a look! Make a reservation! Try all three! Bon appétit!

 

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It’s been almost a month now since I started my work term. Time has flown by and I have been having a blast.

With the weather slowly improving, the number of reservations is growing, the pace of the kitchen quickening.

I’m working the evening shift right now, which means my day starts at 2 p.m. and finishes anytime between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. During that time, I help finish up lunch service, handle any final prep for the evening and, if time permits, the following morning. All the while anticipation builds for the ensuing evening.

Every now and then I steal a moment for myself, taking a seat on an overturned milk crate, taking in the din of the air conditioning unit and the view of the dumpster across the staff parking lot whilst enjoying a cup of hot, albeit stale coffee. In it’s own rugged way, it’s blissful.

This past week was especially exciting: I had the chance to work the line alongside the executive chef. We were slammed, and he jumped in to help us push out a table for 20. I did my best to keep my cool, tending to the pickerel I was pan frying, steaks I was grilling and vegetables I was running to and from the steamer. It was intense, what with my chef keeping one eye on me, my methods and my timing. I managed okay.

Of course, what’s most extraordinary about times like those is how everyone, no matter their skill level, background, or depth of experience, pulls together, puts egos aside, and works like a cohesive team to get ‘er done.

And we did.

So far, so good.

What a difference a year makes.

Last summer I was gallivanting about Europe and North Africa; this summer, I am working the line in Winnipeg.

Red River College’s culinary arts program has a co-operative education component, which means I spend two-thirds of the program in the “classroom,” and a final third in the “real world.” During this, my first work placement (the second, next summer), I will be at a golf and country club in the southern end of the city.

It’s an ideal spot to get my sea legs, grow my skills, expand my knowledge, and gain some genuine work experience. Better still, I’ll be required to assist with all kinds of cooking; from short-order breakfasts and lunches, to fine dining dinners and banquets.

Why just the other night, we prepared a 6-course, seafood dinner for 80, including halibut with sweet potato mash and a vanilla bean-infused beurre blanc (top), seafood terrine with dill sauce and micro greens (middle), and wasabi-crusted salmon with a butter-poached rock lobster and a crispy parsnip garnish (bottom).

Granted, it’s early days yet, but so far, I’m loving it — and look forward to a busy summer spent on the line.