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Another course, another exam.

After seven interesting weeks in the cold kitchen, studying everything from salads to sandwiches, cold dressings to canapés, sushi to sculpting with lard, I took my practical exam yesterday; a four-hour marathon of sorts.

Unlike my exam in Basic Food Prep, which involved me drawing a series of recipes from a hat and making them in 3 hours, I knew what was expected of me walking into the Garde Manager lab:

  • 1 litre of mayonnaise
  • 500 millilitres of Ranch dressing
  • 500 mililitres of Thousand Island dressing
  • 6 open-faced sandwiches (2 smoked salmon, 2 egg salad, and 2 ham-and-swiss)
  • 12 canapés (4 salami cornets, 4 ham salad, and 4 smoked salmon)
  • 4 chef’s salads
  • 4 fruit plates

What made this particular exam so challenging wasn’t the recipes (sandwiches are fairly straightforward!); it was the fact that nothing, save for having eggs already hard-boiled, was done for us. Everything from making the canapé toasts, to slicing the meats and cheeses, to preparing the requisite sandwich and canapé spreads, had to be done in those four hours.

Our instructor had encouraged us to come with a timeline; a schedule of sorts mapping out how we would use the time we had available to complete all of the tasks.  Whilst I had, indeed, put something down on paper, I didn’t really need it: I had been obsessing about the exam for so long I had internalized every step completely.

And so, when the clock struck 7:30 a.m., I went into autopilot.

Assemble the necessary ingredients for the dressings; make the mayo, then the Ranch and Thousand Island; move on to the egg salad; further prep for the sandwiches and canapés; prepare the requisite spreads and make croutons; assemble sandwiches; wash lettuce and assemble chef’s salads; slice the fruit and plate it.

I’ve never done ballet, but feel like I came pretty close yesterday. As the clock struck 11:00 a.m. — three-and-a-half hours after we started and a full 30 minutes before the deadline — I was laying out everything I’d made for grading. The whole time I was thinking to myself, “where has the time gone?”

After a short break, I was summoned into my instructor’s office to receive my final grade. I was nervous. I knew I’d done well, but also firmly believe, in all things, I could have done better.

After a brief chat, he delivered his verdict: A+.

As Emeril says, “Bam!”

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This past week we tackled canapés–those bite-sized snacks long a staple of cocktail parties and smarmy receptions.

I must admit I was a little skeptical of this assignment at first, but I quickly found myself taking great delight in the often delicate and precise manner in which these little items are assembled.

As the week progressed, I was even given a special assignment: tuna escabèche, which involves searing and then marinating the fish before serving.

I enjoyed the work, even if the end result was destined for some smarmy reception!

I dare say mayonnaise — the real stuff, made by hand — is magic.

Sure, there is a scientific explanation for the process by which oil and water are fused together (see emulsion). And yet, that explanation — however accurate it may be — fails to capture the sheer alchemy that takes place when oil is whisked vigorously into egg yolks, a dash of vinegar, a dollop of Dijon, a pinch of salt and just a touch of white pepper.

So, go ahead; give it a go; conjure up a little homemade mayo and taste a little magic on the end of your spoon.