Monday, January 14, 2008

First Exam

I had my first pastry exam today, over tarts and cookies. It was the WORST day EVER, at least for awhile. I'm on target, everything is going smoothly, I sailed through the written portion, and then I burned the caramel for my nut tart. It's supposed to be a light golden color, but it was the color of dark molasses. And smelled horrible. Everything went downhill from there. I made the wrong cookie dough - I was supposed to make vanilla crescent cookies, but I started making spritz cookies. So dumped one dough out and had to scramble to get the correct one going. Then I halved the caramel nut recipe for my big tart, instead of doing the full recipe - we were supposed to halve all of our other recipes, and I just kept on going. So I made the caramel a total of 3 times today. Then the caramel hardened up too much, and it tore a HUGE hole in my tart. It only covered half of it, so in a moment of either brilliance or stupidity, not sure which, I filled the rest of it with almond cream, which is what was supposed to go over all of the caramel filling. I prayed so hard that they would cut into the side that had the caramel filling, rather than the all-almond-cream side. Once it was baked, you couldn't tell that only half of the tart had caramel. I overcooked my bacon for the quiche lorraine. I was delayed on everything because I had so many messups in the beginning, and I wasn't sure that I was going to finish by our stop time of 1:30. Thankfully, by the grace of God, I managed to pull it off.

So now we arrive to judging time. Everything is plated nicely, and from the surface you can't tell that I have a huge secret waiting in my caramel nut tart. Chef Laurie called my name, and I start to sweat bullets, with a huge smile plastered on my face. She went for the caramel nut tart first...moment of truth. Would I look like a total idiot? Would I pull it off? I had angled it so that the caramel side faced her, but then she turned it to examine the edge of my tart shell. Sweating more. She took a knife, and cut a LARGE slice of the tart, and I wasn't sure if she would dip over into the all-almond-cream side. She pulled the slice out...and...caramel filling appeared. I almost did a jig right then and there. My crust needed to be baked a little longer in her mind (although I contest that it's just uneven browning from the really bad ovens), but she said it was perfectly thin and I had the flavor just right.

Moving onto the vanilla crescent cookies: she thought they were a tad uneven, but I'm going to go with what Chef Christopher, the hardball, said about them, that they were "beautiful" and I should make some extras up for the restaurant if I have any down time this week. Phew. Past that. Just the quiche remained. The quiche only has 1 minute once it sets to be taken out of the oven, or the proteins overcoagulate and turn to curds. Quiche lorraine is supposed to be soft and silky smooth. I had pulled it out of the oven and worried the whole time that I had underbaked it. But when Chef Laurie cut into it, she exclaimed with delight at how perfect the texture was, and that other students had been bringing her curds.

So, overall the day and exam ended well, but I never want to do that again. Unfortunately, our next exam is a week from tomorrow. I have the biggest headache, my legs and lower back are killing me, and I'm kind of smelly. I feel so unsure of my abilities now as a pastry chef-to-be. Maybe I'm just not meant to make tarts for a living. And I know that I'm definitely not meant to work in a restaurant under that kind of stress.

A few of us went out after for lunch, and the other gals just wanted to relax. We picked our favorite little restaurant/bar near the school. Sometimes we order a glass of wine, but today, we were craving diet coke. We like to sit at the bar because the GM of the place comes out and talks to us, and the other staff are super friendly and chatty - it must be all of the desserts and quiches we give to them everytime we go. Last time we were there, we met Will Goldfarb, a fabulously well known pastry chef here in town. Ok, so we have a great time chit-chatting and comparing notes about the exam, and I'm feeling fine. But when I got home today, the stress of it all just kind of washed over me and I started bawling. Right now I just don't feel cut out for this. I know I'm good at it, but I had visions of going in, and surprising myself with this unknown talent of perfection for all things pastry, and then at graduation I would be handed the most amazing job and you'd see me on the Food Network one day, and immediately rush out to by my cookbooks. Okay - I didn't really envision quite that much, but I thought that I would be doing better than I am at this point. And really, I'm doing quite well, but under stress like today, my products just didn't exemplify what I can really do. Or - maybe we are only as good as what we can do under stress. Which means I'm actually a terrible pastry cook.

Will I get better? Or maybe it's just a matter of finding my niche in the pastry world. Or finding confidence in myself.

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