My oh my, what a day in the kitchen. I'm proud to say I've survived our first practical exam and by the skin of my teeth, no less. To explain, our exams in the kitchen consist of theory and practical tests. The theory portion is on the food itself - history, mechanics, origin, reactions of ingredients - all the things we study in our textbook and through powerpoints, etc. The practical exam is the actual cooking that we're tested on and holy crapola, it is intense.
In the days leading up to it, we were prepared as much as possible for how things would go. We were told that we'd come in that morning and wait to have the recipes (between 3 and 5 of them) revealed all at the same time. We were allowed to bring our textbook that day and would have 15 minutes to write down recipes, notes, whatever would help us get organized and then we'd have 45 minutes for the knife skills portion. From then on, we'd have time slots to produce our dishes - not a minute early, not a minute late - and that would be that. As a lover of all the food challenge shows like Chopped and Iron Chef, I seriously felt like I'd stepped into that arena and became a contestant for the day.
I was really nervous when I got into the kitchen that morning, I'm not gonna lie. Timed tests or exercises haven't always been my strong suit and it brought me back to being in high school where I just had heavy anxiety each time I had a test. All I could do was think positively and try not to worry so much. Um, that doesn't come easily for me. The three recipes we'd be doing were caponata, ravioli with ricotta and swiss chard in sage butter and risotto parmigiana. I just KNEW caponata would be one of the things we'd do because it has so many ingredients and steps to it. It's "easy" enough, but time consuming, so I knew for sure somehow that we'd be doing that. The thing is, being timed adds a huge element of anxiety because you're having to produce amazing results in a very short time frame which is what's preparing us for life in a professional kitchen. I really do thrive on that adrenaline but it comes with a large amount of stress until you start getting a bit more used to it.
Having to produce homemade ravioli as the second dish just about killed me. I was organized in making my pasta dough first thing once the clock starting ticking but man, putting it all together when the time came was really stressful. I felt myself losing it a little and I had to give myself a pep talk halfway through, no joke. Oh, just a side note...picture the chefs walking around with clipboards taking notes, standing over your shoulder, watching all you do...um, hello nerve-wracking! I now have a giant appreciation for those food shows I mentioned above.
The risotto was sort of a welcomed dish by the time I got to it. It's methodical and a little calming but guess what? I completely undershot the timing and my risotto was ready ten minutes before it was my turn to present it. That means it had to sit in a hot pan getting cooked more than it should while waiting to plate it. Yep, my beautiful risotto became nice and mushy. Arrrrrrgh!
All I know is that the day completely flew by but I made it through. I did get each plate in on time, which is really the most important thing, and I didn't lose my mind. Yay, positivity! We all knew that our first practical would be quite an experience and I know that I'll get better with time. It was just a really intense experience and I haven't felt pressure like that probably ever in my life. I guess that's what happens when you really care deeply about what it is you're doing! I never had that in a school environment before so this really was new for me. I loved the experience though, even feeling the anxiety, nerves and stress. It sharpened and pushed me which is what I need and ultimately want. I learned very quickly what things will be like going forward, that's for sure! What a day, what a day...