Thursday, December 03, 2009

Here's why they call it rice peel-off

Twenty minutes into today's competency exam on cooking starches and vegetables, we were startled to attention by a loud BOOM! emanating from the stove top where two fellow students were busily working.

The lid on culinary student Rob Park's rice pilaf had blown off in a buildup of steam from the very tight fit. Residue from the little explosion hit the top of the hood vent under which Rob was cooking. Later in cleanup, we had to peel it off.

Other than that, fortunately, little damage was done, and no one was hurt. We all returned to the cooking challenge.

And a challenge it was. I finished with just three minutes to spare, presenting my final plate -- green bean sauté and julienned red bell peppers -- to Chef Dan Fluharty for grading. It got 9 of a possible 10 points, as did each of three other plates: my own rice pilaf (no explosions preceded the presentation), carrots glazed in orange juice, artichoke presented with aioli sauce.

Falling short of the mark was my problem child for the day, pommes duchesse. The elegant little potato mounds, piped from a pastry bag and then roasted to a golden brown, suffered in texture and doneness. It was my second batch of the day; I had started over when my first batch of spuds was undercooked, something I didn't realize until I had added egg, salt and butter and began trying to mash them with my whisk. Seven points was my score.

Nevertheless, the experience of having to start over and still making deadline was something I needed. And making the potatoes twice, plus the side dish of aioli sauce (hand-made mayonnaise infused with roasted garlic) made a total of seven dishes prepped in the two hours.

No bad for this rookie chef.

(Photo: my rice pilaf, unexploded stage.)

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