Monday, February 08, 2010

Mystery basket menus for final exam

What one knows about cooking is only as good as how well one can apply the knowledge when those 60,000-BTU burners are fired up. That's the left brain-right brain dance that occurs in the kitchen.

Then there's what I call the "third brain," a mystical element that catalyzes the cognitive and the creative in the culinary arts, bringing about magical results that a scientist could explain but whose properties are better left to the imagination.

All the knowledge we have acquired in the last 18 weeks, and all the skill we have built in applying it must come together for magical results on Wednesday in final competency cooking exams in Culinary Foundations III.

First test will be that after fabricating a whole chicken, we will take one breast and make a meal of it, in 45 minutes. More about my plan for that in a blog posting later today.

Second test will be prepping, cooking and plating another meal from a specified menu in one hour, what Chef Dan Fluharty has called "the mystery basket." He revealed mystery basket contents on Friday:
1. Seared and oven-finished breast of duck with sauce bigarade, herbed couscous, seasonal vegetable, garnish.
2. Grilled New York steak with roasted garlic compound butter, pommes duchesse, creamed spinach and garnish.
3. Poached snapper with salmon mousseline, caper beurre blanc, rice pilaf, seasonal vegetable and garnish.
4. Seared and oven-finished rack of lamb with hazelnut crust, mint demi-glace sauce, potatoes croquettes, Brussels sprouts and garnish.
5. Grilled pork chop with sauce chasseur, potatoes anna, sauté of green beans and red bell peppers and garnish.
Before we drew numbers on Friday from Chef's toque blanche to determine who makes which plate, the buzz among the 10 of us was that the highest degree of difficulty is with the poached snapper because of the mousseline. That's a stuffing that must be prepped and piped into the rolled fish fillet.

Perhaps. But every one of the five has its challenges, not only in getting the protein cooked properly, but in the balance between crispness and overdoneness in vegetables, the delicacies of the sauces and the seasoning needed to bring the starches to full flavor.

On Tuesday, I will reveal which of the five I drew and my game plan for it.

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