First off, I'd like to wish a Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and upcoming New Years Day to all of you. I hope that you have a great time during the holidays with family and friends.
Since, it's the holiday time, I thought I'd post something a little different. Here's how my first semester went in the baking and pastry program.
As my bio says, I'm currently a culinary student. I came in thinking I was ahead of the curve. I've baked at home since I was about 10 or 11. I've watched all the baking shows and love to read about the craft. I thought, I'd only learn how to perfect what I somewhat already knew. Man, was I ever wrong! The baking and pastry program is a one year degree. The way it's split is four months on pastry and four months on baking. I just wrapped up the pastry portion last week and thought I'd tell you about my experience.
Coming in, I didn't know what to expect. I was nervous. I thought that I'd be the least experienced one there and I would be left behind. You know how the first day of school messes with your mind. It makes you way more nervous than you should be. The first day jitters I had were quickly settled once I got to hear the other student's introductions and how passionate they were about this industry. I thought that the class would get along well after I heard their intros. I must admit though, chef was a little intimidating as well. He's one of the few ACF Certified Master Pastry Chef's in the world and he was sitting in my classroom, how could I not be intimidated? But again, after getting to hear him speak, my nerves calmed down. The first day was mainly a lecture and paperwork. We didn't get into the actual kitchen work until a couple of days later.
It was time to get to work. Like a baby cub thrown into the wild, it was time to learn my new environment. When we got to actually working in the pastry kitchen, it was a nerve wrecking experience. Chef had a certain way he wanted things done and I quickly learned that. I had to adapt to the pace and to the large scales of the recipes. To some, chef was nitpicky, but really he just wanted to give us the most value for our money. I learned different recipes and techniques throughout the semester and I found myself being corrected on things a lot. It was a humbling experience. I found out I didn't know as much as I previously thought. We started off pretty simple. We were making cheesecakes, pies and things like that. I was pretty upset at the time, because I was feeling more and more like it was a waste of time and money. I was learning things I already knew. As we progressed, I started to find more value in what I was learning. We started making pate a choux, cakes and building tortes. All good, but not the most interesting things in the world. The first half of the semester kind of dragged on when we got into the groove of things.
The second half of the semester, we got into the more complex things. We made ice cream, chocolates, plated desserts and eventually did cake decorating. I must say, I enjoyed the second half of the semester much more than the first. Don't get me wrong, I learned a lot in the first half, but they weren't things that really intrigued me. I've always loved ice cream, chocolates and cake decorating, so I was really excited to learn all that. I learned how to temper chocolate for the first time. You can imagine my mind spinning after those couple of days. It was amazing to see how precise you have to be to get the chocolate in temper every time. I learned that apparently, ice cream needs air in order to be creamy. Cleanliness matters. Always keep hot water around. The freezer is the pastry chef's best friend. The lessons were endless....
(Dark Chocolate Ganache's)
As we wrapped up the semester, it was kind of bittersweet. Don't get me wrong I was glad it was done. It was a grueling semester for me. Going to school Tuesday through Friday for four months and working on my off days was really exhausting. I couldn't wait for it to be over. But, I did grow fond to the others in the class. I found that all of them are generally good people on the same academic journey I'm on. Chef was also a really pleasant surprise. I expected him to be knowledgeable, but he was also surprisingly down to earth, kind and always answered our questions with no problems. A great example of his kindness occurred when my great uncle passed away during this semester. I took a couple of days off to go to funeral and be with family. When I came back, chef was very empathetic and compassionate. He was trying to be very light hearted and I really appreciated that. He was very rigid about techniques and recipes, but he kept it light throughout as well. Overall, the class was tough, but very well worth it. I learned so much. Much more than I thought I could in a few months. But most importantly, I learned that learning and education in this industry never stops. It's an ongoing process and I'm so excited to continue that process in school and beyond.