Culinary School: End of the Line (The Final Practical)

vacillatingly June 17, 2010

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At first there is only the sound of 11 knives beating against a board. Then there is the smell of butter melting in hot pans throughout the room, followed by the crescendo of whisks smacking stainless steel bowls. We don’t talk. We’ve been instructed not to speak unless our words are guttural sounds proclaiming, “I can’t stop the bleeding.”

With crazy structural changes at work, hospital trips visiting family members and out-of town-company, I’m running a tad on the emotional side. (Gasp, can you believe it?) But no one wants to be that guy complaining about backaches and bruises when the fate of our final practical looms ominously overhead.

We are asked to cook a cream of mushroom soup, asparagus with béarnaise sauce and a bordelaise sauce. And from the moment the clock starts ticking, I enter an alternate state. My mind and body move like a shotgun.

I jockey five saucepans on the range as if I’m playing an elaborate game of chess. I react without thought, leaving all major decisions to instinct and reflex. Vegetables are sauteed, roux is assembled, stock is added, butter is clarified, cream is heated, demi glace is thickened. Mushrooms are sauteed, vinegar and tarragon is reduced until au sec, eggs are beaten into submission, an orange is supremed.

Is this how professional sports players feel? Three hours is actually three minutes. After all of the focus, commitment, sleepless nights, and endless practice, everything comes down to one performance.

I fill three empty cups with three kinds of sauce and stare at them for a moment, judging their quality. I think I’m ready. Cautiously, I walk my sauces over to my instructor for final grading.

Clasping my hands, I stand at the edge of his metal table. My instructor quietly dips into the containers with a plastic spoon and I feel adrenaline drain from my body. My face is burning. I look down at my sleeve, fixating on a splatter of brown sauce. I wait.

Finally, he peers over his black glasses and knits his eyebrows.

“You get an A,” he says. “You did alright.”

I don’t know why but the only thing I can think is this: “I’ve survived another day.” I repeat this phrase in my mind several times as I turn and face the dish tank full of wreckage. “I did alright and I survived another day.”

It’s enough. It’s more than enough.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Ann June 17, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Congratulations! I take mine on Monday – hope I am as composed as you:)

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Courtney June 17, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Me, composed? I was a bit on the overly-hyper, emotional side. Interested to see what you’ll be cooking up and how you do. (I’m sure you’ll do great)

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Ann June 17, 2010 at 3:31 pm

We are also doing Cream of Mushroom, Bearnaise, and a small sauce – I plan to do Chasseur. I will be doing some practice batches this weekend; my Mushroom Soup needs to be thicker. Take care!

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ynq25335 June 17, 2010 at 9:17 pm

@Epiventures Congratulations!

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Small Girl June 17, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Congrats on finishing another term well done! [=

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Rhonda D June 21, 2010 at 5:44 am

Kudos!

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Jen June 22, 2010 at 7:18 am

What’s the plan from here? More classes? Summer break?

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Courtney June 22, 2010 at 10:33 am

I start Cooking 3: Meat, Fish and Poultry next week!

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Owen June 28, 2010 at 9:48 am

I’ve been busy lately. Life changing events. So I am just now catching back up on Epiventures. Congratulations, you seem to be on your way to victory over the ingredients.

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