Today was by far my hardest day of culinary school to date. I’m not sure if it was actually hard, or if I was just so intimidated and busy psyching myself out that it just seemed really hard. Either way, I feel like I went through the ringer today!
Like I mentioned last week, in this class, we are each responsible for our own dish or job. Today I was scheduled to make Supreme de Volaille Henri IV, otherwise known as sautéed chicken breast with artichokes and béarnaise sauce. This meant I was going to be sautéing chicken to order on the line – just like in a real restaurant. And I was terrified.
I started by prepping my artichoke bottoms…
And then marinated them in olive oil infused with fresh tarragon…
The only Chef demo we had today was a quick one on julienning some tricky vegetables – onions, carrots, and celery – the big three.
The issue with my dish was that since it was a “cooked to order” type of sauté, I had to wait until really close to service time to start actually doing anything. I spent my morning prepping my ingredients, but I couldn’t really get started until Chef Tiess gave me the okay.
I spent my extra time getting more and more nervous, and trying to help out my classmates. As it got closer to service time, I was literally starting to panic. I don’t cook a lot of meat as it is, and I’m definitely not used to a fast-paced restaurant environment – it’s not my style at all. A few of my friends were awesome and kept checking in on me to see if I was okay – I think they could see on my face how nervous I was!
Finally at 10:30, after two hours of prep and panic, I was ready to get started. I gathered up all my mis en place and Chef showed me very quickly what I needed to do to make my dish. I did my best to watch and study what he did so that I could repeat it from memory as the orders came in.
Servers started lining up and orders were called out. As soon as I did the first one and it came out looking (and tasting!) good, I felt like a million pounds came off my shoulders. I knew I could do it – just had to keep going. 15 more orders to go!
As I stood there cooking, I thought back to an article I read on the plane yesterday in Runner’s World magazine. The article was called “Feeling Lucky” and the takeaway was – if you view your run as an opportunity, your attitude will get an adjustment. To quote the author, Kristin Armstrong…
I was chugging up a hill saying to myself, I have to get up this hill, I have to finish this workout. And then all of a sudden, a few people came to mind, some sick, others struggling, and I thought about how much they would love to have the opportunity to tackle this hill. I bet they wouldn’t think they had to. In the clarity of thinking that comes with adversity, they would likely say they got to run up this hill. I wondered what might happen if I started to think that way…
How many times have I felt obligated to run, while counting down the miles until it is over? It’s a lesson in learning to live in the moment and enjoy the g
ifts you’ve been given. I realized that Ms. Armstrong’s story was as much about running as it could be about cooking. Here I was totally panicking, psyching myself out that I wasn’t good enough and just praying for it to be over instead of appreciating a unique experience.
One year ago today, I was still sitting at my desk job, unhappy and bored, praying for something to come along and give me a much needed jolt. Here was that very boost and I wasn’t taking advantage of it or even enjoying it. Immediately I changed my attitude – I reminded myself that I am so lucky to get to do this every day. How many people get to start over at age 28? Scared or not, I felt blessed to get the chance to try something exciting, and to get to learn from the experience.
I fired off pan after pan of chicken, literally drenched in sweat from the adrenaline…
And before I knew it, it was over! My final products looked great and tasted great, and I had overcome my fear of working the cooking line. Most importantly, I had ended up enjoying it!
Even though today was a roller coaster for me, it was also huge confidence booster – one that I can hopefully keep for the next six days of this intense class! I cooked the rest of my chicken for the class to eat for lunch, and we got to work on setting up the individual plates.
I had a plate of salad (just as my camera battery died), and then headed home proud of myself for making it through the day. It was my most challenging day of culinary school by far, and one that will definitely stick out in my memory.