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  • Writer's pictureLillian E.

A Food Update

February 29, 2024

Happy Leap Year! I've been so busy, I haven't had time to update my adventure log.

So I came back from Bordeaux and immediately came down with a cold. I don't know a single person in this city who didn't have it at the same time as me or right after. Fortunately it wasn't covid, unfortunately it meant I wasn't up for doing too much (or writing) which is why I started to fall behind.

Food I've made in the past few weeks:

This duck and liver puff pastry. I scored really well on it, but rarely am I able to finish all the food I make, so I saved a hearty slice for myself and donated the rest to my friend and his firehouse. He said it didn't last long (good!).

This was a veal blanquette, and it was surprisingly difficulty because it required about a thousand small pots and pans to be cooking at the same time, and to add to the challenge we were in a kitchen where there are two people to every stovetop. So half the amount of space we're used to working in. (Someone said that's the room we've been assigned for our exam, so cross your fingers we won't be assigned this dish for our final). The color variety was pretty though!

Next on the list was learning how to use a fryer. It was a lot less scary than I thought it was going to be, considering that it's a giant vat of hot oil. This felt like a good, relaxed, Friday afternoon activity. We made fried merlan which is "whiting" (?) in English. I also learned recently that "les yeux des merlans frites" is a French expression for staring at someone with wide eyes (think surprise or disbelief) because you leave the eyes in this fish when you fry it and then it just stares at you in a very similar manner from the plan. Please also take note of our fancy waffle fries.

My classmate and I also decided a few weeks ago that, since Basic Cuisine doesn't cover any pastry courses, we wanted to sign up for one of the single-course macaron workshops the school offered. We showed up in uniform because we had a practical lesson directly afterwards, and the pastry chef thought we were in the wrong kitchen. We had a great time though!

What we learned: apparently our syrup wasn't hot enough (only by 1-2 degrees) when we poured it into our mix, and therefore our macarons weren't as shiny as Chef's. This was due to a faulty thermometer, but they still tasted great! Also, I should've piped my filling faster because my hand started to heat up the pastry bag and my last couple macarons started to slide apart before I could get them into the blast chiller.

The following practical was where we made a lamb navarin, which was really a masterclass in turning potatoes. Also, observe what happens when you forget that you've just pulled an entire pan out of the oven and decide to grab the 180ºC (or 356ºF) handle. My hand is fine now, but it was right in the center of my palm which was inconvenient.

I forgot to add salt.

That night I was supposed to grab drinks with a friend, but he stopped a robbery and had to go testify at the police station, and thus had to cancel his entire evening. Such drama. So, I called up another friend spontaneously and we agreed "I'll bring the stew, you grab something to drink," etc (except we forgot to communicate the rest and both brought bread and desserts. Problem? I think not.) We sat on our coats at the edge of the Seine and I wished I had remembered to taste my dish before I left the kitchen earlier. My friend was a good sport and said it was great (which is fair, he recently told me they microwaved frozen fish sticks for dinner where he lives).

My next dish was an utter masterpiece. Braised beef cheek with honey glazed carrots and puréed potatoes. We'll ignore the fact that my potatoes were slightly undercooked and thus my purée was not a smooth as it could have been, but it still tasted fantastic.

The unfortunate part of this story was that we made it on the first Friday of Lent, and as a Catholic I try to avoid meat on Fridays during Lent... so I tasted it (for scholarly purposes), packed it up, and hauled it over to the firehouse for my firefighter friend. This time he didn't share with his colleagues, and wrote me the next day to tell me it was the best thing I've brought over yet! I like making food for people and hearing they enjoy it :)

This was a stuffed durade royale (gilt-head sea bream), steam cooked, with a virgin sauce and some vegetables. I wasn't super excited about it, and Chef said my biggest problem was that I over-stuffed it, which wasn't terrible. Those curry zucchinis were great though, I ate those right out of the pan.

My family came to visit halfway through February, so I had to balance a few classes in between our outings!

Voilà, my roast prime beef rib with tarragon compound butter and pont neuf potatoes (basically fat steak fries cut to a specific size). This one hurt my heart because I tried to bring it home to show my family and didn't get it to a fridge fast enough, so it went bad before we could eat it. But look how pretty it was! Didn't burn my hand on this dish.

My crab velouté (would've been a bisque, but I added cream).

We had to attack live crabs for this. They got rinsed, then put in the blast chiller to cool down and put them to sleep before we went at them, but still. A new experience, because if you waited too long, their legs started to move again. (If your crabs are dead upon arrival, you risk them being toxic. Gotta start with live ones and hack them to bits, because dumping them in boiling water like you would with a lobster will not allow them to release crab juices necessary for your velouté or bisque).

Accompanied by artichoke fritters. We thought turning potatoes was hard- and then Chef handed us artichokes. I'll take the potatoes, thanks.

Let us take a moment to appreciate my pork chop with jardinière cut vegetables and a reduced pork jus with onions:

Chef gave me no notes, he said it was nearly perfect and I could tell he was impressed. Round of applause, I scored really high!

The yellow dish was a dessert sabayon. Not my favorite, probably should've shaved the coconut instead of sliced it.

I gave the pork to my friend because I already had plans with my family, but on the way to deliver it I had to walk about 15 minutes in the pouring rain with not umbrella (the food was safe in my giant tupperware) and showed up at his front door looking like a drowned ratatouille. We had a good laugh about it and then I went off in search of dry socks. His report was "c'était vraiment très bon :D tu es une vrai chef :D" (it was really very good, you're a true chef).

This one was a Turbot fish, very flat and round. One of the things we did to dress our fish was saw down the backbone with our bread knife (long knife with many teeth), and because I couldn't saw through my fish I figured "oh it must be dull." No, Lillian, you've never used this knife before, it's brand new. But what did I do? I ran my finger down the blade to see if it was dull. Now I have a bandaid on my finger.

I scored really high on my presentation and taste.

The most recent dish we made, done this morning at 7:30 AM, was a filet of sole "bonne femme" style, which basically means it should be served family style in a casserole dish. It was covered in a sabayon sauce, toasted in the salamande (which I needed to stand on a large pot to be able to see inside) and accompanied with mushrooms and tiny piles of wilted spinach.

The only issue Chef had with my dish was that my spinach wasn't hot enough when I presented. Also I almost put dirty mushrooms on my cutting board, which is strictly forbidden. Otherwise, I think this was my highest scoring dish!

Other honorable mentions in the food category:

The wine and cheese and chocolate and charcuterie we had at the local wine shop one evening where we camped out to watch the PSG soccer game after the shop had closed for the evening. I recently bought a jersey and decided it was the most appropriate moment to test it out- my friends laughed at me and PSG lost, but we had a great time anyway! Pepper did not get any cheese, but she tried really hard to convince us to share.

This lunch I had with my classmate one day after school. We decided to metro over to the Champs Elysées and then walk all the way home (just because) and stopped in the most beautiful restaurant. I've decided I really like the mushroom and poached egg appetizer that seems to frequent a lot of Parisian menus. Truffle pasta dish because it was Ash Wednesday, so no meat.

Another meal with classmates: we went to play pool after school one day, and then myself and two others wanted to go try and find a restaurant that served Raclette (a melty cheese dish not to be confused with fondue, the French will die on that hill), but the only one we found turned us away for not having a reservation. So we ended up at a restaurant I was familiar with that specialized in food from the Southwest (le Sud-Ouest) and we split a charcuterie board, and two of us got pork, and the third got sausage. Very reminiscent of my welcome meal in Bordeaux!

My friend and I went to the flea market together and when it started raining, we ducked into this tiny little restaurant/ live music bar called La Chope des Puces. It was awesome. I got mussels, she got a seafood cassolette.

And a couple more moments from school:

Me, too short to reach the salamande, so Chef said I could stand on a marmite in order to make sure my food wasn't burning.

The school café at 7am before class started. The class cases weren't filled for the day yet, but they made sure to have enough pastries for our early morning breakfast!

All of us making sabayon over bain-maries or hot water baths.

(This last video my classmate took one day when Chef had left the room, and he was already finished presenting his dish. He's much faster than the rest of us.)

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