Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The Big Day - exam fever strikes

So this is it. 12 weeks, and a lifetime of cooking, are about to be tested to the limit. The most important meal I have ever cooked is just around the corner and like Time Team I have “just three hours” in which to do it.
Careful menu planning, ingredient research and ordering, detailed Order of Work, knife sharpening and mental runs through could all be thrown down the pan if I don’t get it right. The good news is I have to cook a bread which is straightforward and not too time consuming. The bad news is a 12:30 start – last of the day – so plenty of time to get nervous, have kittens, raise a whole genus of butterflies internally and otherwise panic. Can I do it? Of course I can – but can I do it today and in the time allowed, and to the standard required?
An extra long shower, before heading down to get the espresso going. Arriving in the kitchen of the house I met a housemate with an 8:30 start eating her breakfast and mentally rehearsing. Not a lot was said, it was not one of those mornings. Another with a “cook ahead” on a multi stage dish joined us silently, the only sounds in the room being the kettle boiling and the dishwasher churning.
Condemned men are meant to eat a hearty breakfast but coffee and toast was as much as I could face. Next meal after I finish the exam, and only caffeine, adrenalin and nicotine to keep me going till gone four.
A double check on my recipes, knives and uniform and I was as ready to go as I would ever be. Shame it was only 9am!!
Eventually I could stand it no more so by 11:40 I was on my way to school although I did not have to be there until 12:15 and it is a 10 minute walk. Time for reflection and more nicotine!!
At 12:10 I entered the hallowed portal to be told that they were running late and that I should take a seat. I joined a small crowd who were also delayed; the dining room began to take on the appearance of Gatwick during an air traffic controllers strike. Most people do overrun and with stations being turned around on an Easyjet style 4 hour time slot any minor delay adds up as the re-provisioning cannot take place until the station has been vacated and cleaned. I chose the dishes on which I would plate for tasting and twiddled my thumbs.
Some of the delays today were because people had to take time out after accidents, when I arrived the most serious had been with a Mandolin and required some serious attention and time out before the unfortunate victim could start again.
I went in around half an hour late. First the bread, made and in the oven in 10 minutes, then the Consommé. ¾ lb of shin of beef was my order – but this is Ballymaloe so I started by detaching the meat from the shin bone of a cow (at least you know that it is what you ordered). Then dice the vegetables, combine with egg whites and stock and bring to the boil. Once it has you have a break from the Consommé for 45 minutes to an hour. Caramelised Banana Tart next and in the oven for 45 minutes.
On paper it was all downhill from there, bit of boiling, bit of dicing, touch of frying then plating and out. But time was flying like Usain Bolt and my downhill was more like a parachute less sky dive.
Eventually I pulled it all together but about an hour over the allotted three. The Consommé, clear as a mountain stream allowed the julienne to be seen like carp in an ornamental pond – no need for further garnish. The Pan Fried John Dory, just 50 minutes earlier still attached to a fed up looking fish, were arranged over a small mound of herbed mashed potatoes with a little garnish of crispy fried mushrooms and a pan juice reduced sauce artistically drizzled around the plate, buttered Spinach and Leeks with Yellow Peppers sat in their own side dish. The Banana Tart needed no embellishment other than a quenelle of rum flavoured Crème Chantilly.
Then you get to leave whilst three judges taste and comment. Been there, done that but on BBD you found out the result on the day not two months later. How do I rate it? Bread Ok but not spectacular, Consommé did what it says on the tin, Mains above average but I could have done better, Banana Tart – Bleeding Epic.
Have I got photos? To be honest I was so tired by the end that I forgot to take any!!
Have I done enough to score the pass mark of 60%? I don’t know and will not until February, but if i haven’t I question the value of Friday’s 6 hours of written exams as the only way you graduate is by passing the Practical Cookery exam.
A hard day, a testing day but that’s what we signed up for.
Tomorrow a day of rest and revision oh yes and cross referencing.


  1. Only 60% pass rate a dawdle for you then you got 85% in the wine which you hate and you love food so bound to do better
    see its easy when you apply logic!

  2. What a day! hope you are relaxing now with a nice pint or a wee drop of malt! I'm glad to know, that I have to expect delays and other obstacles tomorrow. I start at 12 o clock and I hope there is not a cow left to be dissected for my stew!!!!
    See you on Friday!