Monday, 16 May 2011

Exams on the Horizon

The arrival of the middle of May has brought with it the looming realisation that our final exams are at the start of June. Time has really flown and I find it hard to believe I'm two thirds of the way through basic cuisine, the first part of my three part diplome de cuisine.

Our final grades are composed of roughly 40% our work in the kitchens throughout the term, 10% a written exam and 50% the final dish, so it is exceedingly important. Suffice to say a meltdown in the final exam and a resulting fail for the practical would end up in an overall fail, everything's on the line.

We've known about what dish we have to prepare for our final practical exam for a while now, and indeed last Thursday was our first chance to gauge how difficult the exam was going to be as we prepared it for the first time.

The dish we have to produce in 2 hours is a Chicken Fricassee with Mushroom Cream Sauce and Glazed Vegetables.

Now this isn't a difficult dish at all to cook, but what I can say is that overall the difficulty of the dish is greater than the sum of its parts. Most of the key techniques we've learnt this term are included:
-turning vege
.....but none of these are difficult. The main difficulty is time, or more specifically the lack of it.

We have to singe, trim and butcher chicken into eight equal portions. Sear it, braise it, make a sauce, reduce it, prepare a mountain of different vegetables, turn 6 of each vegetable (carrots, courgettes, potatos, baby onions) perfectly, glaze them all individually in their own pans, and then the tough part; bringing it all together at temperature from five or so pots and pans.

Here is my first attempt which took me about 2.5 hours, I accidentally deleted the best photo I took but this'll give an idea:

Not pretty by any means, but it's a plate of food intended to demonstrate skills not win rosettes. I prepared the dish 30 minutes over time which isn't bad for a first attempt. It was a very frantic 2.5 hours I will admit, but hopefully due to a revision in my plan of attack and some improvement on the two main time consuming jobs (the butchery and turning of vege), I'll be able to get under that two hour mark comfortably.

Chef's feedback on my Fricassee:
-Chef said this was easily a passing dish, hooray! but I'm aiming for more than passing, I want to pass well.
-My vegetable turns which you can see in the photo were "OK but nothing to write home about.."
-The vege was glazed and seasoned well
-My chicken was cooked perfectly and well seasoned
and the negatives:
-Parsley wasn't a chiffonade, oops!
-Mushroom sauce too creamy. This was a byproduct of the fact that I had far too much stock to reduce for my sauce so I overcompensated with cream (the stock reduction also added immeasurable time despite double reducing in two pans).

Overall a definite success, but with a couple more practice rounds the final exam should run a lot smoother.

Last week we also made some more soups:

Consomme Celestine (clear beef broth with savoury crepes)

and Soupe a l'oignon gratinee ( French onion soup)

The onion soup was nice and hearty, we added some sherry which gave it more depth. The beef consomme was lost on me, it seemed like a lot of work and waste for a clear, not particularly flavoursome watery soup. Chef was happy with the consomme so it wasn't my cooking, just a matter of personal preference, I imagine I'd really enjoy a seafood based broth.

We also cooked a charming baby chicken who had kindly saved me his green entrails:

Poussin Saute a l'Estragon, Compote de Pommes

Baby Chicken with Tarragon and Mustard Sauce, Apple Compote

This is my favourite dish of the last few days in the kitchen and probably my best effort yet. 
"Not a lot wrong there, a good plate of food." 
From one of the Cordon Bleu chefs that sounded to me like: "You are an absolute God of the kitchen, a scholar and a gentleman."

Thats all for now, tomorrow is offal day!

I've seen this reading up to 50 degrees.

If you can't stand the heat ... ... .. ... .......!


  1. well done !! Adam !!
    Im scared of final exam :(

  2. That last dish sounds really good! ^^