There are no stupid questions, only stupid people.
In week three of culinary school, I think it's safe to say there are some stupid questions. For example, "why do you use yeast in bread and baking powder and soda in biscuits and other things?" You, dear reader, may not know the answer to this question. My classmates, however, should have read chapters 2 and 5 through 9 in Professional Baking by Wayne Gisslen and possible a little bit of How Baking Works by Paula Figoni. I assure you, the answer to this question is there. What is disturbing is when the instructor is unable to answer this question. She went on and on about creating flavor with the yeast, which is largely incorrect. Unfortunately my advisor and program head is not actually teaching this class anymore. She has a teaching assistant running the show. She is an elderly woman who calls herself a "retired chef" even though she graduated from Wake Tech two years ago. As a babysitter for 35 wide-eyed culinary students, most of whom will wash out by December, she is perfect for the job. As a culinary instructor required to explain the science of baking to a few in the class with a broad and comprehensive food knowledge and a drive and passion to be the best they can be, she is less than adequate. We were talking about chemical leaveners yesterday. Someone named vinegar as an acid with which the chemical leaveners would react. She wasn't so sure this was correct. The student mentioned red velvet cake. The instructor said, "Well, that probably has other things like baking powder in it." I'd had enough by this point. I spoke up. "No, actually it only has baking soda which is mixed with the vinegar. It's a very old Southern recipe, created before the invention of the double acting baking powders we have today. So it was leavened with what was available at the time." Another student, C., spoke up as well. "The vinegar reacts with the cocoa powder which turns the cake red." The instructor looked dumbfounded. In her thick Southern accent, she said, "Well, how about that. I didn't know that about red velvet cake." (Red velvet cake is a Southern Institution, by the way.) This woman was my TA for Baking Lab on Friday too. She was shocked when she saw me kneading my dough the right way, without instruction. She really is a nice lady and she likes me, which is good. I'll just have to study my book really well and take what she says in class with a grain of salt. It just bothers me that I'm not sure she has the basic knowledge needed to teach a Baking I class. Everyone keeps going on and on about the awards she's won for her cake decorating. That's all well and good, but it has nothing to do with baking. Maybe she ought to teach the cake decorating class instead. I had a good chat with C. after class. She's really cool and is one of the motivated second year students. She gets it. I like her.
I don't want a story, just your dirty dishes.
At the end of class, we are all expected to clean up. Somehow, I always seem to be in the dish pit. I am okay with this. I know how to wash dishes in both the three sinks and the commercial dishwasher and I can do it faster than most everyone else. I keep trying to explain to people that anything that doesn't need to be scrubbed can be run through the dishwasher. They don't get it. Twenty times in a row I hear, "um, Meg, can this go over here?" "Where do you want me to put this?" "I don't think this came clean in the sinks, should I bring it over here?" This tells me that they have never worked in a restaurant. Even if you've waited tables, you understand how the Dish Pit works. If not, the El Salvadorians will be happy to show you the first time. After that, you'll learn not to interfere with The System. "Just set it over there with the rest of the dishes," I say over and over. The chefs repeat over and over, "if it doesn't have to be scrubbed, send it to the dishwasher."
I keep finding knives in the dish area. This is bad. Kitchen knives are big and sharp. They will cut you. They are also expensive. You don't want someone else handling your knives because they will either be damaged or stolen.
I am beginning to think we need a common sense test before acceptance into the program.
But, wait! there's more!
We had our first sauce making lab yesterday. I made Bechamel, a white sauce, Veloute, a stock based sauce, and Espagnole, a brown sauce that a little more complicated. Chef said mine were excellent. We also had to clarify 2 pounds of butter. I let mine go too long and made clarified brown butter. I was not the only one, thankfully. I also poked my left index finger with the point of my chef's knife. Luckily, I was not the first to shed blood in class. It was just small prick of my finger and I can barely see it today.