Culinary Study Habits

I have never missed a day of class and I have never been late – until today; the day of my baking and pastry final.

I had every intention of studying for my final exam, but found it difficult to concentrate last night as Desserts Magazine, Twitter and Facebook romanced me until well after midnight.

I was no different in college (almost 20 years ago) - always a procrastinator. After an entire semester of paying attention, taking notes and applying what I learned, I found that I either knew it, or I didn't. And no amount of studying the night before was going to help me.

A review, however, was always in order. And I convinced myself last night that I knew enough to save the review until this morning.

Fast forward to this morning's best-laid plans...

I created my review sheets after breakfast - right on track – and left early for class so I wouldn't have to rush and could review my notes before the exam. And there it was, as I merged onto the highway: a stationary line of red tail lights, pulsing like levels on a boom box. Murphy's Law, reporting for Sirius Radio weather and traffic, described a horrific accident, perfectly positioned between me and my exit, with all lanes blocked.

I was trapped on I-4, somewhere between Disney and Universal Studios. And when you're trapped on I-4 in Orlando, somewhere between Disney and Universal, you're trapped with tourists who have no idea where they're going. Better yet, you're also trapped with permanent residents who like to pass the time by contemplating ways to inflict unthinkable acts of road rage on the tourists who have no idea where they're going.

There was no question. My exit, only a mile away, was shut down, blocked, and I was going to be late for my final exam.

I went through the emotions - panic, anger, frustration. I even contemplated ways to inflict road rage on the tourists, with evil laughter and wringing hands. After 30 minutes of emotional struggle, I found the trail of pulsing red lights to be soothing and delightful, like a straight jacket. I gave in and tried to find order and pattern in the random flashes of red to pass the time. Tried.

I mustered up some adult responsibility and called my advisor to let her know I was going to be late (take that Murphy), and focused on trying get to class as quickly and safely as possible - there were 4 other accidents reported in the area.

My normal 15-minute ride had hit the 50-minute mark when I eventually came to an exit, and finally the campus. And because I had left so early, was able to burst into class only ten minutes late. I apologized, face flushed, out of breath. Chef was in his whites, slouched, casual, no doubt a vacation mindset.

"Relax," he said. “Catch your breath. I've still got kids in here from the one o'clock class taking the exam."

I missed my review time, and was desperately trying to channel my notes via any ounce of a photographic memory I like to think I have, but really don't. This was not only my final exam, but without being able to review, it was a true test of what I learned and retained over the summer.

It took me 10 minutes to calm down and focus, 10 minutes to take the exam, and three minutes to noodle over questions I suspected were wrong before giving up. I either knew it or I didn’t, and no amount of time spent staring at the page was going to help me.

Chef graded our exams as we handed them in. I got a 92; an A. I was relieved, happy, proud. Everything I had studied throughout the semester was really in there - right there in my head, on the tip of my tongue; quick breads, pie dough, custards, pate a choux, cakes, laminated doughs. I knew it. I know it.

Like Chef, I'll be on vacation next week. I plan on bringing all of my professional cooking books with me, including the book we’ll be using next semester, and am excited to read them while slouched in a chair by the hotel pool.

And when I return from vacation, I'll spend the next three months studying the affects of heat on proteins like chicken, eggs and fish, how to make emulsions, bases, broths and sauces.

Each week, for the next three months, I’ll study something new, but you'll never catch me studying the night before the final exam.