Chef has been holding us accountable for our cooking skills every week, without lenience, as compared to earlier weeks, when he would implement a learning curve. We’re now automatically tested and graded on the spot — you either know it, or you don’t; you pass the day, or fail the day.

It’s rare that I’m ever nervous in class; this week was one of those rare occasions. Chef has been selecting students at random to break down a side of beef, scale and fillet a fish, or similar. This week, I was put in charge of creating a demi-glace from scratch on one day, and then turning it into Sauce Forestiere the second day, for the entire class and chef instructors.

The beef stock was made the night before by another class, and was extremely salty. Not only did I have to make a great sauce, but I had the challenge of making a great sauce from something already over-salted; not an easy task when your sauce depends on reduction, which only increases saltiness.

I had never made a demi-glace by myself before, so I was guessing and hoping my big picture idea would work. Rather than adding tons of water to level out the salt and in turn losing the incredible beef flavor in the stock, I decided to take advantage of two important stages where adding liquid wouldn’t water down the flavor: (1) making the Espagnole and (2) making the Forestiere. My hunch paid off. Although my final demi-glace was still a little bit salty on its own, once I added the cream and then mounted the Forestiere with butter, it was absolutely perfect.

I wasn’t concerned so much with what my peers thought — this sauce was for Chef. He doesn’t often give compliments, so when he repeated, “This is excellent,” over and over as he walked down the line, it meant the world to me. Fittingly, with Chef’s sense of humor, we paired the Forestiere with a NY strip and french fries; a perfect meal.

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