Grand Buffet

Last Thursday was Grand Buffet here at the CIA. Grand Buffet comes around every three weeks on the day before graduation, and it is an enormous buffet created by many different classes showing off some of their fanciest dishes. My class, Pastry Techniques, is largely responsible for setting up and serving at the baking and pastry end of the buffet. There is a breads table at the center, and on either side of that are long tables devoted to tarts, pastries, ice creams, sorbets, chocolates, cakes, anything sugary you could ever want. As you might imagine, it is the most popular part of Grand Buffet, the ice cream and sorbet section in particular. And my class was solely responsible for the ice creams and sorbets!

As far as the things that I personally had a hand in making, they included classic chocolate ice cream, guava sorbet, dark chocolate ice cream with salted caramel swirl, and saffron ice cream (these last two were courtesy of my partner’s creativity–my flavor idea was lavender ice cream with white chocolate chips, and it didn’t win enough votes from the class to make it to the Grand Buffet table, alas). Beyond the frozen goodies, my partner and I made a double batch of pate a choux and piped it into mini eclairs and mini Swedish cream puffs, both of which we filled with pastry cream and glazed with fondant. Around the bakeshop, other teams were making fruit tarts, chocolate cups for ice cream, granitas, mini creme brulees, and assorted other goodies. Then other classes started to bring their masterpieces over to our bakeshop, which served as a kind of “staging area” for everything. Soon there was not a square inch of space left that didn’t have a platter of something or other on it, and the entire effect was reminiscent of Santa’s workshop, if Santa loved sugar more than toys.

Downstairs in the dining hall, we set up our tables and arranged an assortment of platters and ice cream containers just in time for people to start streaming in for dinner. I had always known the dessert tables were popular at Grand Buffet–every three weeks since I arrived here, I have made sure to try a couple of specialty ice creams and other treats, and I think most of the students here do the same. But I had no idea how fast it would all disappear! I watched an entire carrot cake vanish in about three minutes flat. The other students in my class could not bring full platters down fast enough to replace the ones that emptied. Still, as stressful as it was to see the food disappearing so quickly, it was flattering beyond words. I hadn’t made anything but some ice cream, eclairs, and cream puffs, but all the same I was proud to be part of it, especially when the compliments were flying as fast as the food was.

In culinary school, sometimes it is easy to get bogged down in grades and what the chefs think. But at Grand Buffet, I got to do what we are all trying to do ultimately–make the ”customers” happy. Seeing the reactions on people’s faces as they tried to decide which pastry they wanted to try out of the 50 or so in front of them…it really reminded me why I’m here and what all of this means to me.