I think I found my calling in garde manger. We’ve only had two classes, but I’m loving everything about it. Because of my art background, I immediately found a familiarity in the creative concepts and techniques of garde manger, and felt very much at home, where others struggled.

This week we began our introduction into sausage making with a French-inspired garlic sausage. It took all of my strength not to mess with the recipe — I knew from the moisture (or lack of) in the recipe that it would turn out dry and crumbly. And it did. The technique was flawless, but the recipe itself needed more fatback, water, oil, all of the above, or something like bread or rice to help retain the moisture in the meat.

We also created a composed salad, which was the brilliant brain child of one of the students in our school’s competition class. The salad was comprised of spinach, poached pear, a warm vinaigrette and an incredible blue cheese panna cotta. I’ve never created a panna cotta before — sweet or savory — and this was such an appropriate introduction for me. We also created paper-thin toast crisps from a shaved baguette. Each thin was dipped in butter and placed in a baguette loaf pan to create a curved form.

The last part of the salad was a smoked duck breast. We rendered the skin of the duck, almost cooking it through, and the placed it into the smoker for 25 minutes. The duck had been brined earlier that day. I’m not a fan of brining anything because I hate what it does to the texture of meat. When it came time to taste, the duck was overly salty from the brine with a texture similar to below-average pastrami.

After some debate, we decided to make the panna cotta the star of the salad, using the crisps as a sort of cage. The pear and duck breast, along with a reduction of the poaching liquid finished the dish. The salad itself was delicious, with a nice range of textures. The duck, however was disappointing — the smoke was overwhelming and the brine was too salty. Despite, my favorite part about the entire day was the creativity that went into building the salad on the plate. It certainly was beautiful.