Last Friday marked a big milestone for my classmates and me: We passed the stressful midterm exam.

Our class of 21 students had to cook either consomme and beef bourguignon or a sea bass "en papillote" and apple tart.

After my disasters practicing the tart dough, I prayed that I wouldn't draw it and the fish dish (which is particularly scary because once you wrap it up in the parchment paper, there's no sure way of ensuring the fish is perfectly cooked).

Luckily I got the consomme and beef. Whew!

Right away I felt confident since I felt more comfortable with my knife skills and the seasoning of those dishes - something I never felt with the apple tart.

The good points? My consomme was clear, flavorful and my vegetables were cut fairly well. My beef had a rich, deep flavor from the perfectly reduced sauce (a mixture of wine, stock and vegetables) and was presented nicely.

My only downside was that I lost a few points for being four minutes late in presenting the beef.

I'm more than satisfied.

At the French Culinary Institute, this midterm exam is probably the most intense exam a student takes because we're still mastering a number of skills - knife skills, time management, multi-tasking, working under deadlines. For our final exam, which I'll take in June, I'll have the opportunity to practice dishes beforehand and control more of the variables.

Luckily, the judges - FCI alums - were fair and not too cruel (no Gordon Ramsey-like critiques). I think they could relate to the challenge of producing two classic French dishes under a tight deadline.

Now, on to the next four-and-a-half months of school left. Wish me luck.