On the Spot

Students at the French Culinary Institute get valuable experience working in the school's restaurant, L'Ecole: You face the pressures of a real restaurant but have chefs to guide you along the way.

But students do face a little more trepidation when they have to pick a vegetarian dish to serve the public on the dinner menu. Students rotate among various stations in the kitchen and when the reach "entrementier" station (basically side dishes or specials), each student in the group must pick a vegetarian option that's an entree-sized portion.

This week it was my turn. My choice was a trio of a potato-mushroom gratin plated in between one wedge of a roasted-red pepper, goat cheese and herb frittata and caramelized onion-gruyere frittata with harissa on the side. There was also a frisee, arugula and fennel salad on top.

I was excited by having a dish I put together being on a restaurant menu, but my nervousness that I wouldn't get everything done in time and make sure it tasted decent trumped any other thoughts the other night. Would I over season (aka-douse my food in salt)? Would I make enough? What if things just didn't turn out right?

In the end, it tasted fine. One frittata was a little bigger than the other (we cut the bottom to solve this dilemma) and the potato-mushroom gratin had to go into the blast freezer to set. But I was pleased with our plating and most importantly, people actually ordered it.

I breathed a sigh of relief and at the end of service, I thought to myself, "This is why I love cooking."