I had my Baking Techniques practical on Friday, and I’m not sure how I should feel about it. We had to make 2 eight inch sponge cakes, 24 eclair shells, and a batch of pastry cream (which we were to pipe into 12 of the eclair shells). I did alright, but nothing came out stellar. I even lost a point and a half under “Organization” with no explanation but Chef Coppedge’s scrawled advice to “Relax.” I told my parents about this, and they remarked that Tiger Woods was buckling under pressure at the PGA and not to worry about it. I think that being tense is just kind of part of things when someone tells you to bake stuff in a certain time frame, to certain specifications, and then evaluates you on how well you did.

My pate a choux was lovely, except that my eclair shells were just a tad peanut-shaped. My sponge cake was lovely except that it stuck to the pan. My pastry cream was lovely except that the heat was a teensy bit too high, and so I had a few little scorched bits in an otherwise nice batch.

Really, I don’t know what I’m griping about. I did fine. I just want to have done better. Before I came to culinary school, I was aware that most people considered my perfectionism a fault. I considered it a fault too. But here at the CIA, at least on the baking and pastry side of things, perfectionism is common and encouraged. The more attention you pay to the little things, the more precise your scaling, the more methodically you approach your mise en place and procedures, the more exacting your standards…the better you’re going to be. Of course, when you make a mistake–and if you’re me, you do this pretty regularly–you feel incredibly discouraged and wonder whether you ought to be doing something else with your life since you obviously have no talent.

I’m still trying to figure this out. How to have very high standards while not beating myself up too much when I don’t live up to them. For me, this is probably the trickiest challenge of being at the CIA.