Ready for my close-up

Like most people who take food seriously enough to enroll in culinary school, I care about how my food looks. It needs to be interesting to the eye. For a long time before I even considered pursuing a career in the food industry, I was drawn to beautifully designed and photographed cookbooks or food magazines. I would flip through a book like Tartine and wish I knew how to make everything I saw.

Now that I am studying Basic and Classical Cakes, I’m realizing how difficult it is not just to make something taste good but to make it look gorgeous. Our class works in a sort of daily alternating schedule–one half of the room works all day on production of cakes and icings and so on, while the other half of the room works on assembling cakes that were baked the previous day. The following day, of course, the two halves of the room switch roles. When I saw the syllabus, I fully expected my cake assembly days to be a breeze–I’ve always been good with my hands and have a smattering of architecture courses in my academic background, so designing and/or decorating a cake did not intimidate me.

Little did I know. Making it pretty is hard! My first cake took me about two and a half hours to assemble, and Chef told us that by the end of this course we should be able to do that very same assembly in thirty minutes. Her demo of the process made it look effortless. But when it was my turn, I made mistakes like it was my job. Then again, as a student, I suppose making mistakes and learning from them is my job at this point.

I try to take a photo of everything I bake. Partly because I’m interested in food photography and food styling as future career possibilities, and partly because the visual aspect of food is just so important to me. No matter how good the cake tastes, if it doesn’t look appealing, I don’t feel it’s right. And while nothing I’ve made here has looked stunning enough to belong in a cookbook, the mocha buttercream torte I put together yesterday (the second of my attempts at cake assembly) was photogenic enough to make me proud. The rest of the class made equally nice versions of the same cake, and with another week of class to practice, our cakes will only get more and more photo-worthy.