Although I'm officially one-third of the way through my training at the French Culinary Institute, I still feel like a novice.

We took our level two practical exam Monday, which wasn't too painful. I quartered my chicken but missed the oyster when butchering the thigh. I did a nice job on the trout but didn't finish taking out all the bones in the allotted 20 minutes. The potatoes were uniform and nicely shaped, but I needed to work faster. And I successfully emulsified my mayonnaise by hand, but our chef said it could've used more lemon.

Yes, I didn't know how to do any of this before culinary school. But our chefs have high expectations; they don't won't us to be just good enough but to be the best.

We started the next level where we focus on 16 recipes for the next six weeks or so. Now we'll be under deadline pressure and will be expected to refine our techniques. I'm strong at presenting my food, keeping my work area clean and flavoring my dishes. But I'm too slow. I don't know if this is a multi-tasking skill I need to improve on or if I'm just too much of a perfectionist. In any case, I need to read my recipes more thoroughly and practice my knife skills at home.

That said, level three started off well. My partner and I baked some perfect cream puffs. The chef loved the golden color of the choux, a nicely balanced cream filling and the consistency of the chocolate sauce served on the side. Our apple tart was less successful, but we'll get another shot soon.