The FCI Final

There were no excuses not to be ready.

Our class had spent more than two months working in the French Culinary Institute's restaurant, L'Ecole. We seared countless duck breasts, finely diced onion and piped countless ladyfingers for a tiramisu dessert.

But the reality? You sometimes question yourself when the pressure is on and you're taking the final exam of the year, which is judged by a panel of chefs and other people in the food industry (from sommeliers to food critics to restaurant managers).

So there I was last week drawing two recipes out of a toque. My mission was to execute a perfect duck consomme and hanger steak with a Thai basil sauce in a little under three hours.

At first I breathed a sigh of relief because those dishes were - at least in my mind - easier than say a spring pea panna cotta with crab salad or the black tea-pomegranate tiramisu.

I tried to multitask as much as possible and not focus on any of the nervous energy I had been harboring for the past 36 hours. The kitchen was never so quiet. You could only hear the hissing of boiling water and the sizzle of the pans.

My first task was to use a "meat glue" to bind several pieces of hanger steak together. Then I had to prepare my mis en place for the duck consomme. While the consomme was cooking I tried to make the Thai basil sauce and reduce it to the right consistency.

The result? All my food tasted very good. On the duck consomme, however, two of the duck eggs I peeled could've been neater (and I knew it). On my hanger steak, I ran a little close to the deadline.

Overall, I'm pleased. And more importantly, I passed.