Sadly, I graduated from the FCI last week. It's bittersweet, just like L'Ecole's lemon chocolate cake…which I will never make again : (
For all those with weak sarcasm sensors, a BIG "just kidding!!!" on that one. But graduations do elicit sentimentality. I'll refrain from repeating Semisonic's "Closing Time" on my ipod, but the occasion calls for something equally cheesey:
FCI Class of 2008, Part VIII, Top 6 Moments!!!!!
Why 6, you ask? It's quite logical….6 levels, 1 moment for each.
Never fear, there aren't many inside jokes. Most of the instances are FCI classics that anyone can experience. And you never know, place a bowl of hollandaise outside and you might catch a Marie Claude.*
Moment # 6
The top moment of Level 6 was, well, the end of Level 6. Don't get me wrong, the FCI provided a wonderful experience that I would repeat in a heartbeat. But like moving home for the summer post-freshman year, you're ready to check out by the end. All the buildup, stress and general malaise associated with the final ends in a single blissful moment: when you put down that last tray of food for the judges. An evening of freedom, camaraderie and tequila shots await. It's sheer bliss, followed by an evil hangover.
Finally getting into the kitchen! After months of preparation, it's time for that much anticipated, crucial moment: entry into the "real world kitchen" of L'Ecole, the school's restaurant. Savor this moment, because it lasts about five seconds….roughly the amount of time it takes the other three students on the station to join you. Granted, the backup help is nice during a rush. But when your group argues over whose turn it is to design a special, or when you have to stand idly about because two people can't possibly saute 1 order of scallops….you get the drift.
Buffet, and specifically, the Chorizo Buffet. The class is divided into three groups in Level 4: production (preparing proteins for the restaurant), family meal (preparing lunch for the school) and buffet (preparing a grand buffet that the students design). Buffet is a blast, mainly because there's room for creativity. And creativity is what happened when one group was given chorizo, and only chorizo. With pounds of excess spicy sausage, the buffet was charged with its disposal. The result was "chorizo in a blanket," chorizo hanging from decorative logs, chorizo and tripe on an aspic-covered glass tray. It was all brown and strangely Retro, a look that was only enhanced by a bowl of technicolor ice chilling gazpacho, the only non-chorizo item. Someone spiked it with LSD, which got the party started (again, just kidding).
It's difficult to find a distinguishing moment in Level 3, because it's all about repetition. Students get ready for restaurant service, where the same dishes must be made the same way, every time. It’s much like Jean-Paul Sartre's play, Huis Clos ("No Exit"), where hell is portrayed as an unassuming room in which the occupants are tortured by the mind games of their fellow damned. Depending on your given partner, you may come to agree with Sartre: "Hell is other people."
But if I had to pick one occasion, it might be the first meeting with "poulet roti grandmere" (aka "roast chicken, grandmother style"). The dish conveyed two important lessons. One was the importance of building flavors – it's a dish where the initial steps, like properly browning the skin, determine the end quality of the sauce. It's really beautiful when done properly. The second lesson: it is possible to tire of bacon. You eat your lesson for lunch in Level 3, and since we were making grandmother chicken almost every day, we ate grandmother chicken almost every day. Those morsels of bacon that garnish the dish, so wonderful in the beginning, became lardons of torture after day 16.
Hands down, organ meat day. Level 2 is predominantly pastry, which held few high points for us culinary students. Organ meat day was exciting because the exotic ingredients appealed to both our inner chefs and inner 4th graders (kidneys!?! Grosssss!!! Coooool!!!) The highlight was peeling the scratchy outer-layer off poached lambs' tongues, which were blackened, shriveled and smelled like socks. Vegetarians cried. Hard-core omnivores swore off meat. A few brave souls sampled the tongues. Unfortunately the taste didn't redeem the appearance…it was still like having unwanted tongue in your mouth. Anyone else forced to kiss Ernie Braumwasser** during spin the bottle knows, not fun.
Whether yelling at the chefs, throwing salt at her classmates or muttering to herself in French, every moment of Marie-Claude's** short-lived student life was priceless. Not only were some screws loose, but the woman could (and somehow did) burn water. This student didn't last past level 2, but her defining moment tops the list at #1. The scene: hollandaise class. Students are happily whisking the eggs and clarified butter together, making the creamy sauce that's typically served with eggs benedict. Over in the corner, Marie-Claude appears to have finished. She tastes the sauce with a spoon, then (big no no), stirs the sauce with the same spoon. Suddenly she grabs a large utility spoon and begins shoveling mouthfuls of hollandaise between stirs. It dribbles, glistening, down her chin. Students stare, horrified. You just don't do that, especially with hollaindaise. She brings it over to an unsuspecting chef for sampling and (universal cringe), he tastes it. I can happily report that he's still alive and well. And as for Marie-Claude? Probably now enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu, Paris.
Back to the sentimentalism, if any of my fellow students read this, I want to say thank you. Because of you it was an exciting, educational, debaucherous and if nothing else, memorable, six months.
* Relevance explained dans le moment #1. And….
** Names have been changed to protect the innocent