Mushrooms in the bouillabasse?

Whomever said there is no such thing as a dumb question, never met my cooking partner this semester — I take back what I said on day one; the man can’t cook. Oh, how he loves cooking though, and I admire his passion. And he’s such a nice person, so it pains me to say this, but after three weeks of questions that could have easily been answered if he had taken good notes during Chef’s lecture, I have reached my limit.

Chef gave us the heads up that we would be preparing bouillabasse today, in order to use up the extra fennel we had in the walk-in. I had never made the recipe before, nor had most of the class, so I spent a couple of hours last night researching the history and ingredients. I was fairly prepared today, but still engrossed in Chef’s lecture about how orange peel ended up in some of the recipes when the French were driven out of Algeria in the 1500s, and how each area along the Mediterranean makes their own version of fish stew, from Spain to Italy to Africa, and every region in between — saffron vs. no saffron, white wine vs. lemon juice, etc.

Yesterday, we focused on breaking down an entire leg of veal, from hoof to pelvis, into sub primal cuts. While this was as far from bouillabasse as one could get, we had a lot of veal to use up, so Chef’s protein for today was, of course, veal. One of the previous classes had been practicing their tourne cuts and gifted us three buckets of potato scraps.

Chef, being as thorough as he is, gave us precise instructions for all three recipes: bouillabasse, emince de veau, and potatoes any way we wanted (we sort of skipped the vegetable today, but had plenty in the bouillabasse.)

The emince de veau incorporated mushrooms, and since it is a rather “beige” recipe, I decided to make shoe string potato fries out of the potatoes, with crispy green herbs and a deep red coriander ketchup to pile on top and give it some color.

While waiting for Chef to divvy out the veal, we were in a holding pattern with everything else. The bouillabasse was on standby, ready for the seafood; the shoe string fries were in the oven, staying crisp; the rouille and croutons were begging for a smooch; and my seasoned flour was yearning for some minced veal.

And then he said it: Do we add the mushrooms to the bouillabasse now?

I took a deep breath in lieu of saying, “Are you kidding me?” and motioned for him to take his hand off the plate of sliced mushrooms. If Chef had not spent an hour talking about the history of bouillabase, and at least 15 minutes talking about emince de veau, I suppose I wouldn’t have been as frustrated. It’s important to me that our dishes turn out well, not only because I don’t want to eat something that tastes like crap after three hours of cooking, but also because the other chef instructors eat what we prepare — I don’t want to disappoint them, not at this level.

The mushrooms in the bouillabasse is just one of many — these types of questions unfortunately repeat themselves every class. It makes me nervous, and I hate not being able to trust that my sliced mushrooms might disappear one day and end up in the wrong recipe.

I’m hoping over the next few weeks he’ll get the hang of things and leave my mushrooms alone.

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