When Chef Sixto, our new chef, told us to close the door and put the garbage can in front of it, we all started shaking. It was two minutes to 9 am, and Chef wasn’t happy that we didn’t show up at 8:15 for our 9 am class. So in case any classmates came in late, the falling garbage can would signal their entrance. We’re definitely not in Level 2 anymore.
Level 3 is the “mock restaurant” level. You work with the same three people the entire level, but you’re responsible for one dish–whether you’re on the garde manger (appetizers), poissonier (fish), saucier (meat), or patisserie (dessert) station. And unlike level 2, you don’t have a partner to help you make your dish or plate four versions of this dish. Oh, and you’re on a time schedule (see picture).
It was weird to walk into today’s class and not watch a chef prepare a dish before we had our shot at making it. Instead, Chef Sixto and Chef Alain told us to start without any instruction. And at his cue, we were all like motherless chicks fluttering around a new kitchen trying to find ingredients and not ask too many question because we were all scared shitless. Why? Because Chef Sixto left us with these words: “This room is grueling.”
On my first day, I was on the saucier station and was poised to present a perfectly cooked pork chop with a green peppercorn sauce and a crispy pomme darphin (or potato pancake). And it was time for me to get over my fear of searing meat (or really, my fear of mucking meat up). And lucky for me, this recipe also called for flambeing the sauce.
What I didn’t realize before I started was that cooking the meat wasn’t going to be the tricky part–butchering it was. In level 1 and 2, you receive precut chops. In level 3, it’s up to you to cut meaty, beautiful chops. And it takes some skill to slice it so you don’t get an anorexic chop (like I got for my first three cuts). The trick is molding the chop as you cut it so enough meat catches your knife. Then we trussed them so they’d keep their shape as we seared them and finished them off in the oven.
When all the elements came together on the plate, I was a few minutes late. This would take some adjusting, and Chef Alain left us with these words of wisdom:
“It’s in the morning that we make the difference.” We’d be smart to heed his advice since he is an organized and efficient chef. You can tell by the quickness in his step and how no matter how busy his hands are, he always manages to whip out a kitchen towel to clean up a rogue sauce that splattered on the stovetop.
And it’s with these words that both chefs advised that we show up tomorrow at least a half hour early.