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Okay, so I have a terrible way of not updating! >.< Today was motivation day so I figured I’d get a quick update in.

We started the Basic Baking course today. A good amount of lecture about professionalism, some class tools, and scaling all ingredients. Our instructor for the course is very solid in what he’s done and how he teaches, I’m really excited to have the chance to pick his brain a little and learn all that I can from him. Also he slipped and said “ya’ll” today – he’s from Rockport and had a stint in Corpus Christi where he had a bakery, it made me smile. I really love baking breads and hope to get plenty of good solid instruction on traditional french breads when I get to that production group next week. This week my four-person group is working on laminated doughs. These are doughs that incorporate butter in layers through a series of folds and re-rolling out in order to leaven and tenderize the dough through the evaporation of steam in the butter layers (or at least that’s my previous knowledge definition). This is how you get those flaky tender croissants, danish, and puff pastry desserts.

We didn’t do any laminating (folding the butter into the dough) today, but we did get a few doughs made and some fillings, as well as a prepped a few dry ingredients for doughs we’ll make tomorrow.

I really felt happy to get to class today. I love the feeling of a wooden bakery table and the smell of fresh yeast, not to mention, I think dough is just plain fascinating and amazing. You can make so many different finished products from different permutations of the same basic four ingredients of flour, water, yeast, and salt (not to mention more products from just adding some milk, oil, cream, butter, and/or eggs). This will be the first time I have the availability of the proper tools to make really great things that have only been mediocre in the past. I know you should be able to make what you love anywhere…but with baking it’s so precise that it’s hard to expect a perfect product with imperfect conditions. A well sealed evenly heated hot oven with the ability to hold in steam is hard to find out of the professional world (and sometimes even in the professional kitchens they can be kinda shoddy). The ovens the school has provided are pretty great, especially with the level of maintenance that they get on a daily basis. Not to mention the instruction which was okay at best before – I have made some good things before, but I had no real solid hold on how to mix things and only  a vague idea of the proper way to get those mixtures into an oven, that’s all they were -good. Knowing that the techniques I am learning provide consistent results makes me feel really great about getting things right in a bakery.

Tomorrow we laminate and bake croissants (filled and not), and almond danish. I’m a little nervous, it’s an intimidating process of keeping the butter and the dough cooled and rested, but so far the hard part is done and that’s getting the ingredients measured and mixed correctly.

I’ll try to catch up with all the really exciting things I did the last two weeks of the meat fabrication and saucier course soon, also last week we did a Bordeaux wine tasting that changed my view on wine! I’ve been letting myself get lazy the past couple of weeks…it’s time to change and recover a good routine again.

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Week six was our last week in Basics with Chef Wolf. It was quite intense with two plating practicals, two exams, and a knife cut test. That weekend ended up being very hectic too because well…happy hour with some great people that ended up going almost all night, day of rest, and then a day out in Arizona to a wine tasting/tour and goat creamery tasting/tour. So those are my excuses for not updating that weekend. I don’t really have any excuse for not posting since though >.<

W6
In class during the week we took exams that went very well for me, presented group projects, and lecture was on wine, cheese, and eggs. My previous wine experience has been coming in handy and I am really starting to feel confident talking about wines and tasting them. We didn’t taste any in class but we did get the best basic breakdown of wine rules and pairings that I have really heard from anyone from Chef Wolf. It was easy to understand, clear, concise, and without lots of that snobby fluff that tends to overpower such conversation.  We also had lecture about cheese and tasted some too. There was a machego wannabe, some herbed goat cheese, Maytag, Stilton, an american gouda, Saint Andre, an asiago, and a couple of others I can’t remember now. I really loved the Maytag Blue cheese a lot, it was very creamy with a good punch from the blue mold. The Stilton blue cheese was also pretty delish, but the others weren’t really worth much hype. We also talked about raw milk cheese and I wish I could have some! I wish I would have looked for and tried real brie from France in Italy, or even just experimented trying cheeses there. I remembered this one fancy wine and cheese shop I visited in Rome on my last day of wandering and regret lacking the courage to ask for a taste of one or two of them. Egg lecture really wasn’t that interesting, though I know more after it than I did after more than two years working at a breakfast place.

In the kitchen, Monday was a day full of preparation (prep) for the rest of the week. We fabricated chicken and made a mother sauce (veloute) and mise en placed (mise en place : everything put in it’s place and ready to use). Everything went smooth and easy and I was ready to get great scores on the next two days. Tuesday started really well, I was on my way to finishing early, everything was running fantastically and then I made a HUGE Naomi Mistake. I spilled my consomme soup all over the table top. I was straining it through a conical sieve with a filter into a vessel that was significantly smaller than the sieve and the cup it was going into tipped over because of the awkward situation. It spilled all over the table knocking over some wine with it so even if I could have sopped some up it was ruined. I managed to squeeze out about an ounce and a half to serve to Chef for grading. I got a 4 out of 10. If I hadn’t have spilled it, I would have had a 9 or 10 – guaranteed. I really was crying (minus the whole tears falling into the soup). It racked my nerves like crazy and set me back a few minutes on everything else too. Luckily I was able to suck it up and get through the rest of the test with 9’s and 10’s on everything else. I ended up rocking everything on Tuesday too with the same so I came out of the practical with a 91 average…big sigh of relief. Though I still feel like a loser for ruining that beautiful soup. The knife cut test also went well, if I had been a little bit smaller on a few it would have been a perfect score, but it was timed and I was at least consistent with having a little bit larger pieces. After the knife cuts we worked on egg cookery since we were to serve the entire school the next morning. I kinda struggled, it was the first thing that I really felt like I couldn’t get right. Then, after about 5 omelets and about 8 or 9 servings of eggs over easy, I finally was able to knock out a perfect french (rolled) omelet and a serving of fried eggs over easy pretty decently. There really is a little bit of a trick to flipping that takes a gentle wrist that my partner Dan showed me. Friday itself was crazy and hectic, prep for breakfast was lots of fun, I got to make a pretty berry puree and lots of pancakes, our class rocked on getting our omelets out quick and almost perfect, and then both basics classes worked our asses off gutting that kitchen and cleaning every part we could get to. It was to the point where I was really hurting Saturday, let me tell you. After cleaning we took our exam – rocked that too, and then we were done. Happy hour ended up just being a bunch of us getting lots of beers and having a good time enjoying eachother’s company. It was a much needed good time.

Saturday was rest, like I said, and then Sunday ended up being really fantastic. That bunch of the class, Chef Wolf and wife, and Chef Foote (the basic baking instructor) all trekked up to Page Springs Cellars in Cornville, AZ for a large cup of generosity. They treated us to their members only flight of wines from PSC and also from Arizona Stronghold Vineyards. It was really spectacular, the wines had a consistently Arizona character of acidity and minerality but each one was very distinctly it’s own self. The representatives there were just as great as the wines, they were informative but still let us enjoy the beauty of their vineyards and winery. It was a beautiful place and I can’t wait to take Mike there soon.
After the vineyard we all drove over to Fossil Creek Creamery in Strawberry, AZ. It’s in a beautiful place near Prescott with towering pines and twisty roads. At the farm they raise goats from kids to adults so they are consistently around people and most importantly, children. It is a very family friendly place run by good people. They are commited to selling good product while still being able to stay in business.  We were able to play with the goats for a little bit before watching them being milked and even squeezing a couple of teats ourselves! It was really fun and very informative. They’re a small operation, but they really do make some good eating.

Week seven to come soon.

Things I wrote about before