Chapter 9

In Which Adam Lives Through a Third, Fourth, and Fifth Day of Boot Camp, but Is Too Tired To Write About It

Days Three and Four are pretty much the same as Day Two: breakfast, lecture, recipe review, production (cooking), lunch, review and critique of plates and items, another lecture, back to the hotel to change clothes, dinner in another school restaurant, then falling asleep. All that changes is the topic of the lectures and the cooking methods used in the day’s menu.

Day Three was dry heat without fat; that is, grilling, broiling, roasting, and baking. The day also included sauces and gravies to match the cooking method plus all the different kinds of soups. Most of this was review for me, except for a few tips about how to prepare items in advance then hold them until service; the other things I learned were a few rules about what kinds of sauces to serve with which cooking methods and why. The discussion of soups was interesting in that it codified the exact characteristics and production methods of all the nine major soup categories.

My team’s menu for the day was grilled lamb chops with lemon-parsley butter, garlic-roasted potatoes with herbs, Sicilian-style spinach, and baklava. For a variety of reasons, we didn’t do very well with this menu, including nearly-raw lamb and over-cooked and over-herbed potatoes; fortunately, the baklava was excellent.

Dinner was at American Bounty, known for regional and seasonal cuisine. The chef prepared appetizers of mussels (some of the best I’ve ever had) and fried artichoke leaves; the menu had pork belly and I couldn’t resist ordering it. I’d never had pork belly before but I figured Bounty was a good place to order it; I wasn’t disappointed. For dinner I had a pork chop (nicely cooked but a bit greasy) and for dessert the Highland apple tart with caramel-whiskey sauce (very, very good). The biggest disappointment of the evening was our waiter; in particular, he didn’t know the menu at all, even though he probably cooked the same menu last week.

One major drawback of boot camp is long days filled with too much food, followed by very rich food in the evening. Breakfast (cooked by students just about to leave on their externship) is included and needed to fuel a long morning; class lunch consists of 16 items and you want to taste them all – and plus all the desserts donated by other (full-time) classes. By the time dinner rolls around, you’re tired and not very hungry but it’s not often you get to eat at the CIA restaurants so you plunge ahead.

Day Four was moist heat and combination cooking methods: poaching (shallow and deep), simmering, boiling, steaming, braising, and stewing; the afternoon lecture (with a great guest lecturer) was about wines and included six wines to taste. I didn’t expect to enjoy the lecture as I don’t care much for wines but the lecturer made all the difference and I left very satisfied and smiling because of how funny he was. Our menu was goat cheese croquette (my item, and it came out really well), 40-garlic-clove chicken, fresh egg pasta, and green beans with bacon, shallots, and mushrooms.

Dinner (our last) was at Escoffier for classical French (or, at least, French-inspired) cuisine and formal service. The appetizer (chosen for us) was an uninspiring salad so the whole table decided to order a la carte appetizers; I had the foie gras (very good and very smooth) and tasted the pate (quite good), the escargot (my first, delicious), and the sweetbreads (tasty but just slightly over-cooked). For dinner I had the rack of lamb (again, one of the best I’ve ever had) and for dessert the poached pears. The dessert menu included “5 Puttonyos” Tokaji for a very reasonable price and the maitre d’ strongly recommended it with the pears so I took his advice. He wasn’t wrong, not by a long shot.

Day Five was the usual course evaluation paperwork followed by a game of Culinary Jeopardy. My team didn’t do very well but it was a fun way to review about 50 things we’d learned in the past four days.

When I wrote about Day One I mentioned our market basket project; we’d spent the week refining our menu and today we got to execute it. The final offering was to be a clam and wheatberry risotto, cod picatta, roast winter squash with garlic and rosemary, sugar snap peas with almonds in a lemon butter, and a small salad with a honey vinaigrette. Production consisted of running around trying to locate ingredients (some of which weren’t due to be delivered for another 45 minutes) and pans and utensils, then building our mise en place, then standing around waiting either for ingredients or an open spot on the grill or the right time to start cooking a particular bit of food. Then, all of a sudden, it was time for high-speed cooking, only to be followed by another period of waiting. Half an hour before we were supposed to eat, the final cooking sprint started and the food started flying. Pans smashing, knives flashing, and food hitting plates and platters.

By fluke or design (or maybe both), lunch was something like 18 or 19 items; I skipped a few and almost managed to take small enough portions of the ones I did eat to not feel completely bloated when I finished what was on my plate. The problem came when I went back for seconds of my risotto, the roast lamb, and one other thing that now escapes me. Everything was well cooked and visually pleasing; on the other hand, the presentation plates didn’t fare as well, and some of the menus (including ours) didn’t work in the whole. One team had a bad combination of colors, another too many items prepared using the same cooking method, a third (ours) had too many items with similar flavors. However, as Chef D. pointed out, those are the things that come with experience, and given our execution of the individual items, he was quite pleased with us.

As if four and half days of hard work and too much food wasn’t enough, most of the class decided to accept the Chef’s invitation to his lecture on cheese (done for a different continuing education class). It was an hour of lecture then a tasting of ten different cheeses. Even eating small bites of each was more filling than I wanted, but I didn’t let that stop me from finishing the portion of some of the better cheeses (a Camembert and a blue).

Yes, I had dinner tonight. I didn’t think I would be hungry but in the end I was. I had no energy and knew that anything more than the most simple and basic food would be a waste of money so I went back to Red Robin for another burger and just a few onion rings.

It’s late and I think I’m unwound enough to sleep; the alarm has been disabled and the phone unplugged, just in case the desk clerk thinks I need my usual 4:45 wake-up call. On the other hand, maybe I’ll browse the CIA catalog for my next course.

[Sunday, 13 February 2011]