Baking, Europe, France, Pastry School, Recent, Study Abroad
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Gastronomicom Week 12: Final Plated Desserts and Cocktail Party

Chef wanted to teach us how complicated it can be to thoroughly carry one single flavor or ingredient throughout all parts of a plated dessert—but also that it is possible if you set your mind to it. We started the day on Monday by pulling out the whiteboard and listing all the things that are important in a dish—color, texture, flavor, and emotion—and then the different kinds of recipes we could use to get all the textures we were looking for—since the other elements such as flavor were already decided (strawberry) and emotion comes from the chef as the dish is being made and plated.

After we decided on eight elements for the dish, Chef divvied out the recipes to each of us and we set to work. One by one we finished our recipe and divided it between all the students, getting ready to combine everything.

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Chef demonstrated how to plate the dish…but then told us it was free plating and that we weren’t allowed to copy him. T_T My dish didn’t exactly end up great, but it wasn’t terrible either. Obviously it still tasted amazing, so how wrong can you go, right?

Starting the day similarly to Monday, Tuesday morning started with a whiteboard and a carton full of four kinds of tomatoes: red tomatoes, pineapple tomatoes, green striated tomatoes and black tomatoes.

I’m sure you are all thinking that while yes, tomatoes are fruits, they do not belong in a dessert—or if they do, they shouldn’t be the main or sole ingredient.

Well, you are wrong.

Okay sure, it wasn’t the most stereotypical dessert you’ve ever seen, but it still managed to be sweet, fresh and beautiful. And with the way we plated the dish, it actually looked like a mini garden on a plate.

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For the last six weeks or so, we have known about a final cocktail party the day before the course ends, and that in pairs we would have to create and carry out our own recipes to serve. About three weeks ago we solidified our partners, and then two weeks ago we had to turn in our recipes to Chef so that he could confirm or reject them.

I partnered up with Chen—a boy from Taiwan in my pastry class who has 7 years of experience working in a pastry shop before. I thought it would be great because he has the professionalism and technical skills that I lack, but I also bring a lot of creativity and emotion to the table that his desserts are often lacking.

At first I came up with an idea, and when Chen agreed I brought the idea to Chef.

Who then told me that it would be too easy for us, and that we would need to make it more difficult—that he couldn’t have his two best students underperforming.

Well crap. It didn’t seem like an easy dessert to me! It had six recipes for goodness sake!

Back to the drawing board, Chen and I created a new (8 recipe) version of the same dessert. Of course, at that point Chef told us to make the flavors more complex and interesting, so we changed directions in the flavor department but otherwise kept everything the same.

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Originally I thought that we would only have one day to prepare for the cocktail party on Thursday night. Turns out we had two days of class time (a total of 6 hours instead of three) and THANK GOD.

Thanks to our good organization, my telling Chen to move his ass every once in awhile, and Chen assuring me over and over again that everything would work out, we made it through.

On Wednesday everything started out well—one recipe after the next we moved along as we wanted to. A couple recipes in however, we gave a sample of something to Chef who told us that it was nice but it had no flavor. At a complete loss of what to do, we spitballed for a little bit on our own before Chef came over and recommended we use a few drops of one of his aromas.

Flavor adjusted, we moved on—piping our little domes, freezing them, unmolding them…. Finally we were ready to stick our two halves together to make our little balls.

And it was the end of class, we literally had minutes left to finish.

And our little domes started melting everywhere.

Somehow we managed to stick them all together and get them back in the freezer, but I left class with the most severe sense of doom. Everything was going to go wrong, and we were going to be that stupid group of students at the cocktail with nothing to show for our two days of work. Chef was going to be disappointed. It was going to be horrible.

I barely slept that night—thinking of plan B and C and D, and contemplating whether or not I should talk to Chef about how badly I thought it was going to go.

Thursday morning arrived and I was ready to leap into the kitchen and get going.

The bell rang….And it was just me and one other student in the classroom. The bus was late and so were all the students who take the bus.

My calm partner was gone and I had no idea when he would be arriving!

I started on my dessert, and luckily he showed up about 20 minutes later. As a team, speaking only enough to make sure we were on the same page, we fixed the balls that had melted or had awkward holes in them, made our chocolate decorations, and then continued on to dip all of our desserts.

As soon as we successfully dipped all of the balls the first time, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. It was going to be okay.

Now that I knew we were going to end up with something to show for all of our work, I was able to enjoy the rest of the process. We dipped our little desserts again, cleaned them up, added our chocolate, and topped them all with flower petals.

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They were perfect. And somehow they look startlingly similar to the drawings I made at the beginning of the whole process.

Class finished, our desserts were finished, and all we had to do was wait for the cocktail party later that night.

I was so proud. And even better than that, Chef was proud. I could not have been happier.

After all the students went home and got all dressed up, we went back to school to receive our diplomas and try all the things we had been making for the last two days. The night was clear and balmy, and the air seemed to hum with our collective relief and excitement for all that had happened and all that was to come.

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This was it. This was the cumulation of our three month adventure together. And even though we were all sad to part and sad for things to finish, I think we were all ready for what was next, and that the party was more a celebration of a beginning than something ending.

After that, many students left to go to their internships or to fly home, so school on Friday was like a ghost town. That said, it was the perfect way to end. Even though we spent most of the morning in pastry cleaning, we also emptied out all the leftover ingredients and made four kinds of tarts which we then shared with the cuisine students and staff over our communal lunch outside.

I managed to not actually cry at school, though I was successful in making other people cry with letters I wrote them. It was hard though–I don’t know when I will see many of these people again, and people like my Chef and the staff at the school have not only been there for me and encouraged me, but they have also helped to change and shape the path I’m taking in life.

Thank you to everyone for reading this and for supporting my journey through pastry school. It has only been three months, but it feels like a lifetime. Now to move on and upward to my next adventure: Intern at La Passagere at Hotel Belles Rives in Juan les Pins!

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