Persistence Pays Off

Thank you all for being such a persistent bunch! Several of you asked for more information about the examination I took last Saturday, my menu, and some particulars. I am flattered by the interest.

Here you go…

My menu:

Sauce Veloute (Chicken Stock)
Sauce Espagnole (Brown Beef Stock)
Consommé Brunoise (Brown Chicken Stock)

Sole & Shrimp in the Grenobloise Style

Pan-Roasted Chicken Breast, Rosemary Farce,
Potato Puree,
Sautéed French Green Beans with Pepper Confetti,
Rosemary Supreme Sauce

Some details:

On Saturday, April 16, 2011, I took the practical examination for the Certified Chef de Cuisine through the American Culinary Federation. The practical examination is the last step in a lengthy journey to that certification – a journey that includes educational experience, work experience, courses in Nutrition, Sanitation, and Supervision, and a paper exam (I got a 90%!) — and was the one part I didn’t pass on my first attempt in February 2010.

After much reflection, refactoring of my original menu (which was too complex for this test), and lots of practice, I appeared for the practical exam this past Saturday.

Three hours of cooking, every moment (literally) of which was observed by at least one of the three judges. They watch everything — your knife skills, your sanitation, your efficiency, your utility of ingredients (just enough of each ingredient, don’t waste, store properly), your timing, the number of trips you make to the cooler, how often (and how well) you wash your hands & sanitize your station, how you handle the butchery, how you deal with dirty dishes, what you throw away, what you re-use, etc…

And that’s before they tasted a mouthful of the food I prepared!

Fortunately, I did well — I passed the exam and received praise for the quality of my butchery work on both the chicken and the fish. They really liked my potato puree — the judges commented that it was the best they’d had in a long time, and one of them asked for the recipe (he asked before I knew I passed, so I said, "I’d be willing to tell you, maybe, in a few minutes" (hinting that if I passed, I’d tell). He understood what I meant and jokingly said, "Oh no! The bribing happens BEFORE the results are announced!"). One of the other judges said he was going to change his menu for a competition he has coming up, changing it to include my potato puree.

They were also very complimentary about my sauces and my overall organization (I generated a lengthy “order of the day” document, complete with checkboxes, from which to work). I got dinged for my pile of dirty dishes and one sanitation infraction.

The judges liked the dishes I prepared… In addition to the required Sauce Espagnole, Sauce Veloute, and Consommé (I did Consommé Brunoise), I prepared a Sole appetizer with Shrimp, Lemon Juice, Buerre Noisette (brown butter), Parsley, and Capers, which I topped with a Supreme of Lemon. They felt the fish was very well cooked, but that the acidity of the dish was higher than it should have been, with the lemon juice, capers, and raw lemon contributing.

My chicken dish was Pan-Roasted Airline Breast of Chicken with a Rosemary Farce under the skin, a Rosemary Supreme Sauce, Potato Puree, and French Green Beans with Red & Yellow Pepper Brunoise. The judges complimented the caramelization of the chicken skin, the degree of doneness on the chicken, and the butchery of the chicken. They thought the farce was a little grainy (it might have been that it was overworked, or it could have used a bit more cream), and it had started to separate (one of the judges told me that farce separation is one of the most common problems in certification practicals).

They complimented my seasoning on all my dishes except the green beans, which I accidentally under seasoned (well, I didn’t technically under season them, I just seasoned them at the wrong point in the cooking process, which caused the seasoning to be washed off).

I left feeling very proud of this accomplishment!

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