Cakes, cakes, and more cakes – that was pretty much the order of the day. It really felt like I was on an episode of Top Chef/Master Chef today in the kitchen. Half of the kitchen had been assigned to make various cakes, and the instructors decided to spice things up (didn’t intend a pun there, but I’m going with it) by adding a competition for best cake. Well, as soon as the words “competition,” “winner,” and “prize” were thrown around, some people got a little intense…and perhaps slightly carried away (one of the guys made a marriage proposal on his cake for one of the instructors…total kissup!). In the end, a lot of beautiful cakes were made, and it is clear that there are some very artistic and talented people on this course. I will likely buy all of my cakes from them in the future.
Fortunately, I did not have to worry about the competition nor whether I had curdled my cake batter or properly iced my cake. Instead, I had been assigned to do a French onion soup and a curried chicken salad with mango and roasted cashew nuts today. My French onion soup turned out quite delicious (even Chef Rory O’Connell said so when he came around and did a tasting of it with me). I was actually surprised by how much I liked it, as those who know me well know that I typically don’t like the texture or look of cooked onions. Caramelizing the onions did take forever…okay, more like about an hour, but I was paranoid that I was going to burn them. By the time the onions were finished, they had melted down to a stringy mush and were a very deep brown color (but not burnt…phew!). This darkness in color and consistency apparently contributes to the savory flavor of the soup. My curried chicken salad with mango and roasted cashew nuts was pretty great as well. That is one recipe that will be in heavy rotation when I leave Ballymaloe and get to San Francisco. I’ll even make my own mayonnaise…because I’m good at it! Right, Jenn? (tiny inside joke there). Notwithstanding the fervent environment created in the kitchen with the competition, I ended up having one of my best cooking days so far. Everything turned out just the way I wanted it to, and the order in which I executed my dishes was smooth and organized. I was also the first one in my section to have my dishes plated and tasted. This was a pretty big accomplishment for me, as efficiency and time management allude me in the kitchen on an almost daily basis. Anyway, I was happy and relieved when it was all over, and I could relax and enjoy lunch…and the myriad cakes.
One other thing that we learned to do today was how to make a paper piping bag, which is one of the mandatory techniques on our technique exam. There has been some chatter about our midterm exams of late, and I’m starting to get a little nervous. We are given a list of techniques (including how to joint a chicken, how to fillet a round fish, how to make a shortcrust pastry, how to make a French omelet, how to make caramel sauce, how to segment a citrus fruit, etc.) and we will be asked to perform two of them at random in front of a panel of instructors. We also have to perform two mandatory techniques including making the paper piping bag and chopping/sweating an onion (Don’t ask me why these two techniques have been made as mandatory rather than some of the other techniques.). Anyway, I seemed to get the hang of the paper piping bag after a few pathetic attempts, but I’m a little new at kinesthetic learning. Sometimes, I’ll watch my instructor and think, “That looks so easy. I could do that no problem.” Then, when I try to do it, I inevitably mess up and fail miserably. Everything is a learning process here…that is, everything except for one thing: going to the pub after a hard day, which I’m pretty good at already. Too bad that is not on the technique exam.
Here are some pics for your enjoyment: