After just a few days of being on campus at culinary school I began to hear murmurs of The 2nd Term Practical. While walking toward classes, doing my laundry, or minding my own business in the bathroom, I’d hear whispers of buttercreams gone wrong, sponge cakes losing volume, and general kitchen catastrophes. At the time, practical seemed like a far-off thought, but its mention always gave me a ping of anxiety because time does tends to move forward and future events inevitably become present.
And practical came. With all the hype, I naturally became nervous. The test is a six-hour exam over the course of two days, in which students must make Éclairs (Pate a Choux, Pastry Cream, Chocolate Fondant), Apple Strip (Puff Pastry), and an enrobed Sponge Cake (the Cake, Buttercream, tempered chocolate décor pieces). A very doable task, but also terrifying due to the buildup.
The fact of the matter is that I’d probably produced more products during a 6 hour period when I was in a work environment, rather than academic. To remain calm, I reminded myself of this before the exam. I thought of working Thanksgiving day at the bakery at home…all of that pie, I thought of Easter at the bakery in Boston…all of those hot crossed buns, I thought about wedding season at home and filling a zillion and one wedding cakes…realizing that I actually love the time element.
It’s like an exciting game. Think of what Scategories or Taboo would be with the pressure of the clock? They certainly would not be the exciting, family-feuding games I’ve come to know and love. The same idea goes for the kitchen. Without customers waiting, or even that self-imposed time pressure, there wouldn’t be the enlivening pace that forces all other thoughts of the world out and in the end, adds to the sense of accomplishment. You can be proud how you used each hour of your day.
The element of time requires that you move with meaning. Its like dance or theater. You have to know the food well enough to know what step or line comes next. It requires confidence in your direction and a foresight that creates an incredibly addictive rhythm. The seductive harmony of it makes you sweat, triggers the release adrenaline, and embraces you in a blur of focused energy.
…I’m becoming slightly flushed, so anyhow, practical was like this…
My products turned out well and I ended with 20 minutes to spare. I certainly was not the best in the class, but I was proud of what I’d made and even more proud of what I was doing here at school. Practical, if anything, confirmed my love affair with the industry. I love touching the dough, the ovens, turning the dials on the stovetops, the racket of beaters mixing, and or course, the rhythm, of it all.