Some people run marathons. I do not. I have never felt compelled to run that sort of distance or that fast without the threat of being chased. That being said, I am prone to self-imposed challenges and stress. About a month ago I registered to take a practical exam through the American Culinary Federation (ACF), “a professional organization for chefs and cooks…based on promoting the professional image of American chefs worldwide through education of culinarians at all levels.”
I was sold and charged full-steamed ahead toward this project of personal and professional growth. In fact, about two minutes after the idea was conceived I registered online and completed all of the necessary paperwork. Being both impulsive and efficient can be a frightening combination…I even knew a girl who impulsively decided to take the LSATs, efficiently registered the next day, and to her own horror, landed in law school. As I said, these two qualities can lead to some very scary places.
Two minutes after registering to take the ACF practical the panic set in and I realized I’d just signed up for the culinary version of a marathon. Like I said, I don’t do marathons. Consumed with sudden visions of inevitable failure – cakes deflating, cookies burning, saucepans spilling – I realized I would now need to spend a decent amount of free time practicing. And who doesn’t want to come home and make a couple of sponge cakes after working a ten-hour day in a bakery?
But, like a nut-ball, I actually enjoyed practicing. (This probably makes me a lunatic, but I have never met a Chef who wasn’t, so I’m probably on the right track.) For the exam I was required to prepare one genoise (AKA: Fancy French for “Sponge Cake”), two methods of cookie (bar cookies, dropped, rolled, etc), and four individual portions of molded, Bavarian cream (vanilla sauce, lightened with whipped cream and stabilized with gelatin).
The difficulty of the products and the time restriction (three hours) isn’t what frightened me. Four judges (all established Chefs) analyzing my every cooking technique and sanitation habit, on the other hand, made my spoon shake a bit. I couldn’t help but think about “snap bracelets” –those toy-like cuffs that you had to slap really hard against your forearm to close them around your wrist. Painful, not entirely necessary, yet inexplicably satisfying.
So, after a month of terrified anticipation, in just a couple hours it was over. The vanilla Bavarian set properly, the cake rose and the judges finished every single cookie I put on the plate. I’d passed and the test was done. I felt free, accomplished, more confident and proud. So, maybe marathons aren’t that terrible after all.
Maybe some extra stress is good. It caused me to think a little more, work a little harder and in the end, even made life a bit sweeter.