So, this was supposed to be about the 12 days of Christmas,well after doing a little research, I decided to toss that idea right out the window! Besides, Christmas will be here in 9 days, maybe next year. So onward I forge with yet another tale of my budding young culinary career.
Needless to say I wasn’t going to be content baking for the neighborhood boys forever, and whipping up treats for my friends (read stoner) after school to appease the ever-present cases of the munchies was only partially satisfying. Kitchen playtime was fine by me, but I hungered for more. New ingredients to work with, professional equipment and of course what drives everyone, deep down, the desire to get acknowledged & paid for my culinary talent.
It was also during this time period that I was elevating my reading repertoire. Betty Crocker was forsaken for Escoffier, James Beard, Elizabeth David, MFK Fischer, and the crown jewel of my collection, The Larousse Gastronomique all 1,400 pages of it. I also managed to finagle my way into a weekend job at a local country club. The chef was european and an incredibly stern task master. Yet the lessons he taught me have served me well. They were some of the most valuable I have ever learned. Cleanliness, organization, taste, creativity, be true to yourself and learn from your mistakes. Be positive. Cook what you love. Do it with passion.
I started at the bottom of course, in the “pantry” also known as the cold station. Chef always called me the “garde manger”. Made me feel important and gave me a sense of pride. I was soon put in charge of making a few simple desserts on the weekends. One particularly lovely saturday chef wanted me to make cream puffs. Now pate au choux dough is not a terribly complicated process, although it was going to be the first time I would be alone in the kitchen. The line cooks were going on their afternoon break as I was coming in. Wow! The entire kitchen to myself, with the exception of the dish washer- prep, I was it.
The chef had given me the recipe, and since I was to make about 300 of these delicious little treats, the sous chef had weighed out my ingredients for me, due to the volume that was needed. I just had to make the dough. Piece of cake, I thought.
I brought my liquid & butter to a boil, added my flour & sugar & salt and cooked until dry. Into the huge crank mixer, add eggs, check to make sure the dough was the proper consistency and pipe onto parchment lined sheet pans. Bake. Cool. The day before I had made 2 mousses, one was dark chocolate and one was strawberry. I was to plate 3 per order, filled with the mousses & the last one with vanilla ice cream, some sliced strawberries, drizzle of chocolate sauce, dusting of powdered sugar and my dessert would be complete.
All went well, my cream puffs were gorgeous! Golden, crisp, puffed to perfection. Bursting with pride, the chef came in and I showed them to him. He picked one off the sheet pan, bit into it and promptly spit it out. With a very definite, Merde! The sous-chef was laughing hysterically. Chef gave me a long hard look and asked me if I had tasted my dough, no chef I replied, how about a finished one? No again. By now I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, and kind of knew what was next. Try one, he said. I did. Yuk! Crisp~ yes, soft inside~ yes, puffed~yes. Sweet, no. A mouthful of salt was all I could taste.
While my pate au choux were undeniably gorgeous, they were alas inedible. The sous-chef later confessed to switching the superfine sugar with salt. He did not like me ( I wouldn’t go out with him) and thought it would “teach” me a lesson. It did, just not as he intended. Was I humbled? No. Did I think he was a jerk, absolutely. Never, ever let someone else assemble your mise place for you, and always taste your sugars & salts. That is until you’re the boss and then they won’t dare mess with you for fear of losing their job.
I was saved from kitchen shame that day because a trick was played on me. Not a very nice one, but thats life. There are people who do not like to see others succeed. My advice? Move on & accept that attitude and ability count for far more in the long run.
Now about that dessert, luckily I had genoise in the freezer, plus the mousses, fruit & the sauce I had already made. A little sprinkle of grand marnier simple syrup on the cake and behold individual trifles! Because at the end of the day you & you alone are accountable for what you do. Taste, taste, taste! Just make sure to have fun too. Hey, it is only food.