The Finished Product
The last phase is always a little hectic as everything I’m serving needs to be hot and not overcooked. When I’m finished, and ready to plate, I clean and warm up my presentation plate with the Le Cordon Bleu, Paris seal on it. Again I refer to my notes to see how Chef plated in the demonstration yesterday. We are still practicing classical plating, so creativity is not yet encouraged.
Each day we can plate as early as we are able. At five past 11:00 we do not get credit for the day. On the first day, I learned the hard way that while the practical is three hours, the final 30 minutes are for washing up and any debriefing Chef wants to give. So I need to be finished by 11:00. I did finish on time that day, but it was a hurry in the end.
When my plate is finished and photographed, I give Chef my plate and my name tag, which has my number as well. Chef tastes all aspects of the dish and gives some suggestions. Since he’s individually grading 12 people, the interview is private and rather short. Sometimes I know what he’ll say, like, “your sauce is too thin.” But others are a surprise.
My Plate Before Chef’s Tasting
After Chef’s Tasting
For a week I had the same two problems: there were fingerprints on my plate, and my sauce was splitting. It took a few times to figure out that the fingerprint problem was happening when I was carrying over the plate for grading. Even though I had washed my hands before plating, I was still getting my fingers greasy during the process. Because I was concentrating on time, I hadn’t really thought through small details about greasy thumbs and clean warm plates. Each day when I was done plating, I just performed a quick wipe of the fingers on a towel before carrying over the plate, and each time my still-greasy thumbs were leaving two thumb prints were on the edges of my plate. The same correction happened for three days in a row before I figured out the wiping my hands is not the same as washing them. Obvious, but sometimes in the rush of time, the obvious is overlooked.
At least that problem was solved. The other issue–my sauce splitting–was more of a mystery. Each time it looked perfect in the pot, but by the time it was put on the plate and Chef looked at it, it had split, which means it separates into greasy butter floating on watery liquid. After a few baffling days of sauce splitting, I asked him to look at my pot and tell me what was happening. He said, “Oh, your sauce is fine here, so your plate must be too hot, so it’s splitting your sauce.” Wow, I had been warming up my plate each day for over 20 minutes. Maybe just four or five minutes is enough. Second mystery solved!
Chef does not share my grade during our short daily interview, as the focus is on mastering techniques. At the midterm and final we will receive our actual grades for the dishes and the corresponding techniques. Today, a few corrections are enough.
It’s at this moment my day ends. I still have 30 minutes (or more) of clean-up, but I don’t care. My mind is no longer on the food. It’s all the discipline I can muster to get to this point, and now I can let my mind wander. I pack the food in my Le Cordon Bleu-issued Tupperware, and wash and dry my six bowls, seven pots and pans, three fry pans and all the other various tools I’ve used in the past 2.5 hours.
Drying my dishes on the hotplate
I’m usually one of the last to leave because my work pace slows down considerably at this point and our stations need to be checked for cleanliness. I don’t mind that I’m last. I head down to lunch. Sometimes I eat what I’ve just prepared, but usually I save that for my family’s dinner and buy something on the first-floor Le Cordon Bleu Cafe. After a 30-minute break, it’s time for the 12:00 demonstration of a new technique, and the start of a new day!