The Return of Garde Manger

Advanced Garde Manger has been a pretty interesting class to date, if not a little schizophrenic.  Parts of it are frustrating, parts rewarding.

One of the more frustrating aspects – for varying reasons – has been working in teams of four.  Not everyone has been on the same page at times, trying to keep track of what’s been mis en placed is a pain, not to mention quality control. 

For Exhibit 1 of the quality control issue see the photograph of the “seared” foie gras.  The group member that dealt with this didn’t score the foie gras, didn’t season it and didn’t have the pan nearly hot enough, resulting in the lump of mushy gray that we had to plate.  Yum yum.

Paradoxically, one of the better parts of the class is working in groups of four.  If properly managed four people can mise so much more shit and get through the 6-8 recipes that we need to get through.  The problem is managing it all and making sure no one’s duplicating efforts, or fucking the product up (tuna tartar has sour cream as a garnish, not as an essential ingredient; the gastrique is a sauce for the plate, not a dressing for the salad).  I’m pretty aware that these problems don’t exist in a restaurant or food service establishment because everyone has assigned rolls that don’t change from day-to-day.  But when faced daily with new recipes it’s easy to struggle with these issues from time to time.

The good news of course is that most of this class has been about presentation, though it has at times been fairly challenging to make shit look edible, but we do our best.  Furthermore the majority points to date have been just for showing up, being sanitary and participating. 

The smoked and grilled duck breast came out pretty well.  And the mozzarella dish would have come out great if not for my own heavy handed approach to drizzling the balsamic reduction on the plate.

A couple of the more more interesting dishes we’ve made have been: a savory goat cheesecake; creme fraiche; grilled salmon with quinoa salad, chimichurri dressing, lemon-pepper dumplings & orange-radish salsa (what we’re feeding the overnight guests this coming weekend); profiteroles with salmon rillettes; sushi; and Vietnamese springs rolls.

On the first day of class we prepared the infused oils that we’ve employed throughout, though it looks based on the photos as if the only one we’ve used has been the carrot oil – I suppose it does have a nice appearance on the white plates though. 

After the 15 minutes or so it took to prepare the oils we turned our attention to carving fruits and vegetables – hardly cooking but important (or so I’m told).  It turned out that I had a knack for fluting mushrooms, though when I tried this at home I was left wondering where my touch had gone.  Additionally, we made “flowers” out of slices of daikon radish and beets, “vases” out of squashes along with a few more items I’m sure.  Fun, fun.

The little bit of time devoted to sushi today was interesting.  At least I know what we did wasn’t really authentic -maybe passable to folks in Nebraska.  But when you know that the guys in Japan take years learning how to make rice (yes years), you know that what you might make is at best edible and definitely not artful (despite the claims from classmates that it was easy). Hopefully we spend a more time in International Cuisine focusing on sushi.

Tomorrow we begin the transition towards more classically French garde manger topics – galantines, terrines, various pates en croute, all items which are essentially practice for our final exam next week.  Our group will undoubtedly be put to the test starting tomorrow.  Let’s hope no one gets hurt.

Finally, we had to do a cheese report last week.  The cheese I ended up doing mine on was Ossau-Irati from the Basque region of France, thanks to the great folks at Pastoral on Broadway.  I highly recommend this cheese – it’s a pretty mild raw sheep cheese that was a little sweet and a little nutty.  Certainly not a cheese to cook with at $17/lb, but definitely one to include on a cheese plate.

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