Well things have been eventful to say the least.  Monday morning we had our chocolate exam. And I planned to do this elaborate decoration on top of the chocolate box of palm trees, some waves, an island with an empty boat, and circling sharks.  As it turns out I bit off more than I could chew and will be lucky if I pass pastry at this point.  While demolding the chocolate box a huge crack formed in the top and the whole thing fell apart.  I didn’t know what to do, after all this never happened with the others I made.  So I tried to make another one, but my chocolate in my bowl was super hard by this point as my decorations were all done, so I got some from a neighboring ban marie, and it was too hot.  After three coats and some time in the fridge it hadn’t set.  I only had 30 minutes to make this new one.  So the chef told me to turn in just my life and my decoration. It was brutal.  I actually can’t even recall what it looked like anymore, I think I went into shock shortly after the practical.  It fell so completely short of what I wanted to do and only in the final forty minutes did I realize there was no way I could have pulled off what I intended to, and should have just made a few goddamn balls and sticks like we had been taught to do.  All I can say is that I will keep working as hard as I can to compensate and only hope the sugar final goes well or I’m never going to pass.

In cuisine we made a duck breast with some sweetish sauce, glazed daikon radish turned like UFOs, carrot and cumin puree (fucking delicious), some potato cake thing, and apricot chutney. It was pretty good overall, at least I cooked the meat well. My sauce was a little too reduced.  Today in cuisine we also received the list for the final, it’s going to be fun.

follow that link if you want to see the ingredients we can use.

In other news, my friend Kate is coming tomorrow, that should be interesting.  So not smoking sucks and is hard I pretty much want to kill everyone including myself.  But I love coming home and it not smelling like smoke, love love love it. I think that’s the reason I have been able to stay off it.  It’s also nice not to have a sore throat all the time. Breathing is cool.

Well, a Happy Mother’s Day to you mom.  Thank you for everything. I look around my life and couldn’t make up a better one if I wanted to.  I hope you have a wonderful day, and can’t wait to see my family again in June.  My gift to you: I know you know I was trying to quit smoking, but I was never able to. And up to about 15 cigarettes a day. But as of yesterday I’m done, seriously. I threw out my ashtray, lighters, and a mostly full pack. Cleaned the apartment and moved all the furniture to dissociate myself from previous Paris thinking.  Not easy, but over. I love you, call me when you get up.

So yesterday we had burrito night at Joanna’s. It was a great turnout. Fish, chicken, and steak tacos. A completely ridiculous amounts of guacamole, and tequila, jeez.  I have no idea how some survived to go salsa dancing after the party, as I dragged myself home and fell asleep.

Today I went back to Jo’s with the intention of helping her clean, but by the time I got there it was mostly done, and I just fell asleep on her couch.  Afterwards I went looking for a track, with the intention of running, but both of the ones I went to were closed.  So I turned it into a longer ride, it was nice to be able to breathe deeply.

So my Internet was out for a week or two there, but here’s what you missed.  The second atelier is over. For the starter I did a ginger panna cotta, a salad of artichokes and spring onions with an arugula vinaigrette, and filet of sea bream on white asparagus with pancetta cream sauce.  I was happier with this than even the main dish.  The panna cotta, I was so worried wouldn’t turn out but it was great after 15 minutes in the blast freezer. The ginger really came through, the chef advised to lighten it by using half cream and half milk next time.  I poached the fish but overcooked it by probably a minute.  The pancetta sauce was friggin good, and worked well with the fish.  The vinaigrette was another nice surprise I haven’t done before, but would definitely make again. Super color, and super easy.  The main dish went well except for the stupid flan, which completely fell apart.  The chef’s guess was that beets have too much water in them, and that I ought to have used more eggs.  I was so disappointed because the color was so pretty.  Also made veal tenderloin, veal sweetbread wontons, sauteed spinach, and curried cauliflower puree.  I was pretty happy with all of those except the puree, which on recollection I maybe didn’t strain, and the consistency was a little weird.  I would use more curry next time too, and perhaps roast the cauliflower with it.

Since then we’ve done some other cool things, a roast beef tenderloin, beet and daikon brochettes, phyllo stuffed with potatoes. Fish crusted with croutons, honey glazed chicken wings.  We had Napoleon the other day and made guinea fowl with lemongrass sauce, mushroom stuffed mushrooms, and guinea fowl meatballs with chorizo.  The chef saw someone put a piece of chorizo in their mouth, and warned them it was super spicy.  Haha. It was so not spicy.

Yesterday we went to Rungis with the whole class.  We got a tour of the “biggest market in the world” (except Japan’s fish market).  We went through the meat section, and there were hundreds of cows hanging up, lambs too. The weird thing was it didn’t smell really at all. It was 4 degrees in there, and we all had to wear these white coats and hats over our top coats. We went through the vegetables and fruits area and saw some seriously beautiful produce.  Unbelievable.  Everything from tiny eggplants to baby asparagus that were as thin as stalks of wheat, and wild strawberries.  Lastly we went through the flower area, and there was a huge variety. Silvana couldn’t resist and purchased some right there.  I guess only restaurants and suppliers can come purchase things at this market. It is sprawling. Funnily enough it was the exact same place I once got lost on my bike and ended up on the freeway.

In pastry we have had a couple of chocolate practicals recently. It’s like we all just showed up one day and knew how to temper chocolate, and I certainly didn’t at the end of intermediate.  Monday is our final for chocolate and I’m going to try to do a stranded island scene.  Maybe a couple palm trees, a wave, some rocks, with a boat.  Gonna have to use some blue powder for the water I think and the chef hates blue for some reason. Even though today he spent 3 hrs in near silence making us watch him make this flower thing using blue, black, and grey. As long as everything is well tempered I dunno what he can say to me.  I’m a hundred percent positive he’ll come up with something though.  My other idea was to do a chocolate version of starry, starry night, which would require some blue too.  I think the island will be cooler though. More soon.

Oh that’s fantastic I just typed out a super long entry and then it fails to publish and gets deleted, here’s a short version.  The first workshop is over. We had 6 hours to do an entree and plat principal from a page of ingredients, some of which had to be used. Here is what I did for the entree. Pureed dill and raw egg yolk and piped it into a ball of salmon. It could have gone better, the chef said to use a mold next time, maybe he thought I baked the salmon or something.  The second part was a sauteed zucchini cake with candied lime zest. Pretty and good, though it got a little cold while I was waiting in line for the chef to grade me.  The third was a shrimp stuffing in a roasted bell pepper petal.  I had to keep it simple since I couldn’t taste it myself. Luckily Sjoerd helped me out, here’s his site from which I took the above picture: http://sjoerdcordonbleusuperiorcuisine.blogspot.com/, hilarious and descriptive.  My classmates really liked the stuffing (eggplant, tomato, cheese, shrimp, and a little spicy), the chef said it was overcooked, which I must have done reheating it so many times when I was waiting for my grading turn.  So disappointing.  I made a dill mayonnaise to go with the plate since it went well with all three and that came out great.  The main dish went much better than the entree and I hope Sjuard posts those pics soon I ‘m pretty sure he got one of mine.  I made a Squab breast cooked rose and perfect. I’m so relieved I cooked it right.  The chef said next time to use the leg on the plate not in the jus. I didn’t want to cause it’s supposed to be served with the middle toe and disgusting nail on, and when the chef in the Chef Invite (guest speaker) said he prefers not to use it, I thought it might be okay. I guess so do a bunch of people because the chef made an announcement at the end that we have to serve the leg.  For the sides: caramelized pearl onions (chef said ours were all a tad crunchy in the middle and that we should go back to basic), a little cake of pureed peas and potatoes with a toasted pine nut crust. Really happy with it almost overall.  The chef said more butter. Also I know I should have used a spatula to make the side more even. It tasted great though. The mushroom two ways tart was a layer of polenta, cheese, duxelles, cheese, and mushrooms sauteed with time.  Came out good too, but the chef said no polenta and potatoes on the same plate, too much starch.  I should have thought that through better.  All in all I learned a lot and it went pretty well. Have some good ideas for the next one on Thursday I think. Tuesday we have off so I’ll be practicing up a storm then.  Been scouring the internet for ideas: Thomas Keller’s menu, El Bulli, Wylie Dufresne.  Some silly stuff I want to try even if the chefs don’t approve they’ll just have to tell me if it tastes good.  A couple toys I’ve been wanting to get: mainly a syphon to try out some savory foams. But waiting on that, must get a chocolate thermometer for the upcoming practicals, and a sweet mold for this workshop. Getting excited about graduation and whatever comes after that.

It was a weekend unparalelled. We had a 3 day weekend, and so I rented my very first car, with some objection from the credit card company, and we drove the 200 some km to Bruxelles with a carful of salty and sweet snacks.  The drive was full of rain, but once it died down once we got into the city.  We had to stop at numerous gas stations to get directions, but after not too many problems we found the hotel.  We went out for beer number one (I HAD A GUEUZE, A GLORIOUS GUEUZE!) and our first meal in Bruxelles.  Afterwards we of course wanted to go promptly to sleep, but then ended up napping until after midnight.  We did what people do, go out find fries, find more beer, and return to the hotel to watch Nightmare Before Christmas.

Day 2: we went for a beer with Mathieu and Richard midday. They wanted to go to this nearby comic book expo, which turned out to be amazing.  Afterwards I guess they weren’t sick of us yet so they volunteered to take us to the premier ice cream store and chocolate shop in Paris where we loaded up. I’m just about to enjoy a leftover wasabi chocolate.  We went for another beer, and then Mathieu decided we were so fun he had to get out of work for the night.  We hit up the grocery store, and went nuts: cod, tuna, squab and more.  Although initially we volunteered to help Richard really took over the cooking, and we were happy to eat it since he used to work as a chef.  And it seems soon he will be resuming those duties in Bruxelles.  We capped off the night with a lot of very fine beer and a near overdose on girl talk.

Day 3: Around noon we finally woke up.  Checked out, loaded up the car, and went on a search for a million chocolates.  It was fruitful to say the least.  We bought enough beer, cookies, waffles, and chocolates for Bruxelles to live forever in our memories.  Nearly into Paris we stopped for gas to leave the tank full.  Someone at the station noticed our tire was flat, which we never would have noticed alone.  This meant a two and a half hour detour as we were stuck in the station waiting for help to arrive. Of course, nobody at the gas station would fix a flat tire, nonsensical French people at their best.  We attempted, Meredith mostly, the fix the thing ourselves.  We used Meredith’s knowledge from having watched someone do it once. As it turns out we had the right idea going and perhaps would have pulled it off except that the darn thing was rusted on.  Only two guys tried to help us, the first one was super helpful.  He made all these calls for us in French when he couldn’t remove it, and helped us get the tow guy to come.  Luckily we had plenty of beer and chocolate to lavish on him in a thank you.  When the tow truck guy finally arrived (after two hours of us scarfing gas station chips and Belgian chocolates) he used a can of WD-40 and a hammer to get the wheel off.  I thought he would certainly break the car.  Upon returning the car we learned we’d have to pay for the tire if it couldn’t be refurbished.  Wonderful.  We made it home just in time to fall asleep and get 8 hours of class for the next morning.

Monday I went to the demonstration for a pan-fried sea bream, and squid stuffed with langoustine risotto. I willfully skipped the practical, so frustrating since I wouldn’t be able to taste the sauce or anything, and would have to wear gloves the whole time. Ugh. Soon we have a workshop coming up.  A four hour class in which we have to prepare an entree and main dish of our own design.  We get an ingredient list a page long with certain ingredients we have to use, for this one: squab, salmon, shrimp, peas, mushrooms, pearl onions, fingerling potatoes, and bell peppers. Cannot wait!

Yes! It’s true! I have survived yet another shellfish practical!  And think I’m getting better at handling lobsters than I was at least.  In this one we had to stuff the trussing needle right up the lobster’s ass so that it will cook straight.  Boiled it for ten minutes then assembled it in this kinda gross looking medley.  We cooked daikon radish and carrots and cut them into little rectangles, with which we lined a circular mold.  At the base we put sauteed leeks, and then layered the lobster with caramelized lemon and orange zest, and a whiting fish that had been beaten with egg whites and cream.  It was like a little lobster cupcake.  And looked very cool when unmolded.  The chef said my rectangles could have been more regular.  But at least I managed to get the claws out whole, which I definitely did not do last time.  I added way too much thickener to the sauce, but the chef said it tasted really good otherwise.  I was pleased cause I threw some cayenne pepper in there, but it turned out okay. Not that I tasted it.

This afternoon we’re making some chocolate pistachio cake thing that was actually pretty tasty in demo yesterday.  So close to having this weekend trip to Brussels pan out, and I really hope it does.

To compensate for my abensce, I shall now indulge you with tales from the end of Intermediate and my first week of Superior.  Well the exams were so stressful and scary.  We learned the two dishes for Cuisine would be a lamb dish, with sauteed spinach, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, and these cute and delicious potatoes that are round since they’ve been scooped out with a melonballer.  You just bring them to a boil then roll them around in melted butter, and finish them in the oven for a few minutes.  This dish was fun and great tasting the first time around so I was really hoping to get it, and I did!  The other dish was a trout dish, which was apparently a total nightmare during the part where you have to pick out all the tiny bones.  But other than it I believe it had a mushroom stuffing.  The final went well though I was a minute or two late.  We also had to make a bearnaise sauce for our technical and hand it in with our dish.  I reduced the vinegar way more than I should have, oops.  The pastry final was a near disaster and apparently I barely passed. One of our best friends didn’t. The selections for the pastry exam hardly seemed fair, one was a tart, a TART! And one was the plaisir cake, totally decent choice, and the douceur, the only one in which we had to temper chocolate.  Also the only one of the choices for which I happened to miss the practical.  The cake seemed to be going okay until the mousse started to separate, and I wasn’t the only one, but we divided the other kids mousses between ourselves.  The sad thing is one of the guys who’s mousse came out well was the one who failed.  The dacquoise base and feiulletine filling went fine, but it must have been the tempering that killed my score.  At least I have the rest of superior to work on it.

So we have been cooking like madmen.  Last week we started with John Dory filets dipped in satay, and I want to say it was turmeric.  Although apparently the satay is made of dried shrimp so even though the sauce smelled unbelievable I couldn’t taste it.  We also used papaya and mango in the recipe, it all looked fantastic.  The demonstrations have become so much more exciting. Watching Clergue and Terrien cook is completely indescribably.  You can’t even take your eyes off of them, and I haven’t dozed off yet during Superior.  Watching Thivet was awful, he would drone on and go on tangents, drain all the fun from it.  But Clergue and Terrien are masters of their craft.  They care so much and their plating is amazing. You learn so many thing in every class.  Deguignet loves to get at me, but so long as I let him mock me I think we’re going to get along okay.  Entering Superior I hated him, really, but then I turned to a source to alleviate my stress and allow for me to form some sort of sympathy or connection to him.  Google.com.  I googled him. And read all about his interest in technology and this database he put together to help chefs categorize and post their recipes.  There wasn’t much else about him, but the only other thing I found was that he was from a family of bakers, and grew up working in his family’s patisserie.  It was enough to make me realize I have to respect him, suck it up, and learn from him no matter what.  Today in class he had plenty of critiques, helpful I will admit, but was the first chef to ask me what my last name was. And say I must have been destined to be a cook. Then he looked at my crumble and said, “Today you are Chef Overcook, eh?” I took the joke and for the first time we laughed together.

So last week we did something to a sea bass that perhaps nobody should ever do. We stuffed it with salmon, hardboiled eggs, mushrooms, onions, then wrapped the whole damn thing in a loaf of bread. We had Clergue for practical and I was so pleased that he was so pleased.  It still takes me forever to filet a fish, but am still much faster than I used to be.  We also made perhaps the most delicious thing thusfar.  A lamb, cooked to perfection garnished with a dallop of this mix: brunoised ham, mushrooms, and onions and a sauce to give it a creamy texture.  We made jus, purple potato chips (did you know there were purple potatoes?), and little bunches of green beans wrapped in bacon. Seriously serious.

In other news, one of our best friends Greg returned home to Manila and is postponing Superior til later. Hopefully I’ll see him again before I go though.  This weekend we have a three dayer so we’re trying to throw together a trip to Brussels, and I really hope it goes through.  Maybe I can get some feedback here from you dear readers. I had this fantasty last night of opening a restaurant in which people could hunt before dinner. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be able to have cows, but it would be like a Jurassic Park type thing with its own ecosystem going on in the back of the restaurant.  Plus all the animals could be grassfed and it could operate like a farm.  It would probably have to start as a farm anyway since the costs of opening a farm and restaurant simultaneously would be, well, costly.  Thoughts?

Red-lentil cumin burgers for dinner: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/cumin-spiced-red-lentil-burgers.  Try em, they’re healthy, and ridiculously tasty.