“Draw a number.” Chef Mike passes around a salad spinner, filled with folded bits of white paper, each marked with a number in black Sharpie. I take a number, quietly unfold it. “1”, it says. “We’re going to divide into groups. You have 90 minutes for your practical. If you have the number 1, you’re going at 6:30. Number two, you’ll start at 7:00. And if you have the number three, hang out and watch tv in the lounge or something, because you’re not starting till 7:30.”
"psst." i whisper, "what number do you have?" emma shows me her slip with the dark '1' scrawled on it. somehow, all of our table's members but one are going in this first batch. this brings me a sense of minor relief. we work remarkably well together - always bringing extra ingredients and wiping down one another's cutting boards. good, i think, don't take my team.
"the practical is very simple. you have ninety minutes and three items to prepare. make me a perfect cream of broccoli soup." chef folds his arms across this chest, eyebrows arching, "i want it to be bright green. smoking hot. i want nappe, it should coat the back of the spoon when i pick it up. you need it to be velvet." chef mike looked over his tABLET TO US, "MAKE ME A PERFECT MAYONNAISE. DO IT LIKE YOU DID LAST WEEK. YOU'RE NOT USING ANY ARTIFICIAL EMULSIFIERS, SO IT SHOULD BE A LITTLE RUNNIER THAN THE STUFF YOU BUY AT THE STORE. REMEMBER, IT AIN'T GONNA TASTE LIKE HELLMAN'S." HE LOOKED, GRINNING, OVER AT CHEF SCOTT, RECENTLY HIRED AS A CHEF-INSTRUCTOR AND TRAILING OUR CLASS THROUGH THE MODULES, "CHEF SCOTT IS GONNA TASTE ALL YOUR MAYOS." CHEF SCOTT GRIMACED, SMILING. "AND LASTLY, BRING ME TWENTY PIECES OF EXACT MEDIUM DICE POTATOES. I DON'T CARE WHAT ORDER YOU BRING THEM TO ME, I DON'T CARE WHEN. JUST GET ALL OF THEM BEFORE US BEFORE YOUR 90 MINUTES ARE UP."
HE PAUSED. "TEAM ONE, YOUR TIME STARTS RIGHT NOW."
cream of broccoli soup is based on a chicken veloute sauce, one of the five french mother sauces, characterized as chicken stock cooked and thickened with a roux. as the raw flour of the roux needs to be thoroughly cooked out of the veloute, this is key to get on the stove as soon as possible, to allow it as much time as needed to cook out. following that, the broccoli must be blanched (to retain its bright green color) and shocked, then pureed in a vitaprep. everything should be finished with cream, reduced to a perfect consistency, seasoned like a motherfucker, and then served visibly steaming hot. in concept, it sounds easy to knock out. in practice, it took me a little longer to control my nerves and get my mise en place under control. i lined all my items up in clear plastic nine-pans, hand-mixed the buerre manie, and slowly ladled out 40 oz of chicken stock.
somehow 45 minutes disappeared into the ether. half of my time is gone. the cream of broccoli soup is still incomplete, the veloute finished and pushed to the back of the stove, my broccoli shocked and waiting to be pureed. i still have to make mayo. medium dice potatoes. i rush to puree the broccoli and finish the soup. the ability to pull speed out when i need it is something i've noticed but haven't yet been able to turn on all the time (still currently true), being fast and moving efficiently and with energy is a key component to working successfully in a kitchen. i puree my soup, adding extra broccoli puree than the recipe calls for, just to nail that bright green color. i carefully place two blanched and shocked florets on the top, cast my sight about for my grading sheet. it's disappeared. i panic and toss everything about in my blue kitchen kit and spy it, over on another table, with my name crossed out and another student's written in. fuming, i walk over and deliberately grab the sheet back, bringing my soup out for inspection to chef.
"the taste is good. nice color and consistency." he gives me 90 points out of 100. "the only thing is - it should be hotter." of course it should, it shouldn't have sat there while i searched for a stolen paper. fuck. i threw together my mayonnaise emulsion (good, too thick, nice flavor) and medium diced potatoes. my 90 minutes finished at 9:00 pm, i jumped into line with my final product at 8:59 pm, just barely skating in at the finish.
"slightly irregular," chef pronounced them, "but good."