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When the Oven Played a Very Bad Joke on Me and it was the Worst Day to Do so – La Gourmandista

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When the Oven Played a Very Bad Joke on Me and it was the Worst Day to Do so

After the 10-Dish Challenge training I talked about in my previous post, I was completely sure it didn't matter what dish I had to prepare on exam day. I would be calm. I knew the steps, the time, and even how to plate my preparations. I even knew which was my preferred recipe and which one I thought would be better for someone else.

Hence, I arrived about 45 minutes before the time I was indicated my entrance into the kitchen would take place. I immediately changed my clothes into my uniform; my chef's coat, apron, pants, and cap. I chatted for a moment with some of my classmates upon their arrival to the Garden. Some of them had just finished and one could see how tired they were, but showed relief through their smile indicating they had given it their best, and the culinary odyssey of the day had finished. Others, like myself, were waiting for the ordeal to begin in complete uncertainty of which dish we would have to prepare for the jury. Between you and I, I have to say I wanted the Guinea Pie, because even though I would have to start at a very quick pace, in the end, the only thing necessary was to be sure it had been long enough in the oven to arrive to the correct temperature in its core, and therefore be sure it wouldn't be raw.

There were still 15 minutes or so before I was to enter into the kitchen, but decided, together with my Polish classmate who had been appointed to enter at the same time I was, to make an appearance at the kitchen door and see if the Chef would let us enter to set up in the work stations. I entered first and blindly selected my recipe at random. I was then handed my grocery basket and the clock started ticking. I decided to begin with the technical test we were all demanded to do; a béarnaise sauce. I think I was able to prepare it even with my eyes shut. A few minutes into it and I was ready to send it out for tasting. It seemed the Chef had liked it. Smiling and motivated for the good feedback I had been given, I put all my energy into my dish, and even though I hadn't had received the recipe I had hoped for, neither was I in discontent. I had to prepare a Guinea Fowl in a Clavados sauce. For those of you who are not familiar with Calvados, it's a liquor made from the double distillation of juice alcohol. I made all my prep work, cleaned the bird, chopped all my , apples, everything… Time was a luxury I couldn't afford to lose, so I took advantage of every minute as much as possible.

The little animal in question went into the oven after having rubbed butter all around it as the recipe indicated. I turned it once after 10 minutes and another time after 10 more minutes. It was supposed to be ready after 30 minutes in the oven, and it would be then when I would aspire to reduce my sauce for it to be creamy and full of flavor. The Chef notified me that I had 35 minutes to go before I had to send out my preparation to the jury to taste. I have to confess that I was in total awe, for I was almost ready. He advised that I should then take my time to clean up my station, but y'all know the saying “Man proposes, but God disposes”? Well, the 30 minutes passed and the wholly beast was still raw. I left it in the oven for 10 more minutes at an even higher temperature. I notified the Chef. We decided together to change oven and let the jury know. This bird was being rebellious. My time was up and the freaking bird was still raw. They asked me how much additional time I needed. I asked for 10 more minutes.

The beast was finally ready, but my sauce didn't reduce as it should have. The stress makes one start to make bad decisions and I almost broke it. SHIIIIIT!!!!

I plated as I could. An assistant helped me to put everything in the platter as dignifying as possible for a decently seen French service. Nothing spectacular, nor as I had foreseen. Oh well! I cut the fowl into pieces trying to not burn my hands too much in the process. Fortunately, I had trained myself, and I practically did everything by heart.

The platter got sent out.

My sincere opinion the cooking was at its limit, that it would have appreciated a couple more minutes, but I didn't have them. My legs were shaking. I started to pick up my sh#t unceremoniously, just hoping the telephone wouldn't ring in the following 24 hours telling me I had flunked the test because of a faulty oven which didn't allow me to prepare my best version of the dish.

The Chef, when I was leaving, told me he had two pieces of news for me. A good one and a bad one. I answered that the bad one was that my sauce “stunk”. He nodded to agree, however, he reiterated my cooking had been perfect, on point. I smiled and hugged him. Yes, yes, a total act of disrespect, but in my defense, it was as if half a ton of sorrow and sadness tormenting me at the moment, had been taken off my back.

Of course, there is no photographic evidence of the experience. In fact, I just feel lucky there was something to send out to the jury and that they didn't penalize me very much.

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