“I get a 2 day break from you …” Chef Sebastien said to some of us on Tuesday. For Wednesday and Thursday he would be crossing over to the cuisine lab to prepare for his Thursday Chef’s presentation over lunch. He had chosen to present Mexican cuisine. Chef’s wife Jamie, who is Mexican and also a chef, would join him in mise en place and cooking over the 2 days.
During these 2 days, Chef Kris would take over our pastry class. Chef Kris is Director of Culinary Arts and a Cuisine Chef. We wondered what Chef Kris was going to teach us, he promised restaurent style desserts and enticed us with some recipes he had planned for us when he visited our class earlier, we were excited.
Chef Kris in Pastry Class
Our class usually starts at 8.15am, Chef Kris wasn’t in the class yet, he was preparing some ingredients for the desserts we are making. Chef Philippe asked us to kick-start with chocolate tempering, which we found use in plating later. No cutter in your tool bag? No… We got a little restless, believed Chef Kris did too as he was used to the fast pace in the kitchen. The chocolate wheels took some time as there was only 1 circle cookie cutter to move around 4 teams. The rest of us decided to volunteer for the other recipes while waiting for the cutter to come round and things started moving a little better.
Chef, … cups and tsp?
Chef Kris had emphasized building components for dessert plating. Jennifer and I decided to work on genoise cake for Tres Leches Cake. “Chef, we don’t know cups and tsp … can we use our own recipes which is by weight?” Ha, Chef Kris’s recipes came by cups and tsp measurement and we were initially disoriented. So how many recipes do we prepare? Chef Kris said “a big tray, about halfway”. Tray? But usually we go by round cake tins? We quickly took our initiative to estimate the number of recipes needed. Chef Kris passed a measuring spoon and cup to another team who was also confused by the measurement. We decided on 6 recipes estimated by the number of cake rings needed to cover the tray. We started whisking over a double boiler till fluffy and ribbon-like, cooled in mixer and folded in the flour. “Oh, no pink?” I had not added pink to the genoise recipe, Chef Kris had wanted bright pink for the Mexican Tres Leches cake to go with the Mexican theme of Chef Sebastien. “It is okay, we’ll have half pink and half vanilla, it is nice, I like it” His style is very adaptive, make-do, and move-it move-it – he will add some words of encouragement to get us going instead of having us being stunned and clueless. We must have terrorized him on the first day.
Whisking All the Way
The cake took 30 min to bake, it filled only 1/3 the height of the big tray. “I want to have cubes, I need the whole tray to be filled”. It was already 12pm, the cookie cutter just got to my group, the chocolate then had became very brittle and it was just impossible to cut triangles from it. We decided to work on the full tray of genoise cake, this time, we decided to go all the way with the recipes so that the whole tray will be filled. Total of 16 recipes we decided! I bumped into Chef Sebastien along the corridor, he suggested 10 recipes instead – I convinced him that it is better to have more than sorry. So we starting whisking again, 4 recipes each per person by Jill, Elizabeth, Jennifer and I. Alas! The 16 recipes managed to just fill the tray to the brim. Great! It was close to lunch time when the cake went into the oven. The tray of genoise cake took a full hour and a couple more minutes to finally get done. By then I had opened the oven and stuck the knife into the cake umpteenth times. When the day ended, Jennifer and I only remembered we have whisked the whole day, tired and uninspired. (Oh! Forgot a pix of the huge genoise cake)
Day 2 with Chef Kris in Pastry
Today, things felt different. We moved faster and things started taking forms, besides some mise en place that was completed day earlier, we were also more used to Chef Kris’s style. We volunteered to prep churros, “Chef, no eggs in the recipe?” Chef Kris quickly confirmed the recipe will be prep like choux without eggs. The churros turned out yummy, fried and dusted with cinnamon sugar, better than a choux paste recipe I tried before in Singapore. He pointed out the secret lies in the addition of lard! In the mean time, another team prep Kahlua ice cream – oh it was so delicious even though Chef replaced Kahlua with rum & mocha extract. Love it! By lunch time we would have Cajeta flan and Tres Leches cakes ready. I liked the flan with a tinge of citrus lime taste, it was less eggy than the flan we did a few days earlier, Chef Kris advised low temperature in the oven. The cake was too sweet for me even though the texture is nice. A day earlier, he passed me a pecan praline candy to try, Like it? No, I really don’t have a sweet tooth. Don’t like sweets and in pastry class? I guess I just need to memorise the taste even if I don’t like the sweetness.
Research Assignment on Chocolate
For the next 2 hours before lunch, Chef Kris needed to leave Pastry Lab to teach the assoc class. He gave us an assignment on Chocolate which Chef Sebastien will grade on per team basis on a score of 100, to be completed in powerpoint, with 5 min presentation per team over lunch the following Tuesday, and each team will cover a different area in chocolate. Jill and Amanda decided on the origins in plantation of cocao beans, Jennifer and I on harvesting to chocolate paste production, Elizabeth and Quin on components of chocolate and types of chocolate, and Sarah and April on ways that chocolate can be used. We would spend the next 2 hours researching in the library. It was pretty interesting scanning through the articles… halfway through I was reading Chocolatier magazines even though they were old editions – great stuff. Oh I still prefer to be in the Pastry Lab during school hours any time. Then we saw the lunch menu … and we were waiting eagerly.
Mexican Lunch is Served…
Lunch today was a Mexican feast planned by Chef Sebastien and his wife Jamie, it was sumptuous, more than a food tasting session. I enjoy Mexican food, I was acquainted with Mexican food when I worked in a Mexican restaurant during pre-college days, I had then helped in mise en place before the restaurant opening hours, and was a server during its regular hours. What we had today was more varied than the few I knew. During the lunch presentation by Chef Kris, I learnt that the food varies by different regions of Mexico. I had Mexican rice, a turkey tamales, some chipotle beef with a tortilla and pork skin in green sauce … I was really full but I still manage to finish a flan, a spoonful of Kahlua ice cream and a bite of Tres Leches cake. Lunch was different today. We ate heartily indeed.
The Cheerful Pastillage
When we got back to the Pastry Lab, Level 3 class next to us had rows of pastillage completed for the Gala dinner the following week. They were so colourful and cheerful – it is just impossible to feel otherwise when you looked at them – they augmented the sugar high in me. A nice touch before we left class for the day.
Last 2 days had been a different and an enjoyable learning experience. Looking forward to resume pastry class with Chef Sebastien tomorrow.