I'm in my very last semester of baking school, and doing my best to soak it all in and enjoy every minute... because I know that by the time it's all over I am gonna miss it! What a cool opportunity to get to learn from the very best chefs and bakers... nerding out about baking and getting to experiment and make SO many amazing and delicious things! It's pretttyyyyy incredible.
The past three weeks I took a class called "Plating and Pairing"... one that I was looking forward to most out of this whole semester. (even though I could say that about 90% of my classes). Here's a little peek into what went down over those three weeks, and a chance for me to review and reflect.
Firstly, everyday at 3 pm we began with theory class. But this wasn't your average theory class. You can tell because most days when we walked into class you would expect something like this:
YUP! This was obviously the "pairing" portion of Plating and Pairing. We literally drank wine, ate desserts, and discussed why they did (or did not) pair well together. I learned a lot about wine tasting:
I also learned some valuable guidelines about pairing wine with dessert:
Just your average afternoon snack at school. One day we were even tricked into drinking straight whiskey! At first my body and mind were like "YEAH THIS IS FUN" but by the end of the three weeks I think I was looking forward to a change. Only because the catch is, after all these tastings in the middle of the afternoon, we would still have to stay up and finish the "plating" portion of the class with our Chef instructor. This took place at the fancy Highwood restaurant on campus, and would usually run until nearly 10pm, sometimes even beyond. As someone who is normally unproductive anytime after 8pm,and generally in bed by 9pm, this was my great challenge.
BUT ONE I WAS UP FOR!
I was so eager and excited to get to do fancy plating in a real restaurant for real guests, learn some new recipes and techniques and to feel the infamous adrenaline rush of "The Dinner Service". I was not disappointed. It was stressful and frustrating at times, there was drama and miscommunications, there were more tasks than time, there was never enough space to work, and there was some negative energy lingering in the air at times...
But I didn't want any of that to get in my way of enjoying all the new and exciting things I was experiencing. Our Chef created the entire menu, built out of recipes from moments here and there from her career and competitions. Every plate was BEAUTIFUL, and incredibly delicious... I confess that I wasn't expecting to like each and every plate so much, but I did. Usually when I order dessert if I see "chocolate" I look no further. But these plates were so creative and of such high quality that I don't even think the chocolate one (although amazing) was my favourite in the end! (That is saying something).
Here is our Chef, showing us how to create the Chocolate dessert. There's a reason they call our program Baking and Pastry Arts I tell you.
Every night, guests at the restaurant chose from this menu:
The Prep People did things like baking bread for the bread baskets, making up pretty little plates of petite fours that each table received with their bill at the end of the meal, and designing and preparing for the specials of the day.
The Service Team worked on the restaurant desserts, and were each responsible for plating one dessert and running that station during service time.
One of the first stations I was in charge of was the Caramel Apple Mille Feuille, which we referred to simply as "Apple". For one reason or another I fell in love with this dish... All the components were simple but soooo tasty and when they all came together on the plate it was just magical! I got lots of knife practice while brunoise-ing apples. Chef told me that she wanted them super tiny, so that they looked like little jewels. I also gained confidence in using the dreaded-potentially-explosive Kryovac Machine... It never exploded on me thank god and it was pretty magical watching all the little bubbles of air being drawn out from the apples, and then a pause, before the big SWOOOOOOOSH when the bag was vacuum sealed shut. All the excess air in the fruit is replaced by the liquid in the bag, making the apples EXTRA FLAVOURFUL. Kitchen magic I tell you!
Don't get me started on the apple-caramel sauce, the scotch-spiked-diplomat cream, and the cinnamon ice cream!!!
There was also something terribly pleasing about a square dessert on a square plate.
We even got a few chances to practice our piping skills when there were special requests for "Happy Birthday" messages!
Next evening, I was in charge of plating the Special, which made me feel indeed special. I did not get to invent the dessert, rather my talented and creative classmate did. I just put the items on the plate the way she had designed... Her creation was AMAZING: chunks of brownie topped with passionfruit ice cream that was covered by a chocolate dome. The servers would then pour a warm raspberry-chocolate sauce over the dome as they presented the dish to the lucky guest. Because the sauce was warm, it would melt away the chocolate dome, revealing the tasty interior! Oh the chocolately drama! I was a fan.
Here you can see the plates before they have the addition of the passionfruit ice cream, which must be scooped at the last minute when all plates for one table are ready to go.
The next evening I got to plate up the modern art spaceship masterpiece known as the Paloma Panna Cotta.
A Paloma, if you don't know, is a super delicious cocktail containing tequila and grapefruit juice. YES.
A Panna Cotta, if you don't know, is a fun little jiggly Italian dessert that can best be described as milk jell-o. Sounds gross, but truly it is tasty.
This dessert features a tequila-white-chocolate-lime panna cotta, grapefruit jelly blocks, lime sponge cake, mandarin sorbet, grapefruit-white-chocolate ganache, fresh grapefruit flesh and fresh mint leaves. It is citrus season after all.
(Did you know grapefruit is called grapefruit because, unlike other citrus, it grows in bunches on trees like grapes? fun fact)
The cutest dessert was the Tropical Coconut Pavé:
Chocolate covered coconut mousse "coconuts" filled with passionfruit curd, coconut dacquoise, and chocolate ganache. OMG SO YUMMY.
Also chocolate leaf garnish and fondant flowers, shortbread crumble and fresh pineapple.
Plating all these was incredibly fun. I would hold my breath when a new ticket came in, hoping they would call out my dessert. I always got stoked when my station got an order.
We had a super fun project in which we were to design a dessert menu for a theoretical restaurant of our own invention. I got carried away, and created a fake restaurant that I now really want to be a reality. Long story short, it's a place where the desserts are inspired by local, contemporary, emerging artists. I imagined up six plates inspired by six different artist friends of mine. I couldn't stop thinking about wanting to actually bring these desserts to life. One day in class, I was instructed to make a dessert, without any guidelines, it could be whatever I wanted. I jumped at the opportunity and brought to life one of my drawings: A booze-soaked cookie that looks like a peach, filled with strawberry pastry cream, and garnished with strawberry coulis hearts on the side. Basically something that was unapologetically cutesy, trendy and feminine. In this regard, I succeeded.
On our final night of service, we had something called "Chef's Table", in which a dining table is literally plunked right in the middle of the kitchen, and a group of certain special-very-importants get to dine in the middle of the action. It also means we have to be extra aware of our cleanliness and professionalism. So obviously I donned my favourite red lipstick and tried to play it cool. The hardest part was when the wine was poured and plates got served and I realized that actually I was STARVING. But my time to eat would be later. A snack at 4 pm and a snack when I got home at 11 pm was my new dining routine. Not my ideal scenario, but such is restaurant life, and it was worth it for the experience.
And of course, what would a Tiny Tea Party post be without something tiny? Baking school has inspired me as an artist more than ever, I keep coming up with ideas for paintings, projects, sculptures, all inspired by the stuff I have been learning and making at school. I simply had to turn the work of art that was the Apple dessert into a mini sculpture. I gave it to my Chef on our last day of the class as a small token of my gratitude.
I think my most favourite take-away from this course was learning how to make a sponge cake in the microwave. No jokes. Who would have thought all this time and training would amount to the satisfaction of baking a cake in the microwave. It's my new favourite party trick.
I'm not sure if I'll ever get to work in a restaurant plating desserts to order again, so I will look back at the past three weeks with a newfound fondness and respect, and continue dreaming up menus and plates and garnishes and more... just in case.
Tiny Tea Party
It's about celebrating the tiny things.
© 2015 Larissa Costella
All Rights Reserved
(All images and content are my own unless otherwise noted)