Saturday, April 25, 2009

Week One: Mise en Place

What a week!  After months of anticipation, the first day of pastry school finally arrived.

The nerves did not set-in until Sunday night.  I was packing my bags, trying to make sure I had everything for both a workout at lunch and class later that evening.  My bags were quadruple checked just to be sure nothing had been overlooked.

I tried not to think about it too much at work during the day, but this proved to be a little difficult with nothing to keep my mind busy.  I was not nervous about not doing well or not being able to handle the schedule.  I knew the nerves were only due to beginning something new, something unknown.

As registration began at 5:15 PM, my boss had given me permission to leave work about twenty minutes early, so that I wouldn't be late.  When I arrived at the registrar's office, before I had time to remove my soaked winter coat, I was plopped on a chair, my ID photo was snapped, I was handed a bag containing all my books and I was assigned to a locker.  "Go get dressed and be in room 502 by 6 PM," the woman said hurriedly, but with a welcoming smile.

The week was filled with orientation, introductions to classmates, terminology, equipment and ingredients.  The class size is small, only eight people, which will not only allow for greater attention from the chef-instructors, but also allowed us to become comfortable with each other by the end of the week.  The mix of people in the class is extraordinary: another girl in finance, a lawyer, a court reporter getting ready to retire and I am by far the youngest of the group.  Our chef-instructor, Kathryn Gordon, earned her MBA from NYU Stern and worked in finance before working at some very notable restaurants in NYC.

We had a dairy tasting Tuesday night.  And if that sounds delicious, I would encourage you to open your refridgerator and try butter milk, half-and-half, heavy cream, margarine, unsalted butters, salted butters, ricotta cheese, mascorpone cheese and cream cheese.  Then, open your cupboards and try eating shortening, lard, evaporated milk and sweet and condensed milk.  Still sound appetizing?  

The importance of the tasting was not lost on anyone - we all appreciated we need to understand the tastes of our ingredients and how one brand may be more desirable than another.  But I don't think anyone was in the mood for a milkshake after class.

The new schedule finally caught-up with me Wednesday morning.  Up at 6 AM, work until 5 PM, class until 10 PM, study until 12 AM.  And, one of those strange coincidences of life, I was actually busy and stressed at work, covering my supervisor's work while she was on jury duty.

On Thursday, we got to bake for the first time: gingersnaps.  The chef-instructor made it clear that she was there just to observe the process.  We paired-up and got to work.  Setting up the KitchenAid mixer, I realized I had never been so nervous to bake before.  It's always such a relaxing activity for me, whether I'm by myself or lucky enough to be in the kitchen with my Mum.

But, my runner's mind took over and calmed me down.  "Relax, it's the first effort.  Just focus on the process."  Working myself into a nervous ball of energy certainly was not going to help anything.

The results were varied between every group.  One group placed all 40 cookies on the bake sheet and wound up with one large, square cookie.  Our cookies would have benefited from an extra minute or so in the oven.  But all-in-all, everyone worked well together.

One new term we learned this week, of which I took a particular liking to, was mise en place.  It is the french phrase for "(to put) everything in it's place."  In the kitchen, this means having your ingredients, equipment and work area ready before beginning the recipe.  At work on Thursday, as I sat exhausted from the week, the word popped into my head.  

I began to consider mise en place as more of a state of being than just a phrase.  Although I was exhausted from the week, I woke up each morning wishing I could just head straight to class; I am truly interested in the readings and the lessons.  Suddenly, with the pursuit of something I truly have a passion for, everything seems to be falling into place.  I am again back at a state of mise en place in my life.


  1. This blog needs more comments. And more pictures of ultimate.

  2. Wow, mouth is watering. How fun.......


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