Nicole Croes is a member of Chef’s Training Program class 178, which began several months ago. As CTP 178 approaches the end of their program, they are in the process of planning their 3-course Friday Night Dinner for 100 guests – the final project for every graduating class. Nicole will be blogging the entire Friday Night Dinner process in installments here on Blanched and Shocked. Here is Part III . . .
The First Recipe Test
After all the Friday Night Dinner planning in the classroom, I was really excited for Recipe Testing 1—an entire class devoted to creating our all-important entrée. There are no assigned recipes, as in our regular classes. And there’s no guarantee the outcome will be successful. It’s all about using the skills and techniques we’ve learned to navigate our way to a worthy entrée. The only way to manage results is to prepare, take accurate notes and hope that, after four hours, our group has something that’s delicious, nutritious, visually appealing, satisfying and vegan.
Since we decided on a French-themed dinner, it seemed only fitting that we chose to create two incredible crepes, each with its own unique filling. We wanted to bring our crepes together with a cashew cream sauce and pair it with a colorful side of beautiful mixed greens. Aside from picking a chickpea crepe recipe and thumbing through cookbooks for inspiration, our masterpiece would be shaped in the kitchen, through trial and error.
For our requisition box, we requested the items for the crepes as well as their fillings. One would be composed of broccoli rabe and raisins; the other was going to be composed of a white bean mixture. We also asked for shallots, chives, herbs and spices, as well as greens for our salad. When we opened our box on Recipe Testing Day, it felt like I’d opened a birthday gift full of my favorite things. Since we’d always received boxes with pre-selected items for each class, it was thrilling to open one with ingredients we ordered ourselves.
Following a short lecture from Chef Elliott, our group had a meeting to decide our game plan and who was going to take on each task. I volunteered to take charge of the crepes, because I love making anything that involves flour. It reminds me of playing in snow and brings me to my “happy place.” Thus, Crepe Making 101 commenced.
I’d always heard crepe making was impossible, but Chef Elliott made it look easy. He advised me to keep the batter in a measuring cup, as opposed to pouring it with a ladle. He then instructed me to remove the pan from the flame, pour the batter into the pan and then turn the pan until it was thinly coated. When the edges began to curl, it was time to flip, making sure the crepe didn’t fold, rip or fall on the floor. This required quick and deft technique to avoid something that resembled a deformed pancake, as I discovered through personal experience. Chef Elliott demonstrated his technique a couple of times, resulting in two perfectly round pieces of deliciousness. After watching his demonstration, I was ready for my turn.
Five broken crepes later and I’d developed a newfound respect for French chefs. Between precision cutting (such as dicing a potato into perfect 1/8-inch cubes) and finicky techniques like pouring crepe batter, I’d come to the conclusion that French chefs were the most patient people on earth.
As with anything, “practice makes perfect” and before long my crepes had gone from bad to not-so-bad. And each time I made one, I was eager to perfect the one that followed. Once I had a basic rhythm down, the group experimented by adding fresh herbs and spices to the batter to enhance its flavor and presentation. I won’t go into detail—because I need to leave some surprises for the big night—but I will tell you that the crepes are not only delicious, but also visually stunning. I’ve since become an even bigger fan of the crepe!
Toward the end of class, the group came together with our individual components to plate a bountiful dish. I felt like a proud parent staring at our vision-come-to-life. While there were certain aspects of the entrée we loved, such as the taste of the fillings and the design of our plate, there were a few things that needed adjusting, such as aspects of the sauce and the size of our crepes (two of those monsters and our guests wouldn’t make it to dessert). But overall, the test was a success. Though to me, our success had less to do with recipes and more to do with our experience as students of the culinary arts. As I think back to our first few classes, bean preparation, knife drills, menu planning and the like, I can see now that our Friday Night Dinner is a house we’re building on a solid foundation of culinary education.